50 on 50: Running 50 Miles for my 50th Birthday (Nov 16, 2019)

by - Monday, November 18, 2019

My signature headstand after completing the run

I turned 50 this year and as if to deny my age, decided to sign up for a 50 mile Ultra Marathon. I had run four full marathons already but a 50 miler is more than just twice the distance. Every additional mile gets exponential harder.

The race I picked was perhaps one of the most challenging 50 mile runs. It is called the North Face Endurance Challenge

Here's a 3 minute summary video of the run. It shows the overall terrain along with some pictures I took during the run.

Course Overview

Here is the overall elevation profile and cut-offs.

We had to cover 50.7 miles with a total elevation gain of over 10,600 ft. That's more than 1/3rd of Everest height!


Well, signing up was the easy part. I had no idea how to prepare for such a distance. I started doing some research online and also bought a few books. Here are some of the books I read:

  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek: 

Scott Jurek is considered one of the greatest runners of all time. He ran the 2,200 mile Appalachian trail in 2015 in just 46 days -averaging nearly 50 miles a day for 46 days! Reading his book I was surprised to learn that he follows a 100% plant-based diet, which he credits for his endurance, recovery and consistent twenty year racing career.

Takeaways: Explore vegan diet, try some of his plant-based recipes, other training tips including strength training, stretching etc.

  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall:
This is a classic. Really boring at first but then picks up and ended up being a great read. The author studies the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who he claims are the greatest runners in the world. He makes the claim that humans are born to be long distance runners and that the modern shoes with all the cushioning are causing a lot of injuries. Your feet are very sensitive and can give you feedback when you are not running correctly. Shoes with thick cushions block that feedback and can promote bad running posture.

I found many videos on You Tube where they show the same runner running bare foot vs. with shoes on a treadmill. You can see how a cushioned running shoe seems to promote a heel strike vs. bare foot running promotes a mid-foot strike which is supposed to be better for you. E.g. check out this video:

Takeaway: Try the minimalist shoes or bare foot running. 
  • The Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes:
It is a good read about Dean's journey of becoming a great ultra-runner but I didn't find any specific takeaways.
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll:
I liked this book more than The Ultramarathon Man. I enjoyed reading about Rich's journey to becoming a great endurance athlete. Interestingly enough Rich also switched to a plant-based diet and swears about the benefits. He is a Stanford grad with a degree in law from Cornell so that added more credence to his recommendations

Takeaway: Another endorsement for plant based diet

  • Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning:
Great guide with lots of tips on gear, training, nutrition etc. for ultrarunning. I learned a fair bit from it. I didn't care as much about the mental strategies because I know that's the one area where I am quite strong :)
  • Running your first Ultra by Krissy Moehl:
This book not only has great tips on gear, nutrition etc., it also has a day-by-day plan for running your first 50K, 50 mile or 100 miles. I followed the 50 mile plan in this book for my training

I read a couple of other books and did some additional research online. 


My experience with previous marathon distance training/running was mixed. I did run four marathons in three years but I always suffered at least some minor injuries during training. I had a partial tear in my left Achilles tendon once, had to battle with a really inflamed IT band another time, had trouble with calf muscles and have had chronic issues with pain in my right heel.

I also always ended up with cramps near the end of my race - right around 20-21 miles.

Now I had to train for, and run double the distance with the added difficulty of running up and down on the hills.

Here's what I decided to do:

Vegan Diet

I decided to follow Scott Jurek and Rich Roll's advice and started on a vegan diet in June - about 6 months before my race day. I was mostly a vegetarian until then - we eat vegetarian food at home but I would usually eat non-veg whenever we eat out. Switching to vegetarianism was not hard but giving up dairy posed a lot of challenges. Suddenly I couldn't have milk and cereal in the morning. Whey protein shakes were out of bounds as well. No yogurt, no pizza, no 'paneer', no ghee - the list goes on and on. It was quite hard for both me and my family! There are so many dishes where you put cream, yogurt, cheese or other milk based products. My wife had to figure out how to change to recipes to make them vegan. When going on trips we had to find restaurants with vegan menu items. I am grateful to my family because they were very supportive of me.

The biggest challenge I found for vegan diet was breakfast. There just aren't very good vegan options. I prepared a smoothie most of the days. See the recipe at the end of the blog.

Mindful Eating

Another change I made to my diet was to be more mindful of what I was eating. Earlier I didn't really care too much about what I was eating and would frequently indulge in sweets and other unhealthy foods. I thought what is the point of exercising so much and burning calories if I can't eat the food I like without guilt! However, now I realized that the food I was eating could have a major impact on inflammation and recovery. In order to train for a 50 mile run, I needed to run a LOT including back to back long runs over weekends with little time to recover.

I started eating more whole foods and reduced consumption of processed food. I pretty much stopped eating sweets and also decided to give up coffee / tea. I was trying to feed my body based on what it needed to function optimally and not based on what I craved. I did have my occasional cheat days though :)


I followed the training regimen outlined in the Running Your First Ultra book by Krissy Moehl. However, that's a generic 50 mile run training plan. I had to fine tune it to match the terrain for my run. Here's how I did it. For my weekend long runs I not only covered the suggested distance in the book, I also added the proportionate elevation gain. The race involves 10,000 ft of climbing - that's 200 ft / mile on average. So if my long run was 20 miles, I would try to find trails where I could also get 4,000 ft. of elevation gain. I am fortunate that I live just 10min away from the Rancho San Antonio County Park which has over 20 miles of trails and many hills to train on.

Towards the end I also tried to match not just the total elevation gain but also the elevation profile. For example, climbing and descending 3,000 ft over 15 miles is different from climbing and descending 1,000 ft over 5 miles and doing it 3 times. I used the GPS maps from my previous runs to create a custom running route. I wanted to get an idea of what my body will feel in the actual race.

About a month before my run I thought about running a 50K - both as a training run as well as a backup accomplishment for my 50th year. I was confident that I would be able to run 50K but still not fully confident about being able to complete 50 miles :) The only event I found was Skyline to the Sea which was only 3 days away. The registration was closed. I emailed the organizers on Oct 2 just in case they could accommodate me. Turned out that someone had dropped out at the last moment and they sent me a private invite to register! The race was on Oct 5.  I completed the race easily in 6:52hrs, had  friend pick me up from the finish line to drive me home. I reached home at 6:45pm and we had a big party at our house at 7pm. I had 15 minutes to shower and get ready. Incredibly enough I was not sore after the run and was able to enjoy the party normally. 

50K run (Skyline to the Sea)

Towards the end of my training I was running a marathon distance followed by a half marathon distance every weekend. How crazy is that? I had heard of people who could run a marathon every week and now I was one of those people.


Whether it was the diet or the lower impact of trail running or the lack of focus on speed (I just wanted to finish within the cutoff), I did not have any injuries during my nearly 6 months of training. The only injury I had was when I tripped over a tree root while running downhill. I had a nasty wound on my right knee and elbow. My legs were bruised as well. However, I healed quickly and was back on the trail in no time. Training runs were of course very tiring but I was recovering quickly between the runs. My recovery routine after long runs was as follows:
  1. Stretch at the trail head while cooling down
  2. Stretch for 10-15 after coming home. I created my own stretching routine after trying out a few different things
  3. Have a smoothie + perhaps a bagel or whole grain bread
  4. Take an ice bath (only for 20 mile+ runs)
  5. Wear a compression pant for a few hours (only for 20 mile+ runs)
I was following a similar recovery routine for my earlier marathons as well but this time my recovery was remarkably much better. I did not have to take a nap during the day to rest and I did not excuse myself from social gatherings because I was too tired !

It is hard to say exactly what helped but I do believe that my diet had a lot to do with it. I would definitely recommend trying out a plant-based diet to see if it works for you. There are many studies that show that it can even reverse the atherosclerosis (plaque) buildup in the arteries !


This was a tough decision. I really wanted to try the minimalist shoe approach. However, I had persistent pain in my right heel (this was the only persistent pain I had throughout my training), and when I talked to a chiropractor he strongly advised against going for minimalist shoes. I tried a few different options then settled on a Altra Lone Peak 4.0 zero drop shoes. They are zero drop but do provide some cushion. I loved these shoes. I have put over 500 miles on them and they are still in good shape.

Race Day

My best friend Samir Palnitkar was visiting us and offered to drive me to the start line at 3am in the morning. It was a 1:30hr drive each way. Thanks to Samir, I did not have to book a hotel room and was able to sleep in my own bed the previous night. I was quite nervous though and could hardly sleep.

The race started at 5:10am and the moment I started running, I knew that I would be able to complete it. I fast walked most of the climbs and ran on flat and downhill terrains. I usually enjoy downhills and can run pretty fast but here many of the downhill sections were treacherous with rocks and tree roots sticking out. So I had to be really careful.

We started when it was still dark and had to use our headlamps

Marin County is a really beautiful area. We saw some incredible views

Samir (friend) and my family were there to cheer me up

Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The last part of the run was on the bridge

It got dark again by the time I finished

Samir had driven back to my house and picked up my wife and kids so they could cheer me during the race. There were two different spots that were accessible by car and it really gave me a lot of strength to see them there.

I was expecting to complete the run in about 13 hours. My final timing was 13:11hrs :)

I had tears of joy in my eyes after completing the run. I had little hopes when I started training that I would be able to do this. But it is amazing what you can achieve with training, discipline and determination.

Used the last bit of energy I had to jump :)

100K+ steps for the first time in my life!

Will I ever do it again? I would love to but not sure if I have the discipline for the amount of training required.


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