Training for the 50K world record didn’t go as planned for CJ Albertson.
The 27-year-old had a strong start to the year when he finished seventh at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February. But that was followed by months of uncertainty, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Albertson took it in stride by relaxing and taking some time off in the absence of races—which was needed after a year of hard training.
More From Runner's World
“It was nice for my body to not do a whole lot,” Albertson told Runner’s World. “My wife and I bought a house, we got a puppy, and did a bunch of house things. Having this time was nice, but I’m ready for things to be how they were last year.”
Instead of training for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, he settled into a routine of around 40-mile weeks for a couple of months. The decreased mileage, combined with keeping up with his long runs, left him in workable shape when he decided to go after the 50K world record.
To get the record, Albertson would have to best 2:43:38, a record set in 1988 by South African Thompson Magawana. He saw it as a fun challenge and way to prepare for the Marathon Project in December—and having something on the calendar was another bright spot in a topsy-turvy year.
Albertson started increasing his mileage, but his training was sidetracked by the wildfires in California and his job teaching and coaching at Clovis Community College in Fresno, California. Four weeks out, he did 84 and then hit 74 with three weeks to go, which is usually when he likes his mileage to peak. The final two weeks leading up to event would have to make up for it.
“My training wasn’t great,’ Albertson said. “My last two weeks, I wasn’t in great shape, but the second to last week I did 133 miles and the week of, I did 120. For whatever reason, I can cram miles in. I probably wouldn’t recommend that to people.”
Though Albertson is strong on the road, he and his team of organizers chose to run the race on a track—this meant he’d have to run 125 laps to reach 50K. That’s a tall task that some might liken to the dread of running for long periods on the treadmill, but for Albertson, it was right in his wheelhouse.
In 2019, he captured the indoor marathon world record at The Armory—a 200-meter track—with a time of 2:17:59. That required 211 laps, most of which would be paced by Seth Totten, his brother-in-law, and Malcolm Richards, a former indoor marathon record holder.
“When you have family and buddies with you as a pacing crew, it’s more special,” Alberston said. “Plus, I got to do it on the track at Buchanan [High School] where I graduated from. All of my high school coaches were there and friends and family. That was really special to do this on the track I grew up on.”
When Albertson started on November 8, some rain made for a problematic first few miles; his shoes and socks got soaked, and the “slushy” feeling made him want to run barefoot for the final 27 miles. Luckily, the rain stopped and the puddles on the track evaporated a bit.
From the start, he held a rhythm of 78-second laps—a 5:14-per-mile average. The only time he fell off pace was during a single lap around 19 miles in, when he made a 38-second pitstop to use the bathroom. After a tough spot between miles 22 and 24, Albertson picked up the pace even more, dropping some 76-second laps, and that’s when he knew he had it.
With a 66-second final lap—his fastest of the day—Albertson finished with the new record time of 2:42:30, besting the previous mark by over a minute.
“People ended up coming up, and at the end, they just made it so exciting,” he said. “I broke the world record. It felt cool. I couldn’t ever imagine it before then.”
The record was a reward amidst a year with very few races. But this run wasn’t only for the record—it was also a tune up for the Marathon Project in December. For that, he’ll have to run almost 18 seconds per mile faster to compete with the elite field he’s up against. In the next six weeks, he plans to get comfortable with sub-5 pace again.
“It’ll be fun, and it’ll be fast-paced,” Albertson said. “I’ve never run a marathon with anything other than the goal of running fast. It’ll still be a race and I’m gonna try to win, and to be able to race again, I can’t wait. I haven’t raced since the Trials.”
Drew covers a variety of subjects for Runner’s World and Bicycling, and he specializes in writing and editing human interest pieces while also covering health, wellness, gear, and fitness for the brand. His work has previously been published in Men’s Health.