How to Run Consecutive Marathons: A Training Guide for Success

While properly recovering from a marathon and subsequently executing a full course of training prior to the next race is the optimal approach, it’s a reality that many runners find themselves with the daunting task of running two or more marathons close together.

Perhaps this is by choice because you’re pursuing a goal, like running 50 marathons in 50 states or challenging yourself with an event like the Goofy challenge. Or, maybe after a disappointing time you have to improvise a quick race to redeem your performance.

Whatever your reason for trying to run consecutive multiple marathons, knowing how to best train in the precious, short weeks between races is critical.

In this article, I explain the best way to approach multiple races and dominate.

Training before the race

Surprisingly, your training leading up to the first race doesn’t need to change much in preparation for both races. The same physiological principles of marathon training apply:

  1. You need to train your muscles and legs to handle running 26.2 miles fast
  2. To prevent bonking, it is imperative that you improve your ability to efficiently burn fat as a fuel source when running at marathon pace
  3. You have to improve your aerobic threshold

Developing all three of these abilities will increase your chances of success at both races.

However, there are two things you can do in training to prepare more specifically for the challenge of running consecutive marathons.

  • First, as is the case with marathon training in general, the more you’re able to train, the more likely it is you will succeed. Simply speaking, the higher your training volume, the easier it will be to run and recover from the marathon. If possible, you should try to increase your weekly training volumes.
  • Second, you should consider running some of your workouts and long runs back-to-back to simulate the recovery and fatigue you’ll experience during race weekends. For example, you can schedule a longer, marathon paced tempo run the day before a moderate long run. Doing so will help you refine your recovery protocol and simulate running on tired legs. You don’t want to do this for every workout or even every week. Pick one or two weekends to implement this training technique and make sure you schedule plenty of rest and easy recovery running after these challenging back-to-back days.

Recovering after your first race

To ensure that you’re optimally recovered before your second race, jump starting the recovery process immediately after the first race is essential. Here is a quick outline of the ideal recovery process:

  1. Hydrate as soon after your race as possible with Gatorade or electrolyte drink. You want something with sugar to stimulate the insulin response.
  2. Eat a small meal or snack that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. If you can handle eating more than a small meal, eat as much as you can.
  3. Perform a quick cool down. If you’re more experienced, this can be a very light jog for 10-15 minutes. If you’re a beginner runner or very sore, walk for 10-15 minutes. Stretch major muscle groups and anything that is sore or tight. Roll out any nagging injuries or problem areas.
  4. Take an ice bath as soon as you can after the race.
  5. Eat another decent sized, healthy meal 2-3 hours after the race.
  6. Nap, put your feet up, or get a massage.
  7. Take an Epsom salt bath before bed.
  8. Roll out on a foam roller or with the stick and stretch well.
  9. Get plenty of sleep.

Admittedly this routine is extensive, but it will drastically improve your rate of recovery and help get you back to training for the second race as quickly as possible.

Running a marathon within three weeks of the first

If your second marathon is within three weeks following the first, there is very little you can do to increase your fitness level. Instead, you should primarily focus on recovery and getting your legs as fresh as possible.

In the first few days, you want to get your legs moving to help bring fresh blood and nutrients to your damaged muscles. Sitting around and resting will only make you stiff and sore.

  • If you’re a higher mileage runner and your legs feel good the day after the first marathon, you can go for a very easy 30-40 minute run.
  • If you’re feeling sore or not adapted to the mileage, you can aqua jog for 30-45 minutes or spin on the bike using a low gear and high turnover.

Both solutions will pump blood to your muscles and facilitate the healing process.

After three or four days, your legs should start to feel more normal. At this point, you should ease back into normal running mileage.

Chuck Engle, who has won 148 marathons and is the only person to ever win 50 marathons in 50 states, suggests bringing your mileage back up to 70 percent of your weekly max. Maintain this volume for the next 10 to 14 days, depending on the date of your next race, which confers the benefit of enabling you to keep your aerobic conditioning intact without sacrificing recovery.

If your marathons are only one or two weeks apart, your training will end here. If you happen to have another one or two weeks to train, you can run a few moderate workouts.

  • A good workout would be two or three times 2 miles at 80-85 percent of your max heart rate with 3 minutes rest.
  • Another option would be four to five times 1 mile at half marathon pace with a short, 60-90 second recovery.

Both these types of workouts will help maintain fitness and aerobic conditioning, but aren’t so tiring that you can’t quickly recover from them.

Here’s what a sample three-week plan might look like:

Sunday Race Marathon 1

Monday Spin or aqua jog very lightly – 30 mins = hot tub and stretch
Tuesday Off – hot tub and stretch, spin or aqua jog very lightly – 30 mins
Wednesday 2 miles easy shakeout run (slow and easy)
Thursday 30-45 minutes easy running
Friday 70% of normal easy run volume
Saturday 70% of normal easy run volume
Sunday 70-80% of normal easy run volume

Monday Easy run (70% of normal volume)
Tuesday 2 or 3 x 2 miles at HM to MP with 3 min rest
Wednesday Off or easy run
Thursday easy run
Friday 4-5 x 1 mile at HMP w/90 sec recovery
Saturday Off or easy run
Sunday 10-12 mile easy long run

Monday Easy run (70% of normal volume)
Tuesday 3-4 miles at MP
Wednesday Off or easy run
Thursday easy run
Friday easy run
Saturday Short 15 min shakeout
Sunday Race Marathon 2

Running a marathon three to eight weeks after the first

If your second marathon is a little further from your first race, but not quite far enough to put in a full training segment, you’ll need to put in a short training block so you don’t lose the fitness gains you acquired in the training leading up to your first race.

The first two weeks won’t change from what is outlined above. You still want to focus on recovery and getting your volume back to 70 percent of your normal training mileage while turning the legs over with two moderate workouts.

Your third week between the two marathons should be a “base-building” week, where you bring your mileage back to 90 to 100 percent of your pre-marathon volume. In addition, you want to run two moderate workouts. My suggestion is 2 x 3 miles at half marathon pace with 3 minutes rest or a 5- to 6-mile tempo at 10 seconds faster than marathon pace.

During the next few weeks, you’ll want to keep your volume at your normal training maximum and start incorporating a few marathon-specific workouts and a moderate long run.

I think 16 to 18 miles is a good distance to target. It’s a good balance between getting the benefits of a long effort in without over stressing the body.

During the final week before the second race, you’ll want to execute a modified taper. Keep the long run at 10 to 12 miles, freshen up the legs with an easy workout, and then reduce the volume in the final four days of training.

Here is what a sample training block might look like. If you have more than six weeks between races, just repeat the first two weeks:

First two weeks the same and then starting week three …

Monday Off or easy run
Tuesday 2 x 3 miles at HM pace with 3 minutes rest
Wednesday Off or easy run
Thursday Easy run
Friday 5-6 miles at 10 seconds faster than MP
Saturday Off or easy run
Sunday 18 mile long run

Monday Off or easy run
Tuesday 6-8 mile cutdown run
Wednesday Off or easy run
Thursday Easy run
Friday 6 mile alternating tempo run
Saturday Off or easy run
Sunday 12 mile long run

Monday Off or easy run
Tuesday 3-4 x 1 mile at HMP w/60 sec recovery
Wednesday Off or easy run
Thursday Easy run
Friday Easy run
Saturday Short 15 min shakeout
Sunday Race Marathon 2

Running two marathons close together is a daunting task for even the most seasoned runner. By ensuring proper recovery and balancing your training in the weeks after your first race, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of success at your second race. Good luck and have fun!

 

A version of this article originally appeared on Active.com

 

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One Response on “How to Run Consecutive Marathons: A Training Guide for Success

  1. So I have 12 weeks before my second marathon. would it be wise to go and repeat the same plan I did for the first race? It was my best race and I set a PR. I’m looking for some insight on how I should approach these next few months to do just as well on this next race…would you incorporate speed, tempo, pace and longs as before? or stick with easy and long runs wth a few surges? Thanks for your help! I want to be smart about this so I don’t effect next year.

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