Back to Back Marathons

How do you prepare your body to run marathons close together (like within 2-4 weeks of each other)?

There are some things you can do in training to help prepare your body for both races and Coach Claire shares them in today’s daily podcast

Audio Transcript

Coach Claire Bartholic: Welcome back to the Xtra Kick podcast hosted by Runners Connect. Thank you so much for joining me today, and let’s get right into our question from Kenneth.

Kenneth: I discovered a marathon a month after my next one that I want to do. To do two back-to-back like that, do I try a little bit of ramp up, and then almost immediately ramp down? Or just keep low level running and throw in one distance run in the middle?

I’ve never done this, but I just can’t resist doing that second one. Any tips for two marathons in quick succession? Thanks.

Coach Claire Bartholic: Well, for most people Kenneth, training for one marathon is plenty. But there is something about that siren call of the marathon that, for a small number of people, is simply irresistible.

There are an increasing number of runners that have the desire to run two marathons in a weekend, or four in a month, or even four or five marathons on consecutive days.

There are staged events similar to the Tour de France, where the athletes run day in and day out for weeks. Then there are other people who run 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states, which is hard for me to even wrap my mind around.

Compared to those folks, doing two marathons in a month like you Kenneth seems perfectly reasonable.

While there’s little doubt that running consecutive marathons is doable, it’s also obvious that doing multiple marathons in a short period of time isn’t the smartest way to nab a big PR.

But if your heart is set on back-to-back marathons, it’s important to understand more about how these events affect your body. Recent studies have shown that long distance running, such as racing the marathon, causes acute kidney damage.

Thankfully, the damage is reversed in a day or two, so for you Kenneth, that shouldn’t be an issue unless you have underlying kidney problems.

Your muscles will also not escape unscathed after the race. High levels of common indicators of muscle damage will remain in your blood for at least seven days post-marathon. Not just from the race itself, but from all the training you did, that led up to it.

Muscle fiber necrosis is damage to your muscle cells. This causes significant loss of muscle power and durability for up to fourteen days post-marathon.

These studies clearly indicate that the body needs at least seven to ten days, and probably fourteen days of rest post-marathon, to fully recover from the cellular damage caused during the race.

That means recovering from your first marathon is essential to success at your next race. That is your first priority.

The recovery process begins immediately after the first marathon, and the first step is hydration and calories.

It is nearly impossible for the majority of people to consume the amount of calories and fluid they burn while running during the race. It’s therefore important to get them back in as soon as you can.

Focus mainly on carbohydrate, but include some protein to help rebuild lost muscles. Many people can’t eat a lot after a race so eat as much as you can comfortably.

Don’t forget to cool down after the race; this can mean simply walking around a bit for 10 or 15 minutes, but avoid the temptation to drop right to the grass and relax right away.

Stretch out the major muscle groups and anything that is sore or feeling tight, roll out or nagging injuries or problem areas.

Then try to eat another decent-sized, healthy meal about two or three hours after the race, or whenever you can.

Spend the rest of the day relaxing. That sounds really obvious, right? But some people end up moving too much, especially if they’re tempted to sightsee in a new city.

Massages can help, but be sure that your therapist is gentle. My favorite recovery tip is to take an Epsom salt bath before bed. The magnesium in the salt gets absorbed through your skin to help repair muscles and turn off adrenaline.

Then, eat again. Studies have shown that a small meal with about 20 grams of protein right before bed is the most effective way to build muscle. Be sure to get that in before turning off the lights.

And of course get plenty of sleep. Sleep is the most essential and important recovery and performance tool there is. Make quality sleep your top priority.

For the week after the marathon, you should do very little running. The day after the race, I prefer no running at all, and instead choose to walk a little bit. Walking still promotes healing blood flow to the muscles, with zero impact for stressed joints.

During the next several days, your focus needs to be entirely on recovery, with a few light jogs and plenty of rest days. Low impact cross training, such as swimming, can really be helpful that first week. But don’t try to break any records in the pool. Easy does it, no matter what you are doing.

Week two you are still in a 14-day window of decreased muscle strength. It’s therefore really not effective to tear them down any further with hard or long running at this point.

You are in maintenance mode here – still focused on recovery, but not yet building strength. Keep it easy and short, but try to get back to your normal schedule of running as you were doing before the first race.

You can add in a long run, but this is not the time to burst out that 20 miler. For the majority of people, you should not be running longer than about 60 – 90 minutes for your long run.

An advanced runner might go a touch longer than that but again, if your muscles are still already weakened, you’re putting yourself in a bigger hole for race two if you overdo it this week.

Week three after that first marathon would typically be the taper period for the second race. This is where you can add in a little bit of quality work.

You’re still keeping the mileage a bit lighter than your peak mileage, before the first race. But you can add in one or two taper tempos, or some quality marathon pace work, just as you would have done before the first race.

A good example of the taper tempo could be a 2 X 3 miles at marathon pace, with 3 – 5 minutes of rest in between. If you’re more advanced, you might prefer a 2 X 4 miles.

What about the long run here? Well, a great place to look for advise on your taper long run is what did you do in the last 10 days before your first race?

Was it a 10 mile long run? Was it longer, shorter? Were you feeling fresh on that starting line, or did you feel a bit overcooked?

Everyone has a slightly different taper style, so if what you did the first time worked well, try that again.

Perhaps modifying it a little to be a touch more gentle since your body is more beat up this time around. But when in doubt, less is more. It is better to feel undertrained than overdone.

In the last seven days before the next marathon, you want to have one short marathon pace session early in the week. Perhaps a three mile tempo at pace, and then the rest of the week is short and sweet.

Be sure you’re focusing on quality carbohydrate sources throughout the week to make sure that your glycogen stores are filled to the brim.

After your second race, repeat those recovery tip I outlined earlier, but then allow yourself to get a good break. I prefer zero running for a week after a marathon, both for physical healing, and mental refreshment.

Treat yourself to the things that you might have sacrificed during all your hard training. Maybe that’s a little wine, a fat slice of cake, or a steaming hot bag of French fries.

Savor the extra time you have during your downtime to spend time with friends and family. Try out some non-running activities that you normally don’t get a chance to do.

My last tip is probably going to be the hardest one for you Kenneth. Enjoy your accomplishments and try to resist the irresistible call of the marathon for at least a little while longer next time.

Thanks so much Kenneth for sending in your questions. That was a good one today; I hope you all listening in enjoyed it. Have a great run today.

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