How Do You Train for Back-to-Back Marathons?
Running two marathons in one month is certainly achievable if you prioritise your recovery. Nutrition, hydration, soft tissue work and sleep are all important factors in recovery between marathons, as is training properly between your two back-to-back marathons.
Lots of us have previously entered the London Marathon ballot, only to receive disappointment in the autumn when we’re told that next year won’t be your opportunity to take part.
After a few annual rejections, it’s a logical step next year to set yourself up for a back-up marathon option, working on the assumption that next year also won’t be the year of ballot success!
Some UK-based runners choose events like Brighton Marathon, Manchester or Milton Keynes which all fall in the weeks surrounding London Marathon. All great fall-back options to make sure you have a spring marathon in the diary.
What happens, however, if and when you’re successful in the London Marathon ballot?!
Well, that’s up to you…
However, I’ve worked with plenty of runners in the last few years who have decided to challenge themselves to run both marathons.
Of course, this creates a daunting situation where you’ll be running two marathons in a month!
Challenging as this may sound, running back-to-back marathons is totally achievable; just look at the world of multi-stage ultramarathons for inspiration.
You’ll have maybe two or three weeks to recover between marathons, where these ultra-endurance athletes are running the distance on back-to-back days!
It’s all a matter of managing your body properly and taking the right mental approach to the challenge.
There are three big aspects of your training and performance on the day(s) that you’ll need to get right, to successfully nurture your body through the process of running two marathons in two or three weeks:
- Set your goals viewing the two marathons together, not separately
- Prioritise your recovery between the two marathons
- Listen to your body between the two marathons; don’t be too rigid in your approach to training during this time
Let’s unpack each of these aspects one-by-one…
Goal Setting for Back-to-Back Marathons
I’d encourage anybody looking to run two marathons in a month, to approach it as one single challenge. Even if you have three or four weeks between the two, the demands of the first marathon will almost certainly still have an effect on the second.
There are three different approaches you can take when it comes to setting goals for running two marathons in a month. Each of them has its own merits and will suit different types of runner.
1 – Prioritise the first marathon as your opportunity to chase a specific finish time
This approach would be more appropriate for the majority of less experienced marathon runners, for whom recovery between marathons may well take a little longer.
Focusing your time-based expectations on the first of the two marathons will allow you to approach it like any other marathon in terms of your preparation. This will take the pressure right off the second of the two events, leaving you to enjoy the experience.
2 – Target the second marathon as your opportunity to chase a specific finish time
I’d only suggest this for more experienced marathon runners; those who have conditioned their bodies to be able to recover quickly from marathons in the past. Even then, it wouldn’t be my preference.
If you’re thinking about taking this approach, I would encourage you to think about the first of the two marathons as your last big training run in your marathon training block for the “main event”.
You can use the first marathon as an opportunity to practice your target marathon pace for a few miles but otherwise keep the pace very easy.
Taper for 7-10 days before the first marathon, then ramp-down quickly into your taper weeks for the second marathon, while focusing on recovery from the first.
3 – Throw all time expectations out of the window and simply focus on the challenge of finishing two marathons in a month
Of course, you can also take what is perhaps a slightly more pragmatic approach, and say that finishing the two marathons in such a back-to-back fashion is enough of a challenge!
If you’ve found yourself in a position to be running two marathons in quick succession, chances are that there will be more marathons in your future, and more opportunities to chase specific finish times!
You might get more from the whole experience if you simply focus on finishing both marathons while soaking up the atmosphere.
Whatever you choose to do, make it a conscious strategy that you can prepare for… rather than “seeing how you feel on the day”!
I had to take this pragmatic approach when I got a last-minute place to run Berlin Marathon a few years ago; I only had 5 weeks to prepare (here’s how I trained for a marathon in five weeks). I wasn’t in ideal marathon shape, but no way was I going to pass on that opportinuty!
Recovery Between Marathons
It can take your body longer than you think to recover from a marathon. Many of us will be familiar with the still and sore legs that greet us the morning after a marathon, and of course, this usually subsides within a few days of active recovery.
However, the physiological effects of running a marathon can last much longer. Plenty of marathon runners will tell you how frustrating it can be 2-3 weeks post-marathon when you “feel” fine, but your legs still feel off the pace when you try to run faster.
You have to respect the time it takes for your body to recover fully.
But what if you have another marathon to run in two weeks time?!
Well to a degree, your body will take as long as it needs to recover… which is why I prefer the first of the goal setting options above!
However there are a number of things we can do to aid recovery after your first of the two marathons, and potentially speed the recovery process up:
Rehydrate immediately after your marathon
Replacing lost fluids is important after any marathon, not just those run in the heat! It’s not just a case of making up for lost water, but also electrolytes (important salts). Sports drinks like Tailwind combine water, electrolytes and carbohydrates to help you rehydrate during and after exercise.
Many such brands even have specific recovery drinks which include protein, to help you reful and rebuild after your marathon.
It’s important to start rehydrating as soon as you can, and to continue consciously being aware of your hydration for at least the next couple of days after your marathon. Remaining well hydrated will help your body recover more efficiently.
Remember – alcohol will dehydrate you further, and potentially inhibit your ability to recover.
Refuelling after your marathon
Post-run nutrition is so important. You should aim to consume a snack made-up of a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein, within 30 minutes of finishing your marathon. Getting these important macronutrients into your system quickly will help kickstart your body’s recovery process.
Make sure you have a proper meal within two hours of finishing your marathon. Feel free to treat yourself here, you’ve just run a marathon after all!
Cool down and keep moving
The worst thing you can do after your marathon is to simply stop and sit down!
Try to keep moving as you collect your belongings, as a way of performing a gentle cool-down.
If you feel tight, or you know you are prone to tightness in specific areas make time to gently stretch, but don’t be too aggressive with any stretching. Focus on promoting normal movement, rather than stretching intensively. Here’s a post-run stretch routine for you to follow.
If however, you’re worried that an area might be injured (like a calf strain for example), don’t stretch it! You could make the problem worse. Instead, be sure to see a physio as soon as you can.
In the days following your marathon, feel free to gently do some work with the foam roller. You can find a selection of foam roller tutorials here.
Get a sports massage
If you are used to receiving sports massages, then booking to see your massage therapist 3-7 days after your marathon will help further aid recovery, while not being too close to your upcoming marathon.
Make time for active recovery
The morning after most marathons will probably involve you feeling a little tender, but unless you’re dealing with a specific injury, one of the best things you can do is get out and move!
Try going for a gentle walk, or cycle, or a swim. Each of these activities will allow you to get the blood flowing and will aid your recovery. Everything in moderation, of course! You won’t want to be on your feet for eight hours exploring a city, but a 30-90 minute brisk walk, or cycyle the next day will do you the world of good.
Swimming is even better, as the hydrostatic pressure of water will act to give you a massaging effect!
Prioritising active recovery in the first week after your marathon, while you’re giving your body a rest from running, will help to speed-up your recovery and will make your reintroduction to running a little easier the following week.
Get Enough Sleep
It’s important to remember that a great deal of your body’s physical recovery happens while we’re asleep. So don’t skimp on your sleep during the weeks between your back-to-back marathons! Aim to get as close to eight hours of sleep per night as you can.
How to train between two marathons
Listening to your body is the most important tip I can give when it comes to training between back-to-back marathons. If you’re running two marathons in two or three weeks, the number one priority has to be your recovery.
If you’ve followed a structured marathon training plan before the first of your two marathons, the hard work will already be done, and your fitness will be there.
There’s no fitness to be gained through pushing yourself between two marathons in succession. Panic training doesn’t work!
Instead, you should aim to do enough running to provide active recovery for your legs, and to provide enough neuromuscular stimulus to feel like your legs are “getting their running back”… but not so much that you prolong the time it takes to recover from the first marathon.
Let’s say you have two weeks between your two upcoming marathons:
I’d suggest taking 5-7 days off running after your first marathon, then repeat the last 7-9 days of your marathon programme’s taper during the remaining days before your second marathon.
It’s as simple as that.
As I said, there’s no extra fitness to be gained at this point. Your number one concern should be about managing your body!
With that in mind, it also pays not to be too rigid in this period. Knowing that the fitness is “in the bank”, feel free to take an extra day or two of rest if needed. You can compromise by adding a little more cross-training if you like also – perhaps some light work on the bike – nothing taxing on the legs though.
Spin class can wait!
Tips from the pros
If you want more tips for how to train between multiple marathons, Sage Canaday shares some great insights in the video below:
I’d love to hear your experiences…
If you’ve ever run two marathons in a month, I’d love to hear any tips you’d like to add to help others achieve their goal of running two marathons in a month.
Let me know in the comments below!