How to Run Back to Back Marathons

In the fall of 2011, I ran a 30 miler, the NYC Marathon, and the Knickerbocker 60k within a 5 week window.  I showed up to the start line of each race feeling rested, energized, and ready to run.

It seems like running back to back marathons in a short period of time (~2 weeks) is becoming more and more popular.   Here are some of the things I did to ensure I was ready for each:

Let your body dictate when to run again.  There is no golden window for when you should return to running post-marathon.  There are so many outside variables that go into how long your body needs to recover – How hard did you run?  Was the course hilly?  How is your body reacting to the 26.2 miles?

I found that I needed almost no time to recover from the 30 miler.  Why?  It was a long, slow run – not a race.  I ran a steady pace for the whole 30 miles (8:34) and didn’t push myself like I normally would in a race.  I even felt okay enough to run a bit that afternoon during a photo/film shoot for the NYC Marathon (this is me a few hours after the 30 miler).  I took two full days off from the 30 miler and returned with a easy, slow 5 miler (8:45 pace).

After the NYC Marathon, I needed four days off – I pushed myself harder and the course was hillier than the course for the 30 miler (totally flat).

Don’t circle a date on the calendar for your first run post-marathon.  Listen to your body.  Have no expectations when you wake up each day.  See how you feel.  Pay attention to your body and how sore you feel.

Drink, Drink, Drink.  Running a marathon dehydrates you more than you realize.  During my 60k, I lost 7 pounds – AND I was running with a camelbak and stopping at every water point.  I felt fine and didn’t feel dehydrated post-race but there is no way that I wasn’t with how much sweat came out of my body.  It takes more than a day or two for your body to recover from the loss of sweat/fluid.  This can be especially hard if you are like me – I often lose my appetite for days after a hard race.  Ensuring you are drinking extra water and fluids is SO important.

First week is recovery, second week is taper.  Between each of the races, I didn’t run more than 7  miles at a time.  It took about a week to fully recover from each race and I immediately began a modified taper for the next.  What did this mean for me?  After a few days off, I did a couple of 4-6 milers at recovery pace (8:45-9:00).  At the one week mark, I did a 7 miler at an easy pace (8:30).  And the following week (taper) was filled with mostly 3-6 milers at an easy pace (8:30) with two rest days.

Slow and Steady During each recovery/taper window, almost every run was slow and relaxed.  I didn’t run anything close to my race pace (with the exception of a mile or two during a few runs to loosen up my legs).  Your fitness level will not disappear in those weeks – focus on recovery and resting rather than trying to improve your pace.

Do some sort of modified speedwork / tempo run in the taper week.  It may go against common practice, but I found that it helped loosen up my legs in preparation for the upcoming race.  I didn’t do a full speed workout – just a few 1/4 and 1/2 mile repeats (around race pace) to stretch out my legs and get my heart rate up.

One target race.  It’s a lot on your body to expect to go full out for two races in such a small window.  I’d recommend selecting one race to focus on as your target race and using the other race(s) as training or for fun.  My target race was the NYC Marathon – participating in the Foot Locker 5 Borough Challenge was the experience of a lifetime for me and I wanted to ensure that I was rested enough to race (and win).


Have you done back-to-back races?  Did you do anything that helped you for the second race?


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    13 thoughts on “How to Run Back to Back Marathons

    1. Pingback: Saturday Shares

    2. Haha, you just said my 5 mile race was mind boggling and I was thinking the same thing about you running back to back distance races! Great post! I agree that you have to listen to your body instead of having an idea about when you *should* be getting back into the training and that your back-to-back efforts probably shouldn’t be done at full race speed!
      Jen B recently posted..Columbus Turkey Trot 2012 Race RecapMy Profile

    3. Ha- Of course this post caught my eye!! I am attempting my 2nd marathon this Saturday just 27 days after my last one. I have raced marathons 7 weeks apart and found that spacing to be just fine so doing 4 this time around is pushing it a little for me. I know many people do 2 weeks (or less) but I am not quite ready for that yet!

      Reading this reminded me to drink more water! I’ve got to stay hydrated this week. It is definitely challenging trying to merge marathon recovery, training and tapering into such a short time span. :-)
      Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom recently posted..The anniversary of my worst race ever…My Profile

    4. I have yet to attempt back-to-back big ones. I think I am about the slowest person on the planet to recover from big efforts, so I just can’t imagine doing it. I think you are so right, though, when you say that you have to target one race if you’re doing it. So many people try to go for their PR in two races in a row–that, I think, it really tough to do.

      You are so impressive with those three big efforts so close together!
      misszippy1 recently posted..Cyber MondayMy Profile

    5. This article could not have come at a better time. I am (very quietly) going to be doing another marathon on January 6 (I just finished one November 11) six weeks apart. Of the people I have spoken to this about there is one group is completely against this saying it’s not enough time to recover and, the other says if you do it right and, as you say “listen to your body” it can be done. Fingers crossed!
      Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

    6. Last year I ran Boston in mid April, the Big Lake Half Marathon the second Saturday in May and then the Vermont Key Bank marathon at the end of May (all within a five week period too). I ran Boston easy, just to enjoy it and the experience. I PR’d at the Big Lake 1/2. And I was gunning for a 3:40 marathon at Vermont, but fell far short in 4:03. It was a combination of hard race day conditions: 80% humidity and temps rising into the high 70’s plus being overtrained and tired. I think I should have taken the Big Lake easy (its a super hilly course) if I had wanted to make Vermont my “good” race. I had no control over the weather, but I think I may have had a better time had I taken it easy at the 1/2 three weeks prior. It’s hard to know since the weather was such a factor. I think if I were to do it again, I’d pick and choose which ones I wanted to race for a PR and which ones I wanted to run easy as a training run.
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Slow and EasyMy Profile