How to Run Back to Back Marathons

Breaking the tape at the 2011 NYC Marathon

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).

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    How Do You Get Through a Long Run?

    The tweets, facebook updates, and blog posts have begun – all discussing fall marathons and the initial couple of weeks of training for these races. That means weekly long runs are starting – by mid-summer, there’ll be plenty of 20+ mile runs being completed in preparation for the upcoming races.

    One question I’ve been asked repeatedly is how I get through long runs – week in and week out – without getting burned out.  When I was training for the NYC Marathon and the Knickerbocker 60k (concurrently), I had successful training runs up to 30 miles.

    Long runs during marathon training are just as much based on mental strength as they are on physical strength (if not more).  So how do you mentally survive running 14+ miles every weekend for a few months??  Here are some things I do to get me through my long runs:

    • Break up the run.  Once the run begins, I try not to think about the total distance I have left to run until it’s well under half.  Being at mile 2 of a 22 mile run is a bit intimidating and can easily throw off your concentration.  When I ran 30 miles on my 30th birthday, I broke the run up into 6 – 5 mile increments.  I focused on 5 miles at a time (which coincided with a 5 mile loop that I was running on). Each time I finished five miles, I told myself that I only had to make it through the next 5 miles.  5 miles is totally manageable.
    • Concentrate on one mile at a time.  Focusing on just one mile and the pace I want to hit makes my goal pace seem more manageable. I tell myself that I have to run the next mile at x:xx pace – as soon as the mile clicks on my Garmin, I start working on the next mile.
    • DON’T be a slave to your Garmin.  Constantly looking at your pace and distance will make the miles drag on. One of my recent tricks is to keep my Garmin on the main display so all I see is the current time.  I get a vibrating notification when I finish a mile – that’s the only time I see my pace.  This may not work if you are trying to hit very specific times during your long run, but since I am running based on how I feel rather than pace, it doesn’t hinder my run.
    • Pick a new route.  I always enjoy runs where I am exploring or covering new terrain, so I often try to leave certain routes or areas alone during the week and save them for the weekend long run.  Just this past weekend, I ran a point-to-point route that I had yet to run – the miles FLEW by because I was enjoying my new surroundings.
    • Let your mind wander. Think about the rest of your day,  what you are going to eat/drink when the run is over, maybe an upcoming vacation or trip – whatever will keep your mind distracted.   When I was training for my first ultra, I had about 5 miles left of a 28 mile trail run – I was tired – and starting to get hungry (for real food – not just gels).  My husband was my roving support on his bike and told me that he would get me one of my favorite indulgent foods when we got back – KFC!!  That was all I needed to hear.  I spent the last few miles thinking about fried chicken, potato wedges, and biscuits.
    • Listen to Music. As I’ve discussed previously, I am a huge fan of having music on my runs.  It keeps my mind occupied and makes me happy.  For me, there is nothing better than when one of my favorite songs come on my IPOD and I get pumped up and pick up the pace during mile 20 of that long run.
    • Envision success.  Picture yourself running the last few miles of the marathon you are training for.  When I was training for the NYC Marathon, I did a few runs in Central Park to get used to the hills.  I ran the same route that the last few miles of NYC Marathon follows.  I envisioned myself coming into the park,  I saw and heard the crowds, I actually could feel the adrenaline of race day!  And would immediately get a boost of energy and excitement.
    • Allow time in your plan for rest/recovery/low mileage days. I follow the hard, hard, hard, easy rule for long runs.  For example, I’ll run 16, 18, 20 miles three weeks in a row followed by an easy or off week where I’ll run 10-12 miles.  The following week I’ll run 20, 22, 24 miles.  Knowing that I get that easy long run day helps me push myself through the current run.  Going back to my previous high mileage also gives me a buffer week in case I am sick, scheduling conflicts arise, or just need a week off from the long run.

    In the end, do the things that you enjoy – if you prefer music over running “naked”, bring your IPOD; if you enjoy running alone vs with a group, then make it a solo run.  Make the run as enjoyable as possible for yourself !!

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      The “core” of my marathon training

      abdominal-core-copy

      This was a conversation between me and my husband two weeks after I ran my first ultra in November:
      Me: I don’t think I’m in very good shape right now.
      Hubby (with a look of bewilderment): You just ran a 37.2 mile race and finished with a 9:10 pace.  I would say you are in pretty good shape.
      Me: Ok. Let me rephrase.  I’m in “running shape.”  But my overall fitness level is not where it needs to be.  My legs are strong, but the rest of my body is not.

      Have you ever said this to yourself?  

      How did I let this happen?

      I got into a very bad habit of just running in August…I stopped doing core work on a frequent basis because my concentration was on increasing my miles for the NYC Marathon and the Knickerbocker 60k (both in November).  At the time, we didn’t have a treadmill, so I would run either early in the morning (5am) or during one of my son’s naps if a family member was able to babysit. (Note: I would LOVE to do more stroller ruins with my little guy, but he has never enjoyed just sitting in the stroller.)  I would run up until the last possible moment – whether it was a phone call to tell me my son was up or it was time for my husband to go to work – then return home to shower and start the day/afternoon with my son.

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        Pacing lessons

        As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’ve always had a problem with not pacing myself correctly on long runs or races.  I start too fast and then pay for it heavily at the end.  I had always believed that I could start fast and gain some “extra time” so that when I slow down towards the end, I’ll finish at the pace I want.  I am thankful to say that I have finally realized my theory is completely wrong.  After the SI Half a couple of weeks ago, it clicked that I REALLY need to slow down and pace myself (discussed in Rookie Mistake).  =&0=& to complete (not including 5x that I had to stop – once to fix my socks which had slipped beneath the back of my heel (I need to find socks that do not do this!), twice to pull out power gels that were in my camelbak, once to call Paul to tell him I needed more water, and once to drink the water/powerade that Paul had for me – the total time of “stopped time” was about 7 min) – Overall pace was 8:34 – I ran negative splits – the first 15 miwere covered in 129:13 (8:36 pace); second 15 mi were covered in 128:04 (8:32 pace) – My fastest miles were 8:19 (mile 19), 8:21 (mile 14), 8:23 (mile 23), and 8:24 (mile 30!)

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          Lived, Ran, and Learned

          My second attempt at my furthest distance to date went off (almost) without a hitch.  I plan on writing subsequent blogs on specific aspects of the long run (fueling and pacing), so this blog is more of a brief recap. 


          I started the run @ 520am.  It was around 48 degrees so I decided to wear shorts, a tank top, arm warmers, and gloves.  If you dress to be comfortable and warm for the start of the run, you will be hurting yourself for a few reasons:
          – The more clothes you put on your body, the more weight you will be carrying.  Doesn’t sound like much – but if you are doing a long run, an extra pound or two of clothes can – and will – make a difference
          – If you start before the sun comes up, the sunrise will only make it seem warmer (even if the actual temperature doesn’t increase)
          – Once you start running, your body will warm up on it’s own (usually about 10-15 min into a run).  If you are overdressed, you will quickly overheat and sweat more than you should be – which will lead to dehydration issues
          So although I was cold the first 20 min, I warmed up and was completely comfortable for the remainder of the run.
          * If you are unsure of what to wear on a long run, feel free to ask me!!  Or check out Runner’s World “What to Wear” tool that allows you to input the weather conditions and your comfort level for the cold – and will give you an idea of the appropriate level of laying:
          http://www.runnersworld.com/cda/whattowear/0,7152,s6-240-325-330-0,00.html

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            Live and Learn

            My attempted 30 miler today did not go as planned.  I ran just over 16 miles before I decided to call it a day.  I am trying to remain positive and use my failed attempt as a learning tool for future long runs.

            The whole day started out on the wrong foot.  I had a 645am photoshoot with the Daily News in Central Park – my plan was to start my run immediately upon finishing.  Unfortunately, although I was promised it would only take 15 min, the shoot actually lasted almost 2 hours – and about an hour of it consisted of me running up and down a hill – over and over and over again.  Because of the delay, I didn’t actually start my run until 945 – after being up over 5 hours and having only eaten a piece of whole wheat bread with peanut butter.  In addition, there were refueling issues, major crowding in the park due to a breast cancer walk, and strong winds – which only added to my lack of motivation to finish the run.  Here are my key takeaways from today:

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              30 for 30

              I am turning 30 next Friday.  Surprisingly, I am not having any anxiety or trepidation about this supposed momentous event in my life.  I think a lot has to do with the realization that I’m completely happy with my life and the family and friends I surround myself with these days.  I haven’t accomplished everything I thought I would by this age – I’m not holding down a powerful, high-paying job (I’m a stay-at-home mom), my family is not living in a huge house (we are in a 2-BR apt to save some $ to buy a home – hopefully in the next few months), and I often struggle to find the time and energy to head out the door each day to get a 45 min run in (nothing near my plans to have completed several ultras by this point)…But despite all of these “shortcomings”, I’ve never been so happy.  

              I’ve decided to celebrate my 30th birthday by doing what else?  Running!!  What better way to start the new year – and new decade – then running?  And since 30 is a special year, I have decided to run my age in miles!!  

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