Training for Multiple Long Distance Races
A common scenario for runners within the hours after finishing a marathon is showering, slipping on some compression socks, plopping on the couch, and beginning the search for the next race. If the marathon was your very first one, you mostly likely will feel so depleted immediately after crossing the finish line that you may initially swear to never run a race again. This sensation is short-lived, because the excitement and feeling of triumph brings on the urge to toe the line again soon, especially when so many loved ones are congratulating you the same day.
Running a marathon is a big deal. It brings a sense of accomplishment and strength to our minds and hearts, but it is also a great deal of work on our bodies. Unless you are an ultra runner who trains for 50 or 100 mile races, you will most likely feel completely exhausted and sore for days following the race. This is how you know your body went through a tough time. The several months of training required its own rest days throughout the cycle, but the body now is begging for a longer recovery following race day. There are many reasons to run several marathons in one year, but it is important know how to recover and train properly for each.
Reasons to Get Back Out There
Achieving a personal best finishing time at a marathon is probably one of the best feelings in a runner’s life. You work so hard for months with some enjoyable and some dreadful training days, but it is all worth it at the end when you reach your goals. This feeling may cause you to want to get a race back on the schedule as soon as possible to see how much better you can get. On the opposite spectrum, if you have a not-so-good race, you may be tempted to race again soon after for redemption purposes.
In some parts of the country, there are only certain times of the year it is safe to schedule marathons, which leaves only a few months to race locally. For example, Florida has extremely hot and humid summers. Temperatures are in the upper 90s with 100% humidity most days, even in the early mornings. Most, if not all, marathons are scheduled in the late Fall and early Spring for this reason. If you want to race more than one time a year in Florida, you will most likely have to schedule the races just a couple of months apart.
There are also many race organizations that have challenges where you can receive extra medals or prizes for completing a certain amount of races. The Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge in Disney World is an example. Run the half marathon on Saturday AND the full marathon on Sunday, both within certain pacing requirements, and you will receive a special medal! Florida also has the Florida Storm Series where you receive special medals for completing three, four, or five of their races. Most of the races are within October through March, and a good amount of runners will complete all of the races in the series! Besides these examples, some runners have a personal goal such as running a marathon in all 50 states within a certain time frame, or running one marathon a month. If you wish to race often, it is doable but training and recovery have to be quite specific, and you will need to make sure to listen to your body.
Recovery is Priority
Following a marathon or any other excessive aerobic exercise there is significant damage to our muscles, heart, and many other organ systems. Studies show that myocardial and skeletal damage depicted by high levels of creatinine kinase and myoglobin in the blood, persists for at least one week following a race. Some data also demonstrates that there is a temporary volume overload in the atria and right ventricle of the heart as well as a reduced ejection fraction. These negative cardiac changes return to normal levels within one week, but the repetitive excessive aerobic exercise over time may be linked to hardening of the heart and arrhythmias. Although this is inconclusive data at the moment, it brings more awareness to the workload the heart itself takes on with training for and racing marathons.
Even if soreness subsides after a couple of days, the creatinine kinase and myoglobin elevations in the bloodstream remain, which requires more recovery time than just those few days. This is why it is important to not base your recovery time on your level of soreness. It is best to recover at least a full week whether your next race is two weeks away or more than a month. Recovery means little to no strength training, easy running, and light cross training exercises such as the stationary bike, swimming or pool walking. After this time, the return to training will depend on how many total weeks are available before the next race.
Back to Training Mode
A reverse taper is always needed no matter how soon the next race is. Basically, wean back into regular training just as you weaned off of it the week of the last race. If your next marathon is only two weeks away, there will be no real training weeks during those two weeks. A few days of proper recovery, a few easy runs, and one or two short speed or tempo workouts is all the body will be able to safely handle before the next race.
If the next marathon is one to two months away, ideally you will want a recovery week and another taper week before the next race. So this leaves at least two weeks of real training where you build back up to 90% of the volume from the previous marathon. With such little time in between races, it is best to not try to increase the current volume of your training to avoid injury.
Proper marathon training requires at least 12 to 16 weeks of preparation. This is how long it takes to make progress with different energy systems in the body. Mitochondria are the organisms in charge of producing the energy required during long aerobic work such as a marathon. These organisms take time to develop, at least 10 to 12 weeks, therefore the progress you can make in another marathon in less than 12 weeks is minimal to none. It is possible to gain another PR in that second race, but continuing this pattern for a third one will most likely not work.
Many runners have great success running races close together but it is important to not go into this pattern with hopes of success each time. If you are merely racing for fun and are not planning to push hard, then go for it, but think twice if you want to have success at each race. Most elite runners schedule marathons twice a year, at least six months apart. A good strategy if you love to race often is planning on two marathons a year, with a few half marathons and some shorter races in between. You will be able to recover properly and are less likely to get injured or develop overtraining symptoms.