How to train for back-to-back marathons

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Elsie asks: I'm training for my first marathon, which is at the end of November. My plan is to do this marathon, and then six weeks later, I want to run another one with some friends. Is this crazy? Is it possible to run two marathons so close together?

Yes, it’s possible. Perhaps it’s not always advisable, but, if you train and race smart, it is doable. On the plus side, running back-to-back marathons takes full advantage of long runs and high mileage by parlaying them into multiple races... and multiple medals. This is not something you should plan on doing all of the time though because the challenge is not without some risk. There’s a chance for an insufficient amount of recovery time between races, excessive fatigue, early glycogen depletion during your second race and even injury. With that in mind, it’s important to listen to your body during training and once you start racing and know when to back off if necessary. 

When running back-to-back marathons - especially because this is your first go at 26.2 miles - I suggest you use the first marathon as a long training run. Rather than doing a long 20-plus mile run, run the first marathon instead. This means you should run this race conservatively and maintain a very easy pace, just like a training run. Take walk breaks as needed and/or walk some of the miles. Use this race to practice taking water, sports drinks and nutrition. Essentially, this first race is a dress rehearsal for the second marathon in six weeks. 

After the first marathon, recovery is imperative and will become the focus of your training. The first week after the race, you should take completely off - sleep in, eat, take ice baths, stretch, foam roll, get a massage and walk. Light activity will actually help you recover faster by increasing your circulation, but you do not need to run during the week following the race. On the other hand, if you are feeling great and want to run, keep it very easy and short. Don’t do more than four miles. 

Follow this plan for the following weeks leading up to your second marathon: 

Post-marathon Week 2: Resume some running. Runs should be done at an easy pace and be relatively short - no more than three to four miles. At the weekend, try four to six miles. It’s okay to walk a bit, too. 
Week 3: Weekday runs can begin building in distance. Keep runs between four and six miles. The weekend run should be between eight to 10 miles at an easy pace.
Week 4: Weekday runs can range from six to eight miles. The weekend run will build to 12 to 14 miles, and then it’s taper time again. 
Week 5: Weekday runs are reduced to four to six miles for taper, and the weekend run is eight to 10 miles. 
Week 6: The final week before your marathon, run three miles twice during the week and prepare for race day. 

For your second marathon, put your experience from your first to work. Now you have a good idea of what to expect during the marathon. Bring plenty of nutrition to fuel your race and again, start out conservatively with your pace. Once you reach the halfway point, assess how you feel. If all is well, consider picking up the pace just a bit between miles 20 and 22. Once you reach mile 22, you can consider pushing the pace and running it in if you are feeling good. You may very well be on pace to better your time.