Back to Back Marathons
This article is about running two or more marathons on consecutive days. It has some applicability to multiday stage races and multiday "go as you please" races. For racing two marathons close together, see Racing 2 Marathons.
1 The Challenges
There are several difficulties in running marathons on consecutive days.
- Glycogen Depletion. Glycogen is the stored in the muscles as a fuel for running, and the lack of Glycogen is a primary limiting factor in marathon running.
- Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. While the pain of DOMS is normally noticed 24-48 hours after exercise, the weakness is immediate.
- Muscular Soreness. This refers to non-DOMS muscle soreness and generally responds to different treatments. With DOMS the muscles are tender to the touch and often have pronounced weakness. With non-DOMS soreness, Massage can feel painful but good.
- Lack of Sleep. After a race, it can be hard to sleep, making subsequent events tougher.
2 Possible Mitigations
- The optimum mitigation is to train specifically for back to back marathons. Doing long runs on consecutive days is ideal for this. Getting used to the feeling of running long on tired legs helps prepare physically and mentally for the challenge.
- Taking on extra carbohydrate in the race can help preserve muscle Glycogen and provide fuel for running. I would recommend 4-8 Gels plus one taken 5 minutes before the start of the race. Extra carbohydrate may also reduce muscle damage. See When to eat Energy Gels in the Marathon.
- Post race nutrition is critical to replace used Glycogen so following Nutrient Timing may make a significant difference to recovery. You can work out the calories required to run the race and add in the calories for your Basal Metabolic Rate. This will give you an idea of the number of calories you need to consume to be in balance. In practice, it may be tricky to consume sufficient calories, but following Nutrient Timing will help. For a rough estimate, assume around 2,600 Calories for the race and 2,400 for BMR, giving a total of 5,000 Calories required.
- Rehydration is important between races, and replenishing electrolytes is as critical to rehydration as water. Drinking excessive water without electrolytes is dangerous and can be fatal. Simply add 1/4 teaspoon of table salt per quart of drink as part of your Nutrient Timing recovery to help with correct rehydration. Consuming salty snacks or adding extra salt to your food is also prudent. More at Practical Hydration and Hydration 101.
- To prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness you should focus training on Downhill Running so that your muscles adapt. This is obviously especially valuable for hilly races.
- DOMS does not generally respond to ice, Massage or anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen. Taking Caffeine may offset some of the problems when running with DOMS. The pain of DOMS should be alleviated as the muscles warm up, but the weakness will remain.
- Non-DOMS muscle soreness can be helped with ice, including possibly an ice bath. Using ice directly after a race may have greater benefits. Some athletes prefer a longer bath in cold, but not freezing water.
- In the absence of DOMS, Massage can help with non-DOMS muscle soreness and improve recovery. I would recommend The Stick.
- Be cautious with Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs; do the research and understand the risks.
- Sleep can be tough after a race, especially if you have to travel a long distance between locations. Getting short naps can help, but careful planning may be needed to arrange the logistics to provide sufficient time to sleep.
- Make contact with groups that focus on consecutive marathons, such as Marathon Maniacs
- Wear the shirt from the previous race to the next one. This should provide some added support and encouragement.