Running Frequent Marathons

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Running the marathon can be fun rather than an all out race.

While some runners aim to run the marathon distance as fast as they can, others want to accumulate a larger number of marathons. This can be part of the marathon maniacs club, or to run a marathon in each of the US states. To achieve these goals, it is often necessary to run marathons with only a week or so between them, and keep this up for protracted period. This is a different objective from Racing 2 Marathons, where the intent is an all-out, maximum performance in each race. Instead, the frequent marathoner is looking to stay healthy and continue finishing the races. This can be particularly important if a series of races involve expensive travel. This article focuses on the situation where there are 1 to 5 weeks between races, and this will be kept up for many races.

1 Assumptions

This guide makes some assumptions you should be aware of:

  • You must be fit enough to run frequent marathons. This guide is not about attaining the necessary fitness, but instead focuses on the approach to actually running marathons frequently.
  • Everyone is different, so this is not a prescriptive plan. Instead it is intended to be a starting point for your specific approach.
  • Running frequent marathons is generally incompatible with racing the marathons for maximum performance. I assume if you're reading this guide you are focused purely on accumulating a larger number of marathons, not achieving a fast time.
  • I generally specify a range of distances for each training run, but this is to give you a rough idea rather than to provide hard limit. The range of distances can be quite wide, as different runners will have widely differing levels of fitness and endurance.
  • Depending on how frequently your running the marathons you probably won't need much in the way of endurance training.
  • A little bit of speed training may be beneficial. I don't expect you will need Interval Training, but I think it's worth picking up the pace a little so you don't become slower and slower.
  • These approaches assume that you are repeatedly running marathons close together, not simply doing to in quick succession.
  • I've assumed that the marathons on a Saturday, but you should be able to juggle things around for other days of the week.

2 General principles

There are a number of principles that are common to all of these approaches.

  • During the marathon:
    • Run conservatively. Your goal is to run many more races, so do not push the pace.
    • Hydrate and fuel well. This is important for any marathon, but for frequent marathoning the hydration and fueling for the current race is also preparation for the next.
    • Consider taking Walking Breaks, as this can dramatically reduce the physical damage. One approach that I would recommend is walking through the aid stations so you can hydrate and fuel better.
  • After each marathon:
    • Follow the advice in Post Race Recovery, especially to keep moving and walk for 10 to 20 min. This can improve recovery, but don't get cold and try to hydrate and fuel while you walk.
  • In the time between races:
    • Be realistic and adaptable. If you are struggling, then back off the training intensity, and if necessary, skip races.
    • Mood State. You should monitor your Mood State each day, as this is one of the best indicators we have of recovery and potential Overtraining.
    • Sleep well. Try to get plenty of sleep, and adjust your training if you are having problems getting enough sleep. Be aware that trouble sleeping can be an indicator of Overtraining.
    • Eat well. Just because you're running lots of marathons doesn't mean you should eat junk food. Listen to your body, and see what you're craving. The desire for high fat foods is not uncommon after marathons, and might be more useful than carbohydrates. This is something you may have to experiment with.
    • Monitor your weight. If you're gaining weight you may need to be more careful with what you eat. On the other hand unintentional weight loss is a warning sign. You may need to eat more or back off the frequency of marathons.
    • Avoid Stretching. In most cases Stretching should be avoided, unless you have a specific flexibility problem.

3 The Training

The guides below include a number of suggested workouts.

  • DiagW. This "Diagnostic Walk" is intended to check for any injury or problems. The walk should start off gentle, and build up to a brisk walk. If you have any particular pain points or problems, they need to be fixed. Muscular or tendon problems can often be resolved with self Massage, but if in doubt contact a professional.
  • DiagM. This is a "Diagnostic Massage" that is focused on checking for problems, rather than fixing them. A light Massage with The Stick can help reveal underlying issues. If your muscles are tender to the touch, and the massage with The Stick is unpleasant, you probably have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
  • DiagR-Post. This is a post marathon "Diagnostic Run". Keep this run short enough that there is relatively little training stress, but enough to warm-up and check that everything is working okay. Keep up the pace at a comfortable, easy pace. I would suggest running somewhere between 2 and 4 miles.
  • MF. These are "Marathon Fartlek" runs, designed to provide some gentle speed training. Like any other Fartlek run, these can be as unstructured as you like. The key is to do a reasonable portion of the run at or slightly above the pace you typically run your marathons at. Note that this is not "Marathon Pace" in the sense of the pace you would race an all-out marathon, but rather the pace you will use in these frequent marathons. If you run these frequent marathons at an easy pace, then pick up the pace a little during these runs, but don't run hard. Remember to Warmup gently, and I would include a Cooldown that has some easy running and a short walk.
  • MF+. These are slightly faster versions of the MF run described above. The goal is still not to run hard, but I have some periods of running and distinctly faster than your usual marathon pace. Concentrate on good Cadence and Running Form during these faster periods.
  • DiagR-Pre. This is partly "Diagnostic Run", but it's mostly a confidence builder and a mental-health run to do right before the next marathon. You should keep this short, probably between 2 and 3 miles, but you could include some running at or slightly faster than your usual marathon pace.
  • Msg-L & Msg-D. These are massage days, "Msg-L" is light massage and "Msg-D" is deep massage. The light massage should not produce any additional soreness, and should be relatively superficial. The deeper massage should work deep into the muscles. If you can afford it, a good professional massage is ideal, but self-massage can be quite effective. See Massage for a list of tools and techniques. You should aim for somewhere between 10 min. and an hour on massage depending on how you were feeling, your skill level, and your available time.
  • Med. These are medium distance runs, designed to provide a little bit of endurance stress. These should be run mostly at an easy pace, but include some sections at or above your usual marathon pace. Don't run hard, but just remind your legs and brain how to run a little faster.
  • Cross. Optionally you can include some cross training such as cycling or other easy aerobic exercise. Be extremely careful about introducing a new form of exercise while running marathons frequently as your body may be a little more delicate than you expect.

4 A Marathon Every Week

When there is just a single week between marathons, the only objective is recovery. The 2 MF runs should be enough to thoroughly warmed up and provide a little stress to aid in the healing process. They should be just fast enough to prevent you becoming slower and slower others these frequent marathons progress. The goal here is not to build speed through physical adaptation so much as to remind the neurological pathways. Also, running slightly faster can make the easy of paces seem easier during the marathon.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post MF (2-5) Msg-D MF (3-5) DiagR-Pre

5 A Marathon Every 2 Weeks

With two weeks between marathons it becomes more worthwhile to add a little bit of training between races. Compared with a marathon every week the MF runs could be slightly longer and there is the opportunity for a medium run on the intervening weekend.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post MF (3-5) Msg-L MF (3-8) Msg-D
Med (5-10) Cross Msg-D MF (3-8) Msg-D MF (3-5) DiagR-Pre

6 A Marathon Every 3 Weeks

Running the marathons three weeks apart means it is more important to actually train between races. Without any training between races you are likely to detrain. This is a delicate balancing act between keeping your fitness, and recovering well. The runs on the two intervening weekends could be a little longer, but I would suggest that speed is probably more important in distance. Therefore focus on picking up the pace a little, rather than on the distance of this run. Depending on your fitness and information you could build one or two of the MF runs up to a slightly longer distance.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post MF (3-5) Msg-L MF (3-5) Msg-D
Med (5-16) Cross Msg-D MF+ (3-10) Msg-D MF+ (3-10) Msg-D
Med (5-10) Cross Msg-D MF (3-5) Msg-D MF (3-5) DiagR-Pre

7 A Marathon Every 4 Weeks

With four weeks between races, the medium runs can become a little longer, as can the MF runs.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post MF (3-5) Msg-L MF (3-5) Msg-D
Med (5-16) Cross Msg-D MF+ (3-13) Cross + Msg-D MF+ (5-13) Msg-D
Med (8-20) Cross Msg-D MF+ (3-13) Cross + Msg-D MF+ (3-10) Msg-D
Med (5-10) Cross Msg-D MF (3-5) Msg-D MF (3-5) DiagR-Pre

8 A Marathon Every 5 Weeks

The approach for running marathons five weeks apart is very similar to four weeks. I recommend stretching the distance out slightly on the middle week.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post MF (3-5) Msg-L MF (3-5) Msg-D
Med (5-16) Cross Msg-D MF+ (3-13) Cross + Msg-D MF+ (3-10) Msg-D
Med (13-20) DiagR-Post Msg-D MF+ (5-13) Cross + Msg-D MF+ (5-13) Msg-D
Med (8-20) DiagR-Post Msg-D MF+ (3-13) Cross + Msg-D MF+ (3-10) Msg-D
Med (5-10) Cross Msg-D MF+ (3-5) Msg-D MF (3-5) DiagR-Pre

9 Running Back to Back Marathons Every Week

Running to Back to Back Marathons every week can be quite stressful. The diagnostic runs become important to detect any potential problem before it becomes an injury, and the massage is critical to keep everything functioning properly.

Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri
Marathon Marathon DiagW + DiagM DiagR-Post + Msg-L Msg-D MF (2-5) DiagR-Pre
Marathon Marathon