This article originally appeared on HSS's blog, The Playbook, on October 14, 2019.
While running back-to-back marathons is challenging, you get to experience the exhilaration of crossing the finish line twice, earn two medals and gain bragging rights all with one training cycle. If you are signed up for two marathons within a 4-week period, there are few keys to increasing your chance for success.
Right After the First Race
After a marathon, proper recovery is a priority, and begins as soon as you cross the finish line. Refuel within 30-60 minutes with water or a sports drink, making sure to replenish the carbohydrates, protein, and water/electrolytes you lost during the race. Eat a small meal consisting of 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates: protein. Cool down with a light jog or a walk and stay warm. Eat a decent-sized healthy meal before getting plenty of sleep.
The First Week After the First Race
The week after the first race is focused on recovery. Daily stretching exercises and foam rolling will facilitate soft tissue recovery. Schedule a massage 48 hours post-race. During this time, you will want to do light non-impact exercises like using the stationary bike and relaxed swimming to increase blood flow and prevent your body from getting stiff. While your mind will tell you to run, consider this as “active rest” and know that this is a critical part of training—both physically and mentally.
The Second Week After the First Race
The second week is still focused on recovery, but you can start doing short easy-effort runs. Remember that there is not much you can do to increase your fitness level at this point, so focus on maintaining your fitness. If you are aiming for a PR in the second race, moderate-intensity interval workouts are recommended.
If your second marathon is within 1-2 weeks of the first, your training ends here. If you have 1-2 more weeks, you can add in a long run; it does not need to be longer than 10-12 miles. Remember, you just ran a 26.2 mile “long run.” Choose intensity over distance if you’re aiming to PR at your second race.
You will also need to taper, even if it’s for one week.
Eat smaller meals throughout the day and get plenty of lean meat to promote muscle repair, high quality complex carbohydrates for glycogen restoration, as well as healthy fats.
Sleep is critical for cell repair, rebuilding, and restoring your body back to its pre-marathon state. Make time for at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night between races. If this is challenging, consider taking several naps during the day.
Adjust Your Expectations
The first marathon can be used as a “long run,” which is a great way to practice fluid/nutrition intake, experience race day jitters, and work out race-day scenarios. If you crushed a PR during your first race, then make the second a leisurely run.
Lastly, remember to listen to your body more than your mind. Recovery and rest is part of training, and can positively influence your performance.
Yukiko Matsuzaki PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, is an advanced clinician at HSS Rehabilitation. An avid marathon runner, Yukiko is dedicated to caring for patients with orthopedic and sports injuries and holds a particular interest in treating young athletes.