Should You Run Back-to-Back Marathons? | Fleet Feet (2024)

Training for a marathon is a complicated endeavor. Preparing for said race may include early mornings and nights, altering your diet, declining social events as well as physical and mental exhaustion for about four months to a year.

Yet, when an opportunity arises to run two dream marathon races in a short time frame, it’s hard to pass up. For starters, deferring one of the races to the following year may not be allowed or even an option if you have scheduling conflicts. Plus, since you already have months of running under your belt, it seems easier to pick up another race in the same time frame instead of committing another four to six months of training. But it begs the question: Should you run back-to-back marathons?

If you’re injury-free and have no health issues, it can probably be done. However, you still need to be strategic and have a set plan. Here are some tips.

Ben Delaney, NYRR’s Director of Training Programs and Operations as well as New York Road Runners’ head coach, doesn’t recommend attempting this endeavor. “As an NYRR coach, I typically do not advise most runners to do back-to-back marathons,” said Delaney. “There is not a steadfast rule when it comes to this, but it is a tough task.”

Delaney also recommends considering how long each marathon will take to run. “You cannot discount time on your feet when it comes to any race,” he says. “A runner is burning through fuel, asking their muscles to work for several hours, so they need to be aware and mindful of the breakdown followed by recovery for each marathon.”

Scott Butler, a New York resident who is also a certified McMillan running coach, has a different approach. Due to the rescheduling of races during the COVID pandemic, he ran the Berlin, London, and Chicago marathons all within 15 days back in 2021 (London usually takes place in April and was pushed to October).

“I do recommend running races close together. It sounds daunting to some but runners are always running,” Butler said. “If you train for that first one, you're trained for the next one the following week or within the next few weeks. Road racing is very popular right now and getting into races is not as easy as it used to be. If you get into races you want and they are close together or even on consecutive weeks, embrace it and go for it,” he says. It’s essential to note that Butler considers himself an experienced marathoner who runs six days a week.

Let’s say you decide to disregard Delaney’s aforementioned advice and still want to complete two marathons in a short time frame (most runners are stubborn, after all). Delaney asks runners attempting back-to-back marathons to consider the following questions:

  • What is your goal?
  • How many marathons have you done previously?
  • Would this be your first time running back-to-back marathons?
  • How much time is there between the two marathons?

“The goal of any training cycle should be to get to the start line of that race healthy, regardless of distance. If a runner is not healthy, then they’ve possibly created a situation where they might not be able to deliver their best effort or race,” said Delaney.

“So, with that said, a good rule of thumb when looking at the safest way to run back-to-back marathons is to have a realistic expectation of what you are looking to accomplish. Are these both hard effort races, meaning you will be running for a desired time? Or is one an A-goal race and the other a B-goal race? Is one marathon course better suited to your running style and goals? Are you having to travel distances, either flying or driving, between each marathon? Are you allowing time for recovery between the two marathons?”

Traveling proved to be more of a challenge to Butler than the marathons themselves. “I traveled from New York to Berlin on the Thursday prior to the marathon. The day after I raced in Berlin, I flew to London for the week,” he said. “The day after London, I flew back to New York for a few days and then flew from New York to Chicago on the Friday prior to that race and returned home on Monday the day after. Traveling between time zones was a lot more tiring than running the races.”

Your best bet whenever attempting something new is to go to an expert for advice.

“The biggest tip I can provide to any runner is to seek assistance, especially if this is your first go around with back-to-back marathons,” said Delaney.

Fleet Feet offers training programs that give you access to an experienced coach, as well as the accountability provided by other runners.

“There is a reason why most professional runners only do one to three marathons per year,” Delaney says. “Marathons take time to train for and time to recover from. Marathon training is long and asks a lot of the body and mind. Be sure to ask questions, be open to advice and adjust your training schedule as needed.”

Choose one race that you will put your best effort in on race day and the other you run for fun. This way, you’re less prone to injury and are not unnecessarily depleted. Designating an A-race will also allow you to set realistic expectations. After all, it’s nearly impossible to PR at two marathons back to back.

Choose the easier of the two courses for the A-race or talk to a coach to see which is best for you. “I have worked with runners that are doing marathons two to four weeks apart and I typically instruct them to use that first marathon as the A-goal race, with the second marathon as the B-goal race,” said Delaney.

“The typical recovery timeline needed after that A-goal marathon is about three to four weeks, depending on the level of effort given. Trying to bounce back for that second marathon can be a bit of an unknown as the body will react differently each time to your post-race recovery.

I have worked with runners doing marathons on shorter time frames, like one week between, and I monitor their rest between the two. There is no reason to run during that one week as recovery should be paramount. Repairing damage to the muscles and rebuilding energy stores is key. Again, you want to get to that start line healthy and with the best chance for success.”

Post marathon, it’s essential to take a rest period in order to stay injury-free and not burn out mentally. The same goes for back-to-back marathons with one exception: depending how far out your second race is, you may actually have less mileage than usual for the first race.

Delaney describes working with an experienced runner to race the Chicago Marathon and the New York City Marathon four weeks apart. They ran a traditional, 16-week training cycle but peaked four weeks out instead of three weeks out, allowing for more recovery before the first marathon. A full rest week followed the first marathon, and after some moderate running with marathon-paced miles they tackled the New York City Marathon.

As with most things in life, it’s best to be honest with yourself and what you’re capable of. And if race day for either marathon has unfavorable conditions, reevaluate your goals and focus on finishing.

“Everyone is different. Know when you need to take the foot off the gas in a race and make it a training run or even a fun run,” advises Butler. “You are unlikely to run consecutive marathons at your best pace. Know that going in.”

Should You Run Back-to-Back Marathons? | Fleet Feet (2024)


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