Runners tend to be ambitious individuals, folks who want to get the very best out of themselves as often as possible, so it makes sense that many of us aren’t satisfied with having just one goal or one race on the horizon. Instead, many runners tend to plan out their running season with multiple goal races – a 5k here, a half marathon here, and ultimately culminating in a marathon, for example – over the course of several weeks or months.
Sometimes, however, an opportunity comes along that’s just too good to pass up, and you may find yourself with back-to-back races on your calendar.
That begs the question: how in the world are you supposed to train for back to back races and be successful at each? If you view training plans online, very few of them consider that runners may be running multiple races in one weekend – so they might actually hurt you more than help.
Below, we’ll check out some strategies to help you train for back to back races in a way that will help ensure that you’ll arrive at the finish line of both races trained and ready to rumble.
But before we begin, check out the video below for a bit of inspiration.
Endurance, Endurance, Endurance
Get your base miles in. When you’re training for back to back races, it’ll be critically important that your body is capable of handling the demands of racing twice within a twenty-four hour period. That said, it’ll be especially important during your training cycle to prioritize getting in your base mileage, particularly early on, so you can get stronger. Your base miles needn’t be super speedy or anything like that; instead, you want to ensure that you are first building your endurance before adding any speed elements into the mix.
Exactly how much mileage volume you need in your base mileage will depend on the races that you’re doing. Since 5ks and 10ks are obviously much shorter distances than, say, a half marathon and a marathon, it follows that your base mileage volume in training for those shorter distances would be significantly less than what you’d be doing for the longer endurance races. In this way, working with a knowledgeable and experienced coach can be incredibly helpful because he/she can work alongside you and develop a program that will be sufficient to help you meet your back to back racing goals.
Once you’ve built a good base, begin incorporating speed elements.
Here’s the thing though: tt’s not until after you’ve established a strong and steady base that you should consider incorporating speed elements into your training cycle for your back-to-back races. When you initially begin running fast, take things easy – which, understandably, may sound paradoxical.
But it’s important.
Don’t go from 0 to 100 all at once; instead, incorporate simple workouts like 10 minutes of “1 minute on, 1 minute off” (running fast for 1 minute, followed by easy running for another minute) to build your stamina. Another simple and effective way to include speed components into your training is to run fartleks (running fast to a predetermined spot, followed by easy running, and then running fast again to another predetermined spot, and repeat). As you get stronger – and depending on the actual race distances you’ll be running in your back to back adventure – you’ll be able to lengthen your speed intervals accordingly, ranging from 400 meters all the way to 1 mile+ at a time.
Again, once you get into these nitty-gritty components of your training, unless you’re an experienced runner, it’s highly advised that you work with a coach to help guide your training. Oftentimes runners get injured – and we, unfortunately, tend to get injured a lot! – because we run too many miles, before we’re physically capable of handling the distance, at speeds that we have no business running (the classic “too much, too soon, too fast” axiom). Coaches can help to lessen the likelihood that you’ll fall victim to this sort of counterproductive training.
One more thing about speed: it can be helpful to include paces in your training that are actually faster than what you’ll be racing come back to back race weekend. If, for example, you’re training for a 10k and a half marathon, while you should definitely include 10k and half marathon paces in your training protocol, it may also make sense to include 5k paces and 1-mile paces in the mix, too, for a variety of physiological reasons. A coach who has developed a personalized program for you can best explain the reasoning behind this type of decision, so, again, definitely consider investing in one.
Gear Up and Get Ready Properly
That much physical activity puts a strain on any person, even trained athletes. If you plan on doing back-to-back races, you mustn’t come out of the first one battered up. You’ll probably, and you will, push yourself to do your best in every single race you run. But don’t forget, and this goes without saying for professional racers, to do a proper warm-up and recovery. Hydration is paramount. Proper running gear like knee high compression socks for running, or any other performance socks, do wonders. You’ll be sweating a lot so be mindful of your running clothes. If it’s sunny, a hat and sunglasses designed for runners are a must!
Get Your Priorities Straight
Prioritize and goal-set. Finally, depending on which distances you’ll be racing, it’ll be really important that you first prioritize your races and set your goals accordingly before race weekend arrives. This is simply in deference to the distance and to the toll that racing can take on your body.
If you’re racing back to back 5ks, for example, it’s may be possible that you can race both hard, at 100% of your best effort, and recover in time for the second one. On the other hand, if you’re racing a 5k on one day and then a marathon on the second, it’ll be pretty hard for you to race both all-out and do well; in that situation, it’ll be important that you decide which race is more important to you and run accordingly. You may decide that the 5k is simply an easy shake-out run before the marathon, which is your goal race. Similarly, if you’re racing back to back marathons (which, incredibly, some people do!), chances are high that you’ll want to decide to race them both for fun and not at 100% of your max effort simply because it’ll be hard for your body to recover in time and in a way that’d allow you to run all-out at both.
And finally: keep in mind that your diet and the amount of rest you need matters even more in a scenario like this. So don’t forget to your pre-run nutrition, your post-run snacks, and your hydration needs. You’ll need them.
And there you have it. It’s definitely possible to train for back to back races, but remember this type of specific training will be highly individualized to each runner and to the runner’s projected back to back race distances. Just keep striving – you’ll get there.
Questions? Concerns? Make sure to leave them in the comments below.