From the November 2012 issue of Runner’s World
You can follow a marathon with another 42.2, and soon, with careful planning
By Lisa Marshall
With the finish line barely behind them, many marathoners spend their recovery days doing something counterintuitive: plotting a next attempt, sometimes within a month. While some runners want to maintain their hard-won fitness or combat post-race blues, others plan a second event when they fall short of their goals the first time around.
“I see it all the time,” says David Allison, owner and coach of Marathon Coaching Consultants. “Either they loved the experience and want to do another one right away, or they didn’t do as well as they’d hoped and they want to redeem themselves.”
Conventional wisdom has long held that runners should attempt no more than two marathons a year, six months apart. Yet according to a Runner’s World poll, 24 per cent of runners complete multiple 42.2s each year. So are they nuts? Not necessarily.
“If you plan and listen to your body, it can work well,” says exercise physiologist and Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger. Use the following guidelines to determine if you can safely run two 42.2s within 12 weeks – or less.
EVALUATE YOUR FIRST RACE
If you pushed it to the edge, endured withering humidity, or cramped and hit the wall on your first 42.2, your body is likely too taxed to resume training. If, however, that first race was on a relatively easy course in mild weather and you finished with a little left in the tank, you should recover more quickly and feel strong enough to get back on the training wagon soon.
ASSESS YOUR FITNESS
Consider a second marathon only if you trained properly for the first event. You should have been running four to five days a week, logged a minimum of 64 to 80 kilometres a week, and completed at least one 32-plus-kilometre run at the peak of your training, says Pfitzinger.
STRATEGISE YOUR TIMING
If you want to run a second marathon simply for fun – not a PB – schedule it about four weeks after your initial 42.2. This gives you time to recover without losing your endurance, says Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Marathoning for Mortals. Ditto if a sour stomach or painful blister sabotaged your first effort: consider your initial attempt a training run, then rest up and toe the line again a month later. If you want to train harder to run as fast as you can in your second marathon, however, give yourself eight to 12 weeks between races (six if you’re in great shape).
Running back-to-back marathons abbreviates the typical schedule – once you’ve recovered from the first race, it’s nearly time to start tapering for the second. “The priority has to be recovery,” says Pfitzinger. If you have four weeks between events, recover for two and taper for one. If you have six weeks between starts, recover for two and taper for two. Runners with eight to 12 weeks between events should block out three weeks each for the recovery and taper.
Runners aiming for a time goal in their second attempt should prioritise intensity over distance during the weeks (or days) of training between the recovery and taper. “Your body will forget how to run fast before it forgets how to run long,” says Allison. In addition to your weekly long and easy runs, do an interval session (like 400-metre, 800-metre, or 1500m repeats) to remind your brain what a quick turnover feels like, and an “up-tempo” workout (eight to 11 kilometres with 20 minutes spent at 10K to half-marathon pace) to keep your lactate threshold high. Start your mileage at about 75 per cent of the peak volume you reached during your first marathon buildup, and work up to no more than 90 per cent before beginning your taper, says Allison. If possible, log at least one 25- to 32-kilometre run. If you feel tight or fatigued, back off.
The less time between races, the lower your expectations should be. If you’re gunning for a PB, you need a plan. “You don’t have much room to get it wrong pace-wise on race day,” says Pfitzinger. If possible, run a test 10K three weeks out and use your time to determine if you’re on track for your goal. One week out, assess how you feel – do you have any niggling injuries or lingering fatigue? Are you feeling energised through the taper? If all is well, devise your race-day plan and stick to it. Once it’s over, no matter the results, take a break. You deserve it.
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