Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Q&A: The First Question
Racing Back-To-Back Marathons

Now that I’m officially DONE reporting on my running of the 113th Boston Marathon and DONE writing about my races (half-marathon PR, and 4-Miler not so PR), I’m going to take a break from talking about MY running by instead talking about YOUR running. In other words, I’m going to spent the next couple of posts addressing some reader questions I’ve received over the past month. I’ll start with ones that the most people have asked about and move on to ones that I find most interesting. Hopefully, you’ll find them somewhat insightful or entertaining, even if they are not useful…

The first one I’m going to tackle involves a scenario that is common to all of us marathoners. The basic premise: You set your sights on a hard but realistic goal for a particular marathon (For me: Sub-3; for reader: BQ). You develop a training plan and train your heart out for said goal. You feel ready for race day. However, during the marathon, something happens (an unexpected injury, GI issues, bad weather, bad running karma, etc) and you feel short of your goal. You cross the finish line a bit disappointed, feeling as if you could’ve or should’ve run much better. Question: Can I recover well enough in the next 2, 3, or 4 weeks to try again in a backup marathon within the next month, or should I restart on a new training cycle to try again in a marathon next season? My body isn’t so sore and I don’t want to lose my fitness/training.

I’m sure everyone has had similar thoughts right after a marathon that didn’t quite meet expectations. I had them, this reader had them. Heck, even Kara Goucher had them. In fact, the day I got home after Boston, I was already scrounging through the marathon calendar trying to see if there’s another one I could run within a month. I knew intuitively that this was a bad idea, but I didn’t know why. Maybe Coach Salazar was just off…Kara could’ve run London 2 weeks after Boston, can’t she? I thought to myself at the time. I didn’t know. So I spent the next few couple of weeks thinking about it some more and here’s my take.

First of all, I think the minutes, hours and days right after a marathon is NOT the time to plan out next one, whether your experience during the race was good or bad. Your mind and body has just undergone the shock of running a really long and hard race and is not yet ready to make sound rational decisions. Secondly, I think running a marathon (if you ran at close to race pace) destroys the body in ways that we cannot fully appreciate. If you ever run a hard 10K or half-marathon a week or two out from your marathon, you’d know what I mean. Even though by then you’re walking around normally and feel somewhat “recovered” ,you find out 2 to 3 miles into your race that you are still fatigued and sore. That’s because different muscle fibers regenerate at different rates. So even though your larger muscle groups that carry out your normal daily activities have almost fully recovered, your smaller ones, which are recruited later on in the race, haven’t recovered at all since the marathon. Again, that’s why there’s a rule to take 26 days of rest for a 26 mile race. But what if you just walked a quarter or even half the marathon because of an issue, either injury, fatigue or GI upset, can that marathon count as just a training run so I can run another in a couple weeks or so? My response would still be no because it will likely cause more harm than good and you won’t know or realize until you’re caught in the mid-later miles of your second marathon.

Another thing to realize is that despite the significance of personal goals, the time standard is still an arbitrary number. That number is as important as we ourselves assign them to be. And since time is a continuum, there will be new time goals to shoot for once we are done with the current one. Whether it’s sub-3 or a BQ, the important thing is to enjoy the process of achieving those goals, and not be so caught up in the goal itself. Easier said than done, right? Yeah I know, but I’m working on it too.

My last point on this question is that we should never think our marathon training as wasted if we don’t achieve a particular time in the race. These training cycles are built on the success of a previous cycle. So even though the race result wasn’t up to par with the training, the training you have undergone will equip you well for your next cycle. That’s what I’m telling myself to motivate me for NYCM training in the next couple of months.

I hope I did some justice to that question. How do you guys feel about racing back-to-back marathons without a break? Let me hear you in the comments.

20 comments:

Lisa said...

Thank you so much for this post! I'm 72 hours post disappointing finish and you addressed literally everything I'm experiencing. I spent the last half drinking in the experience and wondering...

D10 said...

Great post. Everything you wrote is so true. I ran two marathons within 2 months of each other. I didn't think it was bad, however I also wasn't going for a BQ or trying to run super hard. I will say, I don't think I would enjoy running 2 hard races within a month.

Joe Cyclone said...

I fully agree with what you are saying about taking the time to rest regardless. I would encourage everyone to either sign up for or at least write down your plan for your next event or goal before the first event. Then you have planned in sound mind and body and can focus on learning from your experience and plan for adjustments based on those.

Marci said...

I think you can race back to back. My current PR (by 6 minutes) occured last fall after running Niagara falls the week before. I am trying to run 3 in 3 weeks this spring. That said, you need to be careful and listen to your body. I found I am less stressed with multiple races myself.

Spike said...

you make very solid points and on an intellectual level I agree with everything you are saying; on an emotional level I just can't help but think running another marathon a month later is fine. that said, I've never done it, only seriously thought about it. good post, as I do have a ‘back-up’ secret marathon tentatively planned (not so secret now).

Irish Cream said...

Great post, Lam. Let me preface this by saying that obviously everybody is different and some people recover MUCH more quickly than others; and basically, everyone just needs to know what works for them. But as a general rule, I don't think most people should race back to back marathons (notice I said race--I think it's fine to run them back to back, assuming you plan to take it super easy in one of them). I think you are SO correct about everything you said--and I just think it's too risky, considering there is stuff going on with your body that you don't even know about during and after marathons. Thanks for sharing your answer on this one!

aron said...

your reader has a very good question :) thank you very much for this post. this is exactly what i would think/expect to hear. i also truly appreciate the paragraph on "wasted" training cycle... i know it is so true, and yet its hard to not think it. i know as time goes by, it will become apparent and when i get into the next training cycle i will see the effects of the last one.

it does seem like some people are capable of racing really close together, i know many of them, but i think its also about knowing your body and making sure to listen to it.

personally above all, i dont know if after a defeating, emotional race, i could go into another one so soon and risk that feeling again since physiologically it seems like there is a good chance it will happen again.

Running and living said...

Great post. As with everything, I think there is no universal rule for this. I am taking 2 full months from racing after the marathon, but I know I am prone to injury so that is the right decision for me. Psychologically, I was ready to run another marathon 3 days after:) It may have been different had I had a bad race. I agree that it is v easy to give the marathon goal (BQ, certain time) too much importance and I think psychologically that can sabotage racing. One needs a bit of wiggle room. Too much pressure (some unrealistic) is tough on the psyche and that can translate into a bad race experience. However, I do believe that we are all an experiment of one. It comes down to making an informed yet personal decision, for the right reasons (rather than emotions). Ana-Maria

Abby said...

I really enjoyed this post. I've done adventure races in close proximity to each other (last spring, I had a 12-hour race, followed a week later by a 10-mile race (Broad Street), and then another 12-hour AR a week after that). That turned out pretty well, but right now I'm getting ready for a 12-hour running/orienteering race next weekend, to be followed by a 27-hour adventure race two weeks later, all with the marathon just a week and a half ago. For some reason, I wasn't so fazed by last year, but this stretch has me pretty anxious.

runningcommentaries said...

Great post and I totally agree. After a long, hard, emotional race and training cycle is NOT the time to make these decisions. And, the permanent damage you could do to your body is not worth the extra minute. Better to recover, train and race again.

Run For Life said...

Well put. I think the mind/body connection sometimes isn't in sync when we think about marathons after a race so it's best to wait and make sure.

Michelle said...

Great post Leslie thanks!

I am not quite at this stage in running. I will be very happy to finish the Brooklyn Half!!!

Robert James Reese said...

You can run another marathon a couple weeks after the previous one, but you shouldn't race one that soon.

Jamie said...

Great post! I ran my 2nd marathon 8 weeks after not finishing my first. Of course I made that decision within 2 weeks of getting out of the hospital and thinking all my training was wasted. I faired okay but I would never do it again. There are those that can run multiple marathons close together but everyone is different. Usually when I am done with a longer race I need a break - mentally and physically.

nwgdc said...

Well, I definitely feel compelled to comment, but first...
After equal 3:02:21 marathons, if I were you, I'd keep an eye on my run at Grandma's this June...it'll let you know what you'll run in your next marathon :)

I simply LOVE to take part in events. That's why I stack them together. I tend to look at peak shape as lasting a month or so, and using 3-5 months to build to that peak status. I am VERY driven by times, so to put a LOT of pressure on a single marathon per season puts too much emotional baggage along with the experience.

It's all about the event to me, and because of that I run several events close together. Last fall was 2 marathons and a 50 miler in a month. This fall will be a marathon and a 50K used as 'build-ups' to a peak 50K 2 weeks later. I've been injury-free for a long time, and while I love the times and seeing what I can run, there's too much variability in different courses and weather/conditions to get too hooked on a goal time. Enjoy the run! Then run some more!

Anne said...

This is one of the most useful running posts I've ever read. I've been experiencing many discouraging training issues lately and reading what you wrote here puts it all in perspective. Thanks for that.

Jason@nycin310.com said...

Thanks for dropping by www.nycin310.com and making me aware of this great blog. Aside from the content (which is stellar), your layout is fantastic, I've rarely seen better organized content on our level.

Regarding this post, part of me really wanted to see Kara take down London after her gut-wrenching finish in Boston. But you're almost certainly right, it would have been a disaster, and an embarassing one at that.

Jason@nycin310.com
www.nycin310.com

lindsay said...

this is a great post! i never thought about the different muscle fibers and recovery, and i definitely need to take that into consideration.

i don't know how some people can just race well week after week (ahem, you and your full, half, then 4-miler; or cross-country kids). i've heard/read about some people racing full's back-to-back and running awesome times (to me anyway) but maybe for them it wasn't an all out effort. based on my own personal experiences, i don't think i could race a 400 the weekend after a marathon.

Andrew is getting fit said...

Great post. My first hm was rather disappointing and I immediately looked for another but fortunately there were none available for me.

Amanda@runninghood said...

I know this is old but great to find this and your blog! Thinking of another marathon 4 weeks from now after I just ran one yesterday. I really want to run a 3:15 and this was just not the race.

 
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