I’ve noticed a trend in marathoning—running back-to-back marathons. I am seeing it with my friends, on social media, and in the athletes I coach. It made me wonder—is it safe to run back-to-back marathons?
Afterall, running 26.2 miles is very demanding on the body. Running a marathon damages everything from your vital organs to your muscles and it takes time to repair. So, what happens when you run two marathon close together? And, is there a way to run two consecutive marathons and have it boost your training?
That’s what I wanted to find out. Because after all, there are several ways to run consecutive marathons.
- You can run both marathons for fun.
- You can race the first marathon and run the second marathon for fun.
- Or you can use the first marathon as a training run and race the second marathon.
- Or you can try to race both marathons.
- Or (in my cases), you miss your A goal for the marathon, so you try again in a second.
I got with Dr. Todd McGrath, a sports medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery, marathoner, and elite triathlete, to go over these scenarios and learn what the risks and benefits are for running consecutive marathons.
In this article, I will cover:
- What happens to your body when you run a marathon?
- Can you run two marathons close together?
- What are the pros of running two marathons back-to-back?
- What are the cons of running consecutive marathons?
- Review different scenarios for running marathons back-to-back, including time scales and marathon recovery hacks
- And offer training recommendations for running marathons close together (within weeks and two months)
What happens to your body in the 48 hours after a marathon?
Your energy stores are depleted, you’re dehydrated, and your muscles are broken down, says Dr. McGrath.
Specifically, he says:
- Creatine kinase (CK), an enzyme associated with muscle damage, peaks 12-48 hours after your marathon.
- Glycogen and fluid levels are depleted.
- Kidneys suffer Acute Kidney Injury: they are struggling to clear the CK and other byproducts of intense exercise while also retaining and recuperating fluid loss. (They are overworked).
- The liver and your heart are damaged.
- Cortisol levels are elevated.
- The immune system is depressed.
- Lungs and diaphragm are fatigued.
“Indeed, every system in the body is affected when you run a marathon,” he notes.
Get all the details on what happens to your body after you run a marathon here.
How do you recover fast from a marathon?
You can optimize marathon recovery if you focus on eating and hydrating well, resting, and performing gentle exercise.
Related: The Best Cross Training for Runners
Dr. McGrath recommends cross-training in between races, including pool running, cycling, or swimming.
“Pool running in particular is perfect because it mimics running, is zero impact, and the water compression on the legs spurs recovery,” he notes.
Get all the marathon recovery hacks here.
What should you not do after a marathon?
When you cross the finish line, don’t:
- sit all day
- drink alcohol
- deprive yourself of food.
Walking, drinking sports drinks, and eating carbs and protein as soon as your cross the marathon finish line will help you recover faster after a marathon.
Why do people run marathons close together?
Dr. McGrath says he’s seen a lot more runners running consecutive marathons, possibly because of the pandemic cancelling races and then stacking all the World Major Marathons close together in the fall of 2021.
People may be trying to make up for lost time or capitalize on the major marathons being close together—starting a new trend.
Many people will also opt to run two marathons close together if the first marathon doesn’t go well. For instance, many people run the New York Marathon and turn around and run the Philly Marathon two weeks after to try again to get their A goal.
I had two friends miss qualifying for the Olympic Trials marathon, so they raced another marathon two months later. Sadly, neither performed better in the second marathon. In fact, they suffered health consequences.
Can you run two marathons back-to-back?
Yes, you can run two marathons close together; however, it is not recommended, says. Dr. McGrath.
“It is not unreasonable to run marathons close together,” he says. “But overall, there are not a lot of positives.”
With there not being a lot of positives because running (or even walking 26.2 miles) is physiologically demanding, you can run two marathons back-to-back if you train smart—running at least one at an easy pace and prioritizing recovery in between.
What are the pros of running two marathons back-to-back?
There are some pros of running consecutive marathons, though few are physiological benefits:
- You get more marathon race experience.
- You get several marathon medals.
- You build mental toughness.
- If you run the first marathon easy and recover well, you can bank that fitness for the second marathon at least three weeks later.
What are the cons of running consecutive marathons?
There are many risks to running marathons close together. Here are the cons of running marathons one after another:
- Increase injury risk
- Decrease in performance
- Risk of overtraining, burnout or fatigue
- Potential to get sick
Okay, let’s look at the different scenarios of people running marathons close together despite these risks.
Different scenarios for running marathons back-to-back:
- Running two marathons just to finish (run at an easy pace)
- Running the first marathon, missing the A goal, and racing another marathon to hit the A goal
- Running a marathon as a long run, then racing the second marathon.
- Racing two marathons close together (not advised).
How is running a marathon more taxing than the long run?
You may be thinking—how is running a marathon that much more stressful than running a long run of 20+ miles.
In most cases, a runner will not do a long run of longer than 20-24 miles. I have never seen a marathon training plan include a long run of 26.2 miles. The reason is because running that length will risk injury and a runner will likely not be recovered in time for the actual marathon.
The length of your long depends on many factors including weekly volume, experience, pace, and injury risk.
In general, your longest long run should be at least 2 hours long and no longer than 4 hours. Runners with an expected finish time of longer than 5 hours may run longer to prepare their bodies for being on their feet for that duration.
The runners that are best able to run a marathon as their peak long run and race a marathon 3 or 4 weeks later, are runners who run higher weekly volume (70 miles per week) and a faster marathon time (under 3 hours). Runners experienced in running ultra-marathons are also better suited to run marathon close together.
Read more about why your longest run shouldn’t be 26.2 miles in this article I wrote for Marathon Handbook.
What does it mean to run two marathons close together?
Running marathons close together means running two marathons within 3 months, or 12 weeks of each other.
This time scale is determined by the fact that most marathon training cycles are 16 to 20 weeks. Therefore, any marathons run in less than 16 weeks is considered running marathons close together.
How many marathons can you run in a year?
At most, I recommend running three marathons a year. This gives you four months to properly recover and train in between marathons.
How long should you wait between marathons?
Ideally, you will wait at least 16 weeks or 4 months in between marathons. This timeframe gives you time to recover and adequately train in between marathons for optimal performance.
Related: 26 Tips for Going 26.2 Miles
How long after a marathon can I run again?
Most people take at least one week off from running after a marathon before easing back in. Runners who have marathon times of close to 5 hours or more will need 10-14 days off running to recover.
Related: Why You Should Take a Running Break
With this is mind, is it okay to run two marathons in a month?
Yes, you can run two marathons in a month if both marathons are run at an easy pace with walk breaks.
If you race the first marathon and run the second marathon within a month, you risk injury, overtraining syndrome or illness.
If you run the first marathon as a long run and race the second marathon, then you risk not recovering enough before your second marathon and risk a poor marathon performance.
Related: How to Nail Your Next Race
Can you run 2 marathons 2 weeks apart?
You can run two marathon two weeks apart if you train smart. Ideally, you will be running both marathons just to finish. I do not recommend racing either marathon.
- If you run the first marathon as a long run, you will not have enough time for your body to recover for the second marathon.
- If you race the first marathon and run the second marathon to finish, you will (again) not have enough time to properly recover.
- Running either marathon at a fast pace puts you at a great risk for injury or illness due to damage to your muscles and organs, and depletion.
If you do run two marathon two weeks apart, I recommend taking 5-7 days off from running. Then you can cross-train and/or go for very short (less than an hour) runs at a recovery pace.
If you feel fatigued or a potential injury budding, I recommend not running the second marathon. Otherwise, you risk being sidelined from running at all for an extended period of time.
Training Tips for Back-to-Back Marathons
Here are training tips for running marathons less than three months apart.
Increase fatigue resistance.
In your training, take a page from ultra-marathoners and increase fatigue resistance by running two long runs back-to-back.
- For example, do your long run on Saturday and then do a run of at least an hour on Sunday.
- You can also run doubles (if your mileage is higher, e.g. over 60 miles per week) 1-2 times a week in which you do your main run in the morning and then run a few miles in the evening.
- Cross-training in addition to running can also increase fatigue resistance.
You can maintain your fitness and increase fatigue tolerance while optimizing recovery by cross-training more. The elliptical, pool running, and cycling are great cross-training activities that you can do in place of running in between marathons.
Related: 36 Goals Every Runner Should Have
Stay on top of the little things.
Ensure you are eating and sleeping enough! If you feel chronically fatigued during your marathon training, take a hard look at your recovery. (Note: Taking Previnex’s multivitamin can help optimize recovery. Get 15% off with code TMR15 plus a money back guarantee. I love Previnex supplements!)
Related: Cumulative Fatigue Explained
Pick your marathon pace wisely.
Be smart about which marathon you are racing and which one you are running for fun. Or, ideally, you will be running both marathons just to finish and get the medal.
If the marathons are more than three weeks apart, I recommend running the first marathon as a long run and the second marathon as a race. Of course, weather and the racecourse will be determining factors in this.
Prioritize marathon recovery.
After your first marathon, be sure to recover as hard as you trained. Eat and drink well. Keep moving. Use recovery tools such as foam rollers, massage guns, compression boots, a massage, etc. to get the blood flowing and body recovery. Also, SLEEP!
Recovery should be your main priority in between your marathons.
Related: How Much Sleep Do Runners Need?
Think of the time in between your two marathons as a reverse taper. If you are running two marathons close together, this is how I recommend training:
- Week 1: Take 5-7 days off running after the first marathon. You can do light cross training after 3-4 days off.
- Week 2: Run about 30 to 50 percent of your peak marathon training volume. If you’ve done intensity, you can run strides.
- Week 3a: If you marathon is the following week, maintain half of training volume. In essence, you go right back into the taper you just did.
- Week 3b: If your marathon is more than a week away, run about 75 percent of your peak marathon training volume. Long runs do not need to exceed 90 minutes to two hours for most people.
- Week 4+: If you have more than a month between marathons:
- In most cases, you can hold about 75 percent of your training volume with some intensity and marathon pace miles.
- If you have more than 8 weeks between marathons, you can resume 100 percent of your training volume and normal marathon training intensity.
- Then you can do your marathon taper as you normally would two to three weeks out from your marathon.
Please bear in mind that these recommendations vary depending on factors such as a runner’s training and injury history. The goal is to optimize recovery and maintain fitness.
Related: How to Taper for a Marathon
Here is what NOT to do in between your two marathons:
- Do not jump right back into training.
- Do not neglect recovery.
- Do not ignore your body. If you are fatigued or something hurts, you need to reevaluate your plans.
Dr. McGrath notes that injuries tend to pop-up 4-6 weeks after an acute training phase (e.g. a marathon or peak week). Therefore, it is paramount that you give your body the rest and nutrients it needs to remodel damaged tissues and bones. Pay attention to pain!
Remember, it takes a while to lose fitness and not very much to maintain it. The goal is to stay healthy so you can get to the next marathon start line.
I highly recommend working with a running coach if your goal is to run two marathons close together. An experienced coach will be able to take into consideration all the factors of your running history plus race timelines to develop the best plan for you.
If you want guidance with your running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
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