Running-Advice.com -- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training: How long should I plan between marathons?

One of my readers over on MySpace named Roxanne asked the following question: how much time should I allow between my marathons?

This is very interesting question, but it is also a tough one to answer, because the person asking it could be coming from many different angles. A runner might be wondering if they’re able to squeeze two races close together in close succession for example, or they may be interested in knowing how much time is a comfortable recovery between races. And, as in Roxanne’s case, she was asking strictly from the stand-point of planning to keep up her fitness and training.

Since there are many different variables that come into play, let me address this by giving you some considerations that might help in answering the question in your particular situation.

Marathon recovery: how hard did you go in your last race?
The first variable in setting a length of time between marathons is to understand that the harder you run the first marathon, the longer the recovery time is generally going to be. In other words, if you’ve run a marathon at your maximum speed and pushed as hard as you can, it will take longer to recover than if you jogged through a marathon at a much slower speed than your maximum.

This is important, because if you’re planning to run multiple marathons, you can use this to your advantage. If you know that you want to run a second marathon a few weeks after the first, backing off the pace in that first race may be a way to speed your recovery and allow you to race again more quickly. It’s also important if you’ve recently run a marathon, bonked extremely hard, and are thinking about redeeming yourself in another race soon after: that’s probably a bad idea.

To give you an extreme example of this, my friends and I recently ran two marathons on back-to-back days. How? We slowed the pace way down in both races, reducing the amount of recovery to almost zero. (I say almost zero, because we were certainly not as fresh the first day as the second, but we were able to complete both marathons.) In this case, we all had the capability of running a marathon in around three hours, but we ran both marathons in about four and a half hours each. We slowed way down to avoid trashing ourselves.

The opposite example can be true as well. I’ve run marathons in which I’ve hit the wall exceptionally hard and haven’t been able to run for a week or more afterward. One year after the Tucson Marathon, I could barely stand after the race. That race took a long time from which to recover.

Marathon pace goals: what are you trying to accomplish in the second race?
If you race a second marathon in just a few weeks after the first, your fitness level is most likely the same, or close to the same, as it was in the first race. In other words, once you’ve recovered from the first race, you should run about the same time in the second race as the first. (Notwithstanding those differences in the race conditions and the race course itself that might make an impact on your time.)

So if you’re running a second race with the intent of going faster, you’ll need to plan time between the two races for additional training. You’ll also need to plan to taper before the second race to let that new training take effect. In other words, it is not a sound idea to plan to run two races in quick succession hoping to improve your times between the two. Again however, with advanced planning, you might be able to do this by conservatively pacing yourself in the first race and using that race as a training run for the second.

Marathon Longevity: what are your long-term goals?
One of the things that I notice as a coach is that new marathon runners simply want to run too many marathons in a short period of time. I see beginners that finish their first marathon and then run three, four, or five more marathons in the same year. This is tough on the body, the mind, and it may actually work to drive these runners out of the sport, rather than keep them in it for the long term.

Instead of trying to pack many races into a short period of time, it is often better to pick a few key races and focus on those. Most of the big races aren’t going anywhere, so don’t feel huge pressure to run all of the majors in your first couple of years.

I try to pick out one or two races for my personal training each year and focus on those. In addition, you might want to consider only repeating those marathons that you really enjoyed. I talk to a lot of marathon runners that have run the same marathon five or six times, but have never run another race. Variety is the spice of life my friends.

Planning out your schedule
My first recommendation is to look out at your calendar and make decisions about races well in advance. Try to look at the whole year, making sure that you’ve planned for training, tapering, recovering and then repeating that whole cycle again. Try to avoid “throwing in” races at the last minute, as they just get you off your cycle. Or, plan to add in some races along the way “just for fun” in which you have no time or performance goals – you’re just out there to train and have fun.

In terms of planning the time between marathons, here are some rough estimates that you might use to guide you. After your marathon, you should plan:
A) recovery period of 2-3 weeks
B) training period of 6-16 weeks
C) taper period of 2-3 weeks

Using these considerations, the minimum time between races would be ten weeks (about two and half months) and the maximum would be 22 weeks (or about five and a half months). These “feel” to my like good bookends to the spectrum, with 10 weeks being on the rushed side and 22 weeks being about the average that most people place between their marathons. (I would guess that most of the marathon runners that I interact with attempt about two major races per year.)

Remember to keep in mind the factors at the beginning of the article: in particular how trashed you are after that first race and how much improvement you want to see in the second. “More trashed” requires more time in the recovery period. “Greater improvement” may require more time in the interveening training period between the races.

I hope that this information is helpful to you and that, as always, you send me your marathon and triathlon training questions to answer. If you need help formulating training plans, please contact me by posting a comment on any page of my blog.

Coach Joe

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6 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. smchurchi August 27th, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Hey Coach,

    Another great post! Personally, I only run 2 marathons a year as I cautiously guard against injury (I’m prone to plantar fasciitis). Like you said, I’ve run marathons at a hard effort and needed 2 weeks of rest following, and I ran one marathon so easily that I felt ready to run a 10k two days later.

    Thanks for the sound advice!
    Sandy

  2. 2. Tracy August 27th, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Coach,

    Sound advice as usual!! I ran two marathons too close together back in 2004 (within a month) and it was so hard on me physically and mentally!! My cup hadn’t filled back up. I REALLY like 5 or 10K races sprinkled in between marathons…kinda like seasoning!

    Tracy

  3. 3. Training: How should I feel after running 20 miles? « Running Wild with Coach Joe September 16th, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    […] Here’s something else to keep in mind: this epic struggle and effort in the last few miles of the marathon is not an indication that you are not well trained for your effort. If you weren’t well trained, you wouldn’t have made it nearly that far. Everyone struggles in the later miles of the marathon, no matter how well trained they are, if they’re running at or near their capability. (A marathon doesn’t have to be an epic struggle if you run much below your trained capability, but that’s a different topic. See a somewhat related discussion about this here.) […]

  4. 4. Training: When can I run my next marathon when one goes awry? « Running Wild with Coach Joe October 9th, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    […] goes awry? Posted on October 9, 2007 by coachjoeenglish In an ealier post, I wrote about how long you should plan between marathons to take into account proper recovery, training and tapering after the first. That article sketches […]

  5. 5. Training: How should I feel after running 20 miles? | Running Advice and News March 17th, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    […] run below your trained capability. See a note related to this below in the comments and a somewhat related discussion on recovery between marathons.) You may be thinking something along the lines of this: “shouldn’t I run longer in […]

  6. 6. Will April 21st, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Coach,
    I just ran the 2012 Boston Marathon, which as you know turned out to be ridiculously hot. The conditions caused me to finish at least 30 min. slower than anticipated. I had trained hard for Boston, and I really hate to see that training go to waste. I am seriously considering registering for another local marathon in two weeks (May 5) to try and get that sub-3:00 time I should be able to make. I pulled back in Boston at about mile 16. Still, by the end of Boston I was cramping up due to the hot conditions. My muscles ached for a couple of days after Boston, but I have resumed running without major discomfort. I ran 6 miles on about a 7:20 pace yesterday. Do you think I’m safe to run another marathon and go for that time I was seeking? I don’t want to hurt myself, but I also don’t want all that training to go to waste because it happened to be 85 in Boston that day. Thanks!! Will

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