Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Doing two 100-mile races with just 5 non-race days in between is quite the feat. So, what helped me get through back-to-back long-distance races?
Here are some tips whether you want to do back-to-back 10k's, half marathons, or 100-mile races!
Do the training: Back-to-back races involves putting a lot of load on the body in a short period of time. That means that getting your training in is crucial. You need to train your body to be able to handle a lot of volume. The BEST way to get more volume in is by running more days a week vs doing a lot of miles and running less days a week. Our bodies adapt best to consistency. Running many days a week tells your body that running is something that it needs to pay attention to and adapt to.
Fuel more than usual during your races: Taking in a lot of calories allows your body to have a lot of fuel available to use as energy. Fueling helps to prevent our bodies from using muscle as fuel. That’s right! If you don’t take in enough calories, your body will break down muscle and use that as fuel. Specifically for ultras, fueling a lot and often allows your body to try to rebuild as much as possible while you are still running so you don’t dig yourself into a huge hole during the first race and have a rough time recover between races.
Do the first race at 70-80% effort: Instead of going into the first race with the mentality that you are going to race it as hard as possible, do it at a sub-max effort. This will help to avoid being completely destroyed after the first race, which is key to recovering fast enough for the second race.
Eat and sleep a lot after the first race: Here is where I fell short after Big Horn 100 (my first 100 of the two). I had ZERO appetite the days in between my two 100-mile races. I felt like I had to force feed myself anytime I ate. With that said, not feeling hungry is not an excuse to not eat! Make sure to eat consistently so your body has a consistent stream of fuel to use to rebuild your body and replenish the carb stores in your muscles. Focusing on carbs and protein will help you recover the best. Regarding sleep, this is when your body and mind can really heal. Try to get as much sleep as possible so you can physically and mentally feel ready go for your second race.
Maybe focus on sleep after the race vs during the race
Have support: You don’t have to do this alone! The chances of you finishing your back-to-back races will significantly increase if you have support, whether they are saying "hi" to you as a spectator, helping you at aid stations/water stops, or for ultra runners, running a ton of miles with you during the end of the race when things really feel rough. Especially with ultras, it is a team sport so be ok with having a crew help you with your awesome accomplishment!
Brian played a crucial role in helping me accomplish my back-to-back 100's. He also gave me the idea since he did the exact same back-to-back 100's last year!
If you are doing a trail and/or ultra, consider using poles: I used poles for both of my races and I was seriously amazed at how good my legs felt during and after both races. For Black Hills 100 (the second 100-mile race), I didn’t use poles for the first 14 miles. I had originally planned on picking them up at the 50k mark, but my hamstrings were already starting to feel it on the inclines. Picking up my poles early was such a game changer! I felt a significant difference with how my legs felt going uphills once I started using my poles! Poles allow your lower body to not have to work as hard, which means a quicker recovery after the first race!
Stay active between races: Avoid just sitting 24/7 between races. Since I have a long running streak going, I ran 1 mile a day and did some hiking. This helped to avoid feeling super stiff and rigid for the start of my second race.
Have a seriously meaningful why: Doing back-to-back long races is not only physically challenging, but also mentally very difficult. You will have to push through pain and whatever other obstacles are thrown your way. For me, that included extreme nausea, vomiting, painful blisters, overheating to the point of dizziness, moderate hypothermia due to temperatures dropping and getting rained on, extreme sleepiness, and some loud mental demons. Having a meaningful “why” is important to help you stay mentally engaged throughout the long races and push through lows. “It will be a cool Instagram post” likely will not be a significant enough “why” to get you through such a difficult feat. Really dig deep before the race and ask yourself what bigger purpose this accomplishment has in your life.
Notice that I didn’t add things like foam rolling, stretching, massages, vibration guns, etc. I literally did none of these things between my back-to-back 100's. Passive modalities won’t get you through back-to-back long races. Focus on training smart, racing smart, and truly effective recover tools: sleeping, eating, hydrating, and managing stress.
What are your back-to-back long race goals? Feel free to share in the comments below!