Training for consecutive distance runs
July 10, 2014 5:20 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for advice on training and meal plans for two half-marathons then a marathon with minimal breaks in-between.

I’m a reasonably fit 41-year-old male. I recently ran my second marathon in just under four hours. I’m looking to enter three events over the next year:

1. A half-marathon over a very hilly course. I’m aiming to finish in under two hours.
2. A half-marathon on a flat, windy course (same course as I ran the marathon recently). I’m aiming for a personal best (1:43) and as close to 1:30 as I can get.
3. A full marathon on the same course. I’m aiming to improve my previous time, ideally to beat 3:45.

Here’s what I’m thinking of doing. Does anyone have any comments or better suggestions?

Prepare for the half-marathon using the Runkeeper 2:00 half marathon plan over 16 weeks from 29 July. The race is 15 November. I’m thinking of running 1 minute faster than the listed pace and running on hills to simulate the hill course.

I’ll then have 12 weeks before the second half-marathon on 22 February 2015. My options:

1: pick up Runkeeper intermediate plan at week 11 or so
2. Use Hal Higdon’s half marathon plan, probably the intermediate one
3. repeat the Runkeeper 2:00 plan, aim to run each workout at 2 minutes/mile faster pace than listed (would that work?)

I then have the marathon on 21 June 2015. I’m thinking of doing the Runkeeper 3:45 marathon plan starting on 3 March, so I have a few weeks to recover after the half.

Does this give me sufficient recovery time? Should I take it easy in the first few weeks of each programme in order to recover from the races?

And as a second question, does anyone have suggestions for meal plans during training? I’m not looking for advice like ‘eat loads of carbs’, I’m meaning a plan (ideally with recipes or quantities) for all meals for a week or more. Thanks in advance.
posted by Pink Frost to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What's the mileage per week look like for your previous training cycles?

On paper this looks somewhat similar to how I've spaced goal races before, but I think the important part is to listen to your body and mind, particularly between the flat half marathon and the full marathon. Back-to-back training cycles with a bit of rest in between can be fine, but if you're feeling burnt out, don't be afraid to change your plan to an even later marathon, cut your marathon cycle to 12 weeks, or change your marathon goal to "finish and have fun" if that's what your body is saying. That said, I'd usually want another week or two of down time between a goal half and starting the cycle for the full.

Another set of plans worth considering: the Furman Institute's Run Less, Run Faster plan. I used their marathon and half marathon plans (3 quality workouts + cross training each week, no junk miles) for most of my racing for several years, then did 2 cycles of higher mileage training (Pfitzinger - Advanced Marathoning...the bible for many road marathoners).

Honestly, I had similar improvements in my times from the Furman plans as I did with the Pfitzinger high mileage plan. But with the Pfitzinger plan I constantly felt exhausted and which led to low motivation.

Do you have a lot of other things going on in your life during the marathon training program, or can you focus on the training? With the Pfitz plan, the rest of my life (work, relationships, other hobbies) was notably impacted.

If you're interested in the Furman plans, the book is great, or you can look at the shortened, dumbed down versions that were written up in Runner's World (half, full marathon plans.)

The Furman plans have very involved pace tables, so you can use this to predict likely finish times at various distances based on recent race results. It also gives you exact paces to shoot for each run, so much less guess work than what you describe.
posted by soleiluna at 6:11 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First of all, whatever people say, you are not crazy.

I am 34, have a demanding full time job, and typically do 9 marathons and two half ironmans a year. I do countless other distances but really don't count them. I think this year so far I've done 6 or 7 half marathons? I don't know. I just stick the medals where they go. My marathons are all 3:45-3:30. I typically do a half in 1:40. I actually think its EASIER to do back to backs then restart the whole training cycle, because you don't fall out of shape!

If I'm doing two marathons on back to back weekends (e.g. 6 days) then that particular week is spent doing a mini recover, middle distance run, then taper. I do the same thing if I have a marathon then a half marathon on back to back weekends. REST during those weeks is the priority. If I'm feeling sore or pulverized, I get in the pool. Water does amazing things, both swimming and pool running.

With that said, you have a ridiculous amount of time between those races! I'd suggest following Hal Higdon for a training schedule for distances (his novice program is more than fine) but make at least one of those weekly middle distance runs a progression run. Also, do not skip your long run. Ever. In addition to that, if you are like me and despise speed work, then just sign up for a hella amount of races! I'm usually at some sort of race every weekend. This is probably why I don't count non-marathon races because I treat most of them like training runs...but they will get you used to racing frequently (there is a mental component) and racing fast. Plus, it's far more social and fun then hitting the track. You are very wise to be simulating your conditions. Don't underestimate sun, heat, cold and humidity.

Back to backs really require passion, I think. Think about why you want to do this. Keep in mind that even the most well trained and well prepared plans can and do have the possibility to go horribly wrong on race day. Ultimately, the race will dictate what happens, but it doesn't mean that you shouldn't go chase that bitch and have fun in the process! I guess I'm just sharing what I've learned - that when you get really immersed in back to backs, not every race can be a PR, and that's ok. That's why we do this stuff! There is actually an entire sub culture of us just like this who exist and have a large camaraderie depending on where you are located. We see each other pretty much every Sunday morning at these races. It's almost like a secret fight club. But the bottom line is that if you are thinking about toeing that line, doing back to backs is a slippery slope that can overwhelm your life pretty quickly and you've got to love it.

For meal plans, I eat what I want within reason. Eat when hungry and if you're craving salt, eat chips by all means. Your body will tell you what it needs. The whole eat carbs is really a bunch of malarkey because your muscles can really hold up to about 1500 calories worth of carbs, so focus on balanced. Everything evens out in the end if you consume within reason. I did quit drinking though so YMMV.

It's MORE important to get your pre-race and during race nutrition right. Different things work for different people, so experiment. I run with a 10oz handheld of nuun fluid and take 2 vanilla bean GUs during a marathon after having only coffee 3 hours before race start. It took me a looooong time and a lot of crappy runs to figure that out. My fiancée eats two doughnuts a half hour before a race, drinks flat coke and eats dried fruit and runs a 3:20 marathon. The night before a race sushi always sits well with me. Before his races he eats a ribeye and salad, no carbs. Find what won't screw with your GI system and stick with it, even if it seems ridiculous. In a pinch, a McDonalds salt condiment packet mixed with a condiment pack of grape jelly saved my life on a training run. :)

Feel free to MeMail me...I could go on about this stuff forever. Ha. You've got plenty of time and have done some good research, a lot of it though is trial and error. Go get it!!
posted by floweredfish at 6:50 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks both. For the last marathon I used the Runkeeper 4:00 programme, which is 16 weeks, 4 runs per week, peaking at 43 miles/week. For my first marathon I used Higdon's Novice programme, 18 weeks with 4 runs and 1 cross-training session/week, peaking at 40 miles/week + cross-training. I prefer not doing cross-training, if possible.

I'm reading Higdon's book at the moment, but my local library has Pfitzinger's so I'll get that next, thanks. I think I can focus reasonably well on the training. I probably won't change to different races (friends are organising the hill race; the other two are in my hometown and because I'm in New Zealand there aren't a huge number of alternative races). But taking soleiluna's advice I might ease off on either the second half or the marathon.

For diet I was looking for something like this only ideally with even more options.
posted by Pink Frost at 9:01 PM on July 10, 2014

Nice! I usually run 4-5 days a week. I've been at it for awhile and definitely need one full on rest day. The other day I usually do a swim or a bike ride or take the dogs out for a 4 Mile walk. I love my rest, but I also firmly believe in active recovery.

For the training programs, I'd say start with one and see how it's fitting with your lifestyle for a few weeks. Definitely take non-running obligations into account, and don't forget to have a social life. If you are simply logging Miles at any old pace, consider running (literally) errands or run-muting to work. There are lots if ways to sneak in Miles.

If that doesn't work, then try the other plan or even a combo. If you're feeling good then just go for it and don't worry about easing up.

I HIGHLY recommend getting some compression socks for sleeping to help speed recovery. CEP is a fantastic brand. They also make calf sleeves if you don't want the sock component. Some people run in them too but I just wear them post marathon or post hard workout to bed. Definitely pay attention to your body and if things start to feel tired or off or fuzzy or bad-hurt, then just back off the mileage or the intensity.

Ahhhh! I'm all fired up for you now! You're going to do great!
posted by floweredfish at 9:16 PM on July 10, 2014

Best answer: I think you're fine with the amount of time between races; I've frequently done races much closer together successfully. Make sure you take enough time to recover after the race, even if it cuts into the start of training for the next one. You'll have a good base, so missing/going easy the first couple weeks of training won't be a problem.

For nutrition I really ended up liking Matt Fitzgerald's book "The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon nutrition". It has lots of good advice for general diet and for nutrition during and immediately before and after a race.

For training the only thing I would caution you against in your plan is the idea that you'll be running the paces "1 minute faster" or "2 minutes faster" than what's in the plan. You have to train at the fitness you're at currently, not at some arbitrary number you think you should be running. Your easy runs should be easy, your tempo runs should be 'comfortably hard' (or the pace you can race at for an hour, probably between your 10K pace and your HM pace), and your intervals should be 'hard'. You'd probably be fine with the first plan doing the runs at 1 min faster than suggested (runkeeper's suggested pace for a tempo run is 8:50-9:10; 7:50-8:10 is probably OK for you) but 2 min. faster by February just seems way fast to me. Use a calculator like McMillan's or Jack Daniels's VDOT calculator to figure out what paces you should be running, based on a recent race, if doing it by feel doesn't work for you.
posted by matcha action at 9:25 PM on July 10, 2014

Me again. I swear I'm not thread sitting, but just wanted to chime in again that matcha action is totally right and raises an awesome point - try not to get wrapped up in numbers. Perceived Exertion Rate is a thing and becomes more and more important when you add mileage and events. The only numbers that should matter during training is your cumulative weekly mileage, speed work pace on those days, distance logged of your long run and PER. Most runs should be a 6-7 PER. That will change daily depending on how tired/stressed/rested/worried/pressed for time/good you feel. Then there is the weather.

PS. "Two minutes faster" per mile is a HUGE difference in a marathon. That comes down to running a 4:00 versus a 3:10. Or a 25 minute 5k versus a 19 minute 5k. It can totally be done, but just keep it in the back of your mind, and it takes a looooong time to get there if you are going the route of doing back to backs (which is tilted more towards quantity rather than quality).
posted by floweredfish at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2014

Best answer: For the meal plan side of things, my go-to recommendation is Nancy Clark and her Sports Nutrition Guidebook But as floweredfish is saying, when it comes to training and nutrition, it is worth remembering you are very much an experiment of one and will figure out these things by trial and error. I am now venturing into the world of ultramarathons (in fact, finished my first 50k today!) and learning so much about training and nutrition, so all I have to say, enjoy the journey (and feel free to memail me if you have any questions).
posted by coffee_monster at 9:34 AM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always end up bringing this up in training threads, but a heart rate monitor can be a better way to track your exertion levels then pace times. You know that running in the morning with some cloud cover on a 60 degree day is way different than running at noon under the beating sun on a 80 degree day pace wise. But if you run with a heart rate monitor, it's easier to see that both runs were a success because you put the same effort level into each.
posted by garlic at 10:17 AM on August 4, 2014

« Older Seattle to Newport?   |   I've realized that my line of work conflicts with... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.