How to Survive Back-to-Back Long Runs
Long runs are a cornerstone of long-distance training, and when it comes to ultramarathon training, back-to-back-long runs are a common feature in many runners’ training routines.
In general, long runs condition your body to perform under the stress of gradually increasing mileage and help you adapt to staying on your feet for hours at a time. Typically, the longest run in a training plan will be slightly under the full race distance. In marathon training, this means that a long run will max out around 20 miles. Beyond the marathon distance, however, the long run and weekly mileage burden become more intense.
For example, if you are training for a 50-mile ultramarathon, your longest run will be about 30 miles, but your weekly mileage will total at least 40-50 miles for most of your training. This means that you will have more long runs to accomplish each week to prepare you for your ultramarathon race, and many training plans will include back-to-back long runs scheduled over two days.
Why is it beneficial to you to do back-to-back long runs?
The basic idea is that it helps you adjust to the physical demands of a longer race without overloading and risking injury on a single day. It is also a good opportunity to prepare for the mental burden of running an ultramarathon – it is not going to be easy to get out for your second long run, and, similar to the late stages of an ultra race, you will need to focus on continually moving forward on fatigued legs. These skills will be invaluable to you on race day, which is why many ultramarathon training plans advocate back-to-back long runs.
Here are a few ways to make your back-to-back long runs more survivable, if not even enjoyable.
Tip #1: Focus on fuel.
If you have previously trained for a long-distance running race, you likely understand how proper nutrition can make or break your race day experience. This is amplified in distance training. How you eat and drink before, during, and after your long runs can quite literally enable (or impair) your ability to keep moving.
Prepare for your back-to-back long run days as you would for a single long run, with ample calories from nutritionally dense foods, and be sure to maintain hydration and caloric intake during your first long run. Most importantly, following your first long run, manage your hydration and caloric intake to prepare for day two. Recognize that you will likely be dehydrated and compensate by taking in extra water and electrolytes throughout day one. Also, continue to eat nutritionally dense foods, focusing especially on protein (consume protein within 30 minutes of finishing your long run to maximize recovery benefits) and whole-grain carbohydrates.
Finally, bring extra fuel and water with you for your second long run, even if it is the same distance as your first. If you are not still in a calorie deficit, your body will still fatigue more quickly, and the extra nourishment will be helpful.
Tip #2: Be active while you recover between back-to-back long runs.
Resting between your long runs is undoubtedly important, but you may want to try active recovery strategies while preparing for day two. Although lounging on the couch all day after your first run may seem tempting, you will be setting yourself up for muscle lactate buildup, which is thought to contribute to soreness and fatigue – neither of which will be helpful to you when you are starting your second long run. There is no need to stay on your feet all day, but try to incorporate walking, stretching, and massage or foam rolling throughout the day. This will help your fatigued muscles recover while minimizing inflammation and soreness. Also, aim to get plenty of sleep on the night between your long runs or take extra naps during day one.
Tip #3: Respect your limits.
Although part of the point of incorporating back-to-back long runs into a training plan is to prepare yourself mentally to push through exhaustion, be sure to respect your body’s limits, especially on day two. Discomfort, fatigue, and soreness are all to be expected as you increase your distances, but the pain should be recognized immediately and avoided. Pain is often a sign of injury, and continuing your run with a potential injury will only set you back in your training. Also, even with the best preparation for day two, you are going to feel more tired than you did at the start of your first long run.
When you start adding back-to-back long runs to a training routine, use day two as an opportunity to simply keep moving for your distance goal, regardless of pace. Give yourself walking breaks (and, as previously mentioned, make sure you are still fueling consistently). Over the course of training, you will be surprised at how quickly your body adapts to running longer distances, and you will be able to gradually increase your pace if that is part of your goal.
Tip #4: Bring friends (or other entertainment).
Whether or not you typically run with a group, friends can be a great source of accountability and entertainment for your back-to-back long runs. Even if you do not have friends who are crazy enough to join in both runs, it is worth asking around to see if you have friends who may want to join you on either day for some or all of your run. Although it may be tough to keep pace with friends on day two, they may help you overcome mental barriers to pushing through any discomfort (not pain!) or fatigue you may feel. If you prefer to run solo, consider downloading an audiobook or multiple podcast episodes for each day. It helps if the content is something you are really excited about – for example, you could choose to listen to your favorite podcast episodes only on your long-run days.
Ultimately, taking on back-to-back long runs in your ultramarathon training can be both physically and mentally challenging. Still, these tips can go a long way in making your training experience more enjoyable. When you are ready to take on an ultramarathon training plan that includes back-to-back long runs, Sunrise Running Company offers several free training plans for different distances as well as online run coaching.