Managing Frequent Races, or What Keeps Keith From Blowing an IT Band with all these marathons and ultras?
Many people, both on and off line, have commented about my frequent races. One of the things that people wonder about is how do I race that often without injuring myself, or burning out. First, so we have a base of what constitutes ‘a lot of races’, here’s what I’ve run since the start of the year:
Red Nose Half Marathon: 1:49:33, 5 January.
Charleston Marathon, 4:22:09, 19 January.
Callaway Gardens Half Marathon, 1:59:12, 27 January.
Tallahassee Marathon, 3:58:22, 3 February.
Mercedes-Birmingham Marathon, 4:39:46, 17 February.
Albany, Georgia Marathon, 3:58:35, 2 March.
The 5k Poker Run for the Children’s Miracle Network, 22:46, 9 March.
A Stroll In Central Park 12 hour, 53.56 miles, 16 March.
Operation Endurance 6 hour, 32 miles, 30 March.
Chesty Puller Challenge Trail Half Marathon, 2:32:38, 6 April.
Running Dead Ultra, 42.6 miles, in Senoia, Georgia, 10:44:00, 7 April.
I know quite a few people who race far more frequently than that. I know people who race less. There’s nothing wrong with any approach to how often you race, provided you make sure you’re taking care of yourself, and doing the things that you need to do to make sure you stay healthy, injury-free, and happy. Here are the things that help me stay in the game.
To help prevent injuries, I use three things. Strength Training, Cross-training, and Rest days.
First, I lift weights for strength training. This builds strength and bone density, plus it provides an additional fitness workout to complement my running focus. I keep my lifting focused more on building strength than on size. Additionally, strength training can help with burning fat (you’re trading lean muscle for fat you burn, so it’s a bit of a double win). Check with a personal trainer or running coach about the correct approach to strength training, because it can hamper your running.
The second thing is cross training. In my case, I get on my bike and knock out some miles. Not feeling like that 10 mile recovery run on Sunday? Ride 30 miles at moderate pace (for me that’s 4 -5 minute miles on the bike, but I’m on a mountain bike, and I’m not an experienced cyclist.) My general rule of thumb is that I need to ride three miles for every mile I would normally run, to maintain my cardio level. Also, cardio is critical for burning fat, so getting on the bike is a great way to make sure I can manage my weight without running.
Third, now and then, I simply don’t run regardless of what my schedule says. Trust me on this, when you’re going long every other weekend, its okay to miss a day. From what I’ve been told, you don’t actually begin losing any running skill or adaptation until you’ve skipped three days in a row. Barring injury, where you should definitely rest as long as needed, skipping one or two days is not a problem, and won’t have a major impact on your training schedule. Also, it will let you come back to running refreshed and recharged about running. However, do hit your long runs, as they are important for your longer races.
Here are some additional things to consider if you’re going to try running long on a regular basis.
If you’re going after an ultra, it’s fine to use a marathon race as a training run. Many 50k plans have a 26 mile run as a last long run before you taper. If there’s a marathon that you can run to fill that, go for it. Remember, you don’t want to go out super hard on this kind of race, as the goal is to run a new route, not put yourself at risk of injury. It’s also a great way to get off your regular routes (trust me; you will get tired of your same old routes over the months required for a 50k or 50 mile training plan). So far, I’ve used regular marathons to prepare for my first 12 hour race, and it worked very well.
Try not to go super hard on two long races in a row. For me, a fast marathon is just under 4 hours. Two of the marathons I’ve run this year have been very cool because I was pacing friends of mine: Charleston, where my friend Shawna knocked down a very nice 50 minute improvement over her first marathon! At Mercedes-Birmingham, I paced another friend, Melissa, through her first half marathon, and then ran the second loop to complete the marathon. I consider both of those races huge successes, and they will remain memorable far longer than a personal PR, despite running two other marathons at sub 4 hour paces. Those ‘easy’ races also give your body a chance to recover before you really hammer another race. Recovery is a big key to doing a lot of races in a condensed time frame.
Manage your diet. This is critical, folks. Running a marathon or ultra takes a lot out of you, even if you’re an experienced distance runner. You have to put those nutrients back, give your body something to rebuild with, and get your hydration and electrolytes back to your normal levels. So, while I do enjoy a bacon cheeseburger after a long race, I also make it a point to get back to healthier foods, and focus on water and even an extra sports drink. Okay, I also drink a lot of coffee. Coffee keeps me coherent . Remember, though, when you’re racing a lot or running long a lot, you are going to need nutrient packed calories. Coffee has a lot going for it, but high calories and huge nutrients aren’t on the list. Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats give your body what it needs to rebuild and recover.
Make sure you rest. Seriously, top athletes will tell you they sleep a minimum of eight hours, and during peak parts of their training cycles they might be sleeping 10 or 12 hours a day. What do you think you need to be doing when you’re running four marathons in eight weeks, and keeping up your regular fitness schedule, job, family duties, and all the rest? Plan for your rest time, get to sleep, and give your body time to recover and rebuild.
So, there’s a brief overview of what I do to keep myself healthy when I’m running a lot of races. It’s nothing fancy, but it works, and it’s sustainable. If you keep these things in mind, you can race more frequently without burning up your body. Keep focused on allowing your body to recover and rebuild by using foods that are high in nutrients, getting sufficient rest, and remembering to do your cross training!
Let me know what you think!