How To Run 4 Marathons in 4 Months
The Atlanta Marathon capped off running 4 marathons in 112 days and I have to say, it is rewarding and satisfying to check another race off the list and I am amazed that I could even run this many marathons in 4 months. As I have mentioned before, it is not that I am in hurry to complete the 50 states, it is simply that I enjoy the journey. I had never run so many in such a short period of time before and honestly, I didn’t set out to do so either. I simply signed up for them one at a time really. Once I finished North Carolina in November, I already had Mississippi booked but it was after Mississippi that I said why not add another before Georgia so then I booked Alabama too. But what I realized in this process is that you will feel significant fatigue in subsequent marathons and it usually shows up in the last 6 dreaded miles! I have always read that if you try to race multiple marathons close together that your performance will suffer. I can now officially concur with that statement! Perhaps not every individual finds this to be true, but I found that my performance for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th marathons were simply not my best and I struggled to get through it at times. However, they were all comparable and ironically had finish times within .16 seconds of each other although the courses and weather were vastly different each time! But now that I have actually run 4 marathons in 4 months, I have some interesting data to share and analyze along with what I would do differently.
I discovered the most difficulty and fatigue in the last hour of the marathon (which I suppose is where most runners do!) I found that I reached mile 20 at pretty much the same and a decent pace but it was the last hour where the wheels fell off so-to-speak. Prior to the mile 20 time point, I felt fairly strong for the most part and in control until fatigue reared its ugly and disheartening presence.
Leading up to each of the 4 marathons, I tackled my training in a similar manner. I relentlessly pushed hard and logged “my usual” miles. The only training cycle that I really did anything different was before Atlanta where I purposely gave my body a big rest. Instead of running 40-45 miles per week like I did for most of 2019, I dropped down to 20 miles per week with only 5 miles the week before the marathon. And I have to tell you, I truly believe that “rest” led me to tackle that damn hilly course fairly well. I really needed to give my legs a break. After Mississippi and Alabama, my hamstrings ached so badly during the last 5-6 miles and I frankly did not want to repeat that again in Georgia. So, I did only what I could do and that was REST!!!! I am convinced that worked. Although the last 5-6 miles of Atlanta were slower, but it was due to a few factors. I stopped for a few minutes in mile 23-24 to remove my long sleeve shirt. I was getting quite overheated and there was no way I could finish out the race feeling that hot. The southern sun is beautiful but harsh! My hamstrings did not hurt the same way as in the previous two marathons. If anything, I slowed in the last 5-6 miles due to the relentless amount of hills (and that resulting fatigue) along with stopping to change and taking more time to drink at water stops.
Retrospectively, I would say if you want to do something like this and you don’t want to get injured AND you want to try to have a good performance, decrease your training volume. Let your legs recover well between marathons and when you do run again, make sure you get in some speed workouts to keep sharp. There is a balance you can maintain between running well and keeping your legs fresh. The last thing you want to do is get to the starting line of another marathon feeling like you can’t go the full 26.2 miles. That’s a terrible feeling. I thought the significant pullback before Atlanta would make me feel terrible and sluggish because I wasn’t doing as much, but I really needed a break and I learned to enjoy the time off. You have to know yourself and know your body. Listen to it. If you are feeling fatigued, it’s ok to take time off and decrease your workout load. Personally, before Atlanta, I wasn’t even trying to walk 20,000 steps a day anymore. I tried to intentionally stay off my feet more and get as much rest and sleep as possible. I religiously took my supplements (iron, magnesium, fish oil and zinc on travel days) and also rolled my legs as much as possible. Since I wasn’t spending as much time running, I could spend more time doing other important things such as core muscle work, stretching and using my leg compression boots, etc. Overall, if you are a seasoned runner and want to try to run multiple marathons over the course of a few months, it is easy enough to do it if you are already an experienced marathoner and you allow your body to properly recover. (I would not recommend this for a new marathoner.) Now is not the time to ramp up training but rather be conservative and take a “less is more” approach. Good luck and remember to not worry about your times (because you may have to sacrifice PRs) but no matter what always enjoy the journey!
MARCH 19 UPDATE: Now that we are all quarantined at home due to the coronavirus and all foreseeable races are cancelled, I'm now feeling glad I ran 4 marathons in 4 months! Who knows when this will end and we can travel again. My Kentucky race will be postponed TBD and praying that the July races are still on! In the meantime, keep running to keep fit and get those endorphins going but most importantly to maintain your sanity!
It was really cool to watch the US Olympic Marathon Trials in-person the day before the Atlanta Marathon!