Ask-A-Salty: Racing Long Post-Marathon

Got questions? Just ask!
Got questions? Just ask!

Ask-a-Salty is a feature we offer to answer any questions that you have about running.  If you have a question for us, just click on ‘Ask-a-Salty’ link right above the Salty Running banner, and submit your question. Or if that’s too hard, just click here.

Our most recent question came from Emma, who has found herself in a pickle thanks to some unexpected luck:

I’m writing because I’d love some training advice. In late July I am registered for the Madison Marathon which is on a gravel road at around 9-10k feet elevation. Then 13 days later, as a fluke I got into a 19 mile trail run (Brider Ridge Run) that has a competitive application process (not based on time, but on the ability to plead your case in 50 words) so I couldn’t justify turning down the opportunity to run it.

 I realize this is not an ideal situation and that I probably can’t run both races to my peak ability (or can I?). I only recently got accepted into the trail run, so for training I have simply been following an intermediate Hal Higdon training plan. Now I’m worried that if I keep following that plan I won’t be prepared for the 19miler. I’m especially concerned about how I should taper for these races, or if I should taper for the marathon at all. Any advice on how to tweak my training so I can do as well as possible in each race?


First of all, your initial instinct is exactly right: you can’t run both of these to your peak ability. They’re simply too close together and too long. That said, you should be able to run them both well off of your current training plan. The Higdon plans are solid and the intermediate (either level 1 or level 2) has enough miles to give you a solid base for both of these events.

In order to run both of these well (or decently enough that you won’t be swearing off running by the end of it), you’ll need to do the following:

  • Pick the more important race. If you want to run a good, solid, PR effort, you can do that for only one of these races. Pick which race that is now and stick to it. Since you’ve been planning on the marathon for a while, I’d suggest you’d pick that race. The fact that the marathon comes first also points to picking that race, as it’ll be far easier to run the trail run on whatever you’ve got left than to hold back to training run paces during the marathon (unless you have an absolutely iron will and insane discipline). Go. Run the marathon. Have fun.
  • Taper as normal for the marathon. I might suggest a two-week taper instead of a traditional three-week one so you feel a bit sharper going into the second race, but it’s not a huge detail. You want to be well-rested for that race, even if you’re just going to run it “easy” so you can put all of your energy into the trail run.
  • Recover well in between. No running for 2-3 days after the marathon. None. Nothing longer than 3-4 miles in that first week. No running 2 days in a row during that first week. No hard efforts – only slow, easy, runs. Your fitness will stick around long enough to get you through the trail run, so the most important thing in between races is to rest up so that you’re ready for the second run when it rolls around. Here are some other posts on recovery that might be helpful, too.
  • Run long-ish on the weekend in between. Nothing major. Just 10-12 miles to remind your legs and yourself that you can still do it. As a heads-up: this may not feel good. It’ll be OK. Just take it easy.
  • Take it easy the week before the trail run. Aim for a total of about 6-10 miles total in the week before the race. Remember, you’re not building fitness here, you’re just keeping the legs moving without draining them. These runs should all be incredibly slow, low-effort, easy runs.

The biggest factor in how well this goes for you will be in how quickly your legs can recover post-marathon. The one wrinkle I haven’t addressed here is if Madison is going to be your first marathon. Since you’re using the Higdon Intermediate plan, I’m assuming it’s not. However, if it is, I’d offer this additional hint: take the Madison marathon as easy as you can, just so your body has a bit less work to do in between.

You might also find these other posts about back-to-back races helpful.

Good luck! The plan is borderline crazy, but it’s definitely manageable. Let us know how it goes!

In a previous life, I worked on computers and spent all day sitting. Thanks to running, I've rebooted my career and am now a running and triathlon coach and soon-to-be physical therapist. I've also got the mind and spirit of an elite trapped in the body of a back-of-the-packer.

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  1. Thank you so much! This is so awesome and wicked helpful. I’ve been driving myself (and my boyfriend, and my friends, and my coworkers, and occasionally small children in the park) crazy talking about how to work with this schedule. I’m definitely going to use your advice to plan my taper and in-between race workouts. I agree that it makes the most sense to focus on the marathon for my best effort and then allowing myself to recover and stay fresh in between. Thanks again, your help means a lot to me!

    PS this isn’t my first marathon… its my second haha

    1. This is fabulously hardcore! So glad you’re giving both races a shot, Emma. I used to live in Bozeman and, although I never ran the BRB, I had a lot of friends who did (and they all LOVED it!) Hope the whole process goes well for you! 🙂