A Toil Worth the Trouble? Racing Back-to-Back Half Marathons

William Shakespeare
To race two half marathons back-to-back or not to race two half marathons back-to-back?

Double double toil and trouble;  fire burn and caldron bubble. No, no, this post isn’t going to get all Shakespearean on you. We’re talking about doubling up, here. And no, we’re not duplicating Coriander’s recent post about incorporating doubles into your training, either. Rather, today, we’ll discuss doing back-to-back half-marathon races.

Specifically, is it possible to race back-to-back half marathons and if so, how should we go about our training and recovery to maximize our performances?

In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking of doing the Capital City Half in Columbus on May 4th and the Cleveland Half on May 19. I’m researching and writing about this for you and me!

I’m particularly worried about the short break between races because of a past experience that didn’t quite go well. Back in Spring 2010, I ran the Boston Marathon at the end of April followed by the Capital City Half Marathon, one week later. I totally, totally DIED in that half. I ran over 30 minutes slower than my slowest half marathon and  had to walk/run about the last two miles. My body was NOT having it.

Nearing the finish line at Cap City 2010- waving to my family to let them know I was alive, just REALLY slow.
Nearing the finish line at Cap City 2010- waving to my family to let them know I was alive, just REALLY slow and miserable.

If you’re considering doubling up on longer races this season, you might get my logic. Since I’ll already be “in shape” (at least I hope to be – this wedding stuff sure is cutting into my running time, not that I’m complaining), I figure it’s a good plan to try and squeeze out two top performances. But I’m worried I’m doomed to the same fate I suffered two years ago. But it turns out, I might not be.

A good rule of thumb is that it takes about 1 day for each hard mile raced to fully recover from a race. So we’ll need at least 2 weeks between half marathons. What I suggest, and what I plan to do to race my two half marathons within 15 days of each other is to:

Day 1:  run a very short recovery run or take the day completely off.

Days 2 – 7: Gradually rebuild easy mileage, with a shorter speed workout or some strides later in the week  and a 10 miler the weekend in between races.

Days 8 – Race # 2: Repeat what your training plan called for the week before Race #1

Besides the running in between races, here are some tips to optimally recover quickly so you can avoid the march of death in the second race!

Hydrate. It’s super important to hydrate after the race, just as important as it is to hydrate during the race, actually. Water is always good, but, personally I like to sip on coconut water, which adds electrolytes.

Phenom Mega V Pineapple Punch Coconut Water
Phenom Mega V Pineapple Punch Coconut Water. Word of advice, go with the FLAVORED coconut waters…they taste much better than plain! (Photo credit: iateapie)

Stretch. I’m not the best at this, I’ll admit it. But, the older I get, the more I realize how very important a good post-run stretch can be. The more you stretch post-race, the easier it will be to walk the next day, and, therefore, run a few days later.

Eat Something. Within an hour of finishing, consume something with carbs and a little protein. Whether a banana and peanut butter, a bagel and cream cheese or just a sports bar, the sooner you get the nutrients down the sooner your body can replace glycogen and repair your battered muscles. For some reason, I’m a big fan of sushi for a post-race dinner. There’s really no science to it, but the combination of carbs and protein always makes me feel like a million bucks.

Get a massage. I’m a BIG believer on this one, and, no, not just because it feels good. Okay, maybe a little bit because it just feels good. Even if you don’t want to dual out the money for a professional deep-tissue, book yourself an appointment with your foam roller and go to town! This reduces the pains of delayed onset muscle soreness, drawing blood to damaged muscles.

Stay away from alcohol. I know! I’m so sorry, but that post-race beer is a bad idea. You can celebrate after race #2. In the meantime, stick to super hydrators like sports drinks, coconut water or plain old pipe juice (that’s tap water).

I’ll be back in May with my race reports!

Have you ever raced two back-t0-back half marathons? How did it turn out for you? What are your tips for maximizing your performances?

I'm a new momma, full-time non-profiter, and coffee lover. I write about healthy body image, half marathon training, and recovery from eating disorders. I'm currently training to maintain fitness throughout the winter and break 1:27:00 in my next half marathon.

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  1. Last year I ran the Capital City Half, the Flying Pig Full (the next day) and then the Cleveland Full two weeks later. And two weeks before Cap City and the Pig, I ran a marathon in Kent. It was all training for my 50 miler in June, but I ran Cap City hard and missed a PR by 20 seconds. I got really really heat sick after and I could only eat pretzels and Gatorade. I took it slow for the Pig and Cleveland and ran my average time at the Pig and then a 34-second PR at Cleveland (it was so super hot last year!) In the end, it all helped with ultra training. In those in-between weeks, rest as much as possible and stay relaxed! It’s really about having fun with it 🙂

    1. Wow! That’s a lot of races there 🙂 I do think, though, that there’s a difference between doing back-to-back races as training runs within races and actually racing back to back. I don’t think rest is the way to go in between the races if she wants to perform well in that second race. With doing 2 weeks of taper-like training in between the races to both recover and remain sharp, she should have a decent chance of racing well in the second race. Can’t wait to find out how it goes!

  2. The closest I’ve come to doing back to back races was participating in a relay the week before I ran the Eugene Marathon and Eugene definitely did not go well. After that experience I’m really not a fan of racing that close together, especially if you are hoping for any kind of a PR. Racing takes a lot out of your body and while you probably can do it, I don’t think it’s ideal for your body and should be undertaken with a lot of care.

  3. Actually, Ginkgo, there IS science to your post race sushi. There’s a lot of science that studies athletic recovery and the building of muscle…I’m sure you’ve heard of the 4:1 carb:protein ratio? I’m on my phone right now so I can’t surf around for it, but Rosemary wrote a great recipe for post-run pancakes a while back that goes into some more detail I think.

  4. A few years back, I did two halfs spaced out by two weeks. The first I PRd and the second I was only about 8 seconds oft that PR, so I felt pretty good about that. All that said…I have learned from bad experience that I cannot have a race on my agenda anywhere near a marathon. If I have that hanging over my head post marathon, I don’t allow myself the needed recovery time and then pay for it in race number two. So now I run my marathon and wait a few weeks before even looking at a race calendar to determine what’s up next.

  5. I think you can race them both. I would be even more flexible with week 1 though and would consider skipping the speed workout. That week should be all about recovery and keeping the blood moving – NOT hard workouts. In my experience, the first 5 days after an all-out effort in the half, my legs are pretty banged up. Good luck – I look forward to hearing how it goes.

    1. She should at least do some strides, I’d think to stay sharp and maybe a few short intervals if she feels like it – 6 x 400 or something just to stay sharp. Obviously, if she’s feeling rough on Thursday then skipping it or trying strides to see if they help loosen her up.

      1. Yes, strides would be good the first week, but I wouldn’t do any intervals. Then the week of the race, I’d so some shortish but fast intervals early in the week (Tues), then shorter tempo work a few days out (Thurs).

        1. Really? 6 x 400 is a very tiny workout for someone who is in-shape for half marathon racing. Just a little something for turnover. What kind of tempo would you do? Intervals? Faster, slower or ghmp?

          1. Yup. I’d skip it because it isn’t going to help much at that point and it increases the risk of injury. So I think the risk outweighs the reward.

            Based on what I am currently doing in my training, I’d do short tempo intervals (5 minutes or so) – probably around 10 seconds faster than GRP. However, she should do whatever SHE is currently doing in her training. I like her suggestion of doing whatever she would normally do the week prior.

          2. I was thinking something similar for the tempo, maybe 2 x 1 at gp or something like that. My coach would probably have us do 2 miles of jog the curves, stride the straights on the track on the Tuesday after the race, a normal tempo the Thursday after and then a moderate track workout the Tuesday before race #2 and then maybe a “slow” tempo on Thursday before the race. So yeah, the 6 x 400 is very conservative in my mind. By the Thursday after a Saturday half that shouldn’t pose much of an injury risk and keep the fast running systems happy and your legs ready to turn-over. Clearly smart people can disagree 🙂

          3. Well I think there is also a difference in level of training. You train at a more advanced level than I do, so it would make sense your coach would be pressing you harder. Similarly, some people may not do more than 1 uptempo workout a week. So I think strategy could vary widely.

          4. Agreed. I just think anyone who could handle racing halfs two weeks in a row could handle at least that little workout. If someone would be injured by that I don’t think they could handle the back-to-back halfs (or should it be halves?). Then again I tend to be a little more aggressive with training and take more risks in general, so take my advice with that grain of salt 🙂

  6. I just thought of this – what do you think about not tapering for the first, training through it and then doing an extended recovery/taper in the 2 weeks in between races? This would obviously put the emphasis on the second race. Seems like making the first half a B race and racing it as part of a full week of training as part of training might work well if the focus is on a top performance in the later race when she’s fully tapered? Or maybe I’m crazy? 🙂

    1. I think the key is probably picking which of the 2 is the primary goal race. It is unlikely (but not impossible as Miss Zippy demonstrated) to knock them both out of the park. Strategy would be different depending on which one you’d pick as the A race.

  7. My first two marathons ever were back to back. I PR’ed in one of them, and my big toenail has never recovered, but it was an amazing feeling and accomplishment.

    Great tips here. I followed similar steps and found that as long as I didn’t put too much pressure on myself for either race, it was fine and fun.

    That being said, if I’d run my time in the first race in the second race I would have placed. I’ll never know what I couldn’t have done if I just focused on one race!