At the 2005 World Cross Country Championships, Ethiopian runner Tirunesh Dibaba won the 4K and came back for a second victory the very next day in the 8K. In doing so, she proved it’s possible not only to finish two races in a single weekend—but to perform spectacularly well in both of them.
Ten years later, it’s not just elite runners who are doing back-to-back races; these sorts of challenge events are taking the national running scene by storm. A popular example is the Remix Challenge, which affords participants in select Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events the opportunity to complete races of different distances on Saturday and Sunday.
Racing two distances in one weekend is a fun, new way to test your limits and prolong the fun. Making the most out of the back-to-back race experience requires a special approach. If you want to get your challenge on, the keys to success are goal setting and preparation.
When it comes to weekend challenges, there are three basic goals to choose from: participation, performance or a mix. The participation path entails running simply to cross the finish lines and having a blast doing it. Alternatively, you can aim to achieve the best possible combined performances. Or you can set different goals for each race, running one as a shakeout and the other for a fast time.
Only experienced runners should race for performance. And even if you fall into that category, be sure to race cautiously. The risk of getting injured is never greater than when you run hard two days in a row.
One of the most important rules of training is the principle of specificity: You should train in a way that prepares your body for the specific demands of your race (or races!).
However, another tried-and-true training guideline is the hard-easy rule: Runners should follow each hard day of training with at least one easy day to get the most out of workouts while avoiding injury.
But in order to prepare your body for the challenge of completing back-to-back events, you need to selectively break the hard-easy rule as you’ll be racing (hard) two days in a row.
Select two workouts from the table below that correspond to the distances of your back-to-back races and do them in the appropriate order. For example, if you plan to run a 5K on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday, do the high-intensity interval run followed by the fast-finish run the next day. This is what your toughest training week will look like. This workout combo should come about three weeks before race weekend. In the weeks prior, build up to these workouts with back-to-back days that are similar but a bit less taxing (e.g., a 12-mile run for the marathon instead of 16 or a 2.5-mile tempo run for the 10K instead of a 4-mile workout).