How to Run ALL the Races - Frequently Racing Marathons and Ultras

Daniel Bucci 

Team Trot Guest Blogger

Take one look at the TROT race calendar, how can you not be excited?!?  If you want to run them all and are wondering how your body can handle that, then I have some tips for you.  Frequent racing is a topic that is near and dear to me.  Over the last few years I have become the addict, the guy that runs more weekends than not.  In 2015 I managed to race 27 weekends out of the year, and 19 of those weekends were marathons or ultras.  In 2016 I'm going for 25-30 marathons/ultras.  So, here are my thoughts and tips on how to get your body ready to run ALL the races.

1.  Build a Strong Base - This is number one because it is the most important tip.  I spent a solid year building a base for my return to racing at the 2013 Houston Marathon.  In early 2012, after a nearly 2 year break from marathon running, I decided to go for a BQ in Houston in 2013.  My body had not raced in a long time, and I knew I would need to slowly build up the miles.  I began a program in the spring that had me slowly build-up my long run distance, however this was not a traditional marathon training plan (where you peak with a 20 mile long run once or twice).  When I say build a strong base I'm basically saying get your body used to running long distances frequently.  This requires slow, steady and methodical running.  You have to get your body where the point where a 20 mile training run at long run pace feels normal and requires little recovery afterward.  Do this enough times, and your body will eventually adapt.  I've found that if you can run 20+ mile long runs for back-to-back weeks for a few months straight, you are likely ready to attempt a more frequent racing schedule.

2. Ease Into It - Running 20 marathons/ultras in a year did not happen overnight.  It was a slow steady effort.  In 2013 I ran 4 marathons (Jan, March, May, November).  In 2014 I ran 9 marathons (Jan, Feb, March, April, July, October, November, December) and last year was 15 marathons and 5 ultras (ran at least one in every month except June).  It took some practice and experimentation on how best to recover.  As you race more, your body adapts and you notice faster recovery.  The important thing is to not go from running one or two marathons or ultras a year to running 20.  While I have seen this work for some people, in general people who try this rapid increase end up with some type of injury and end up sidelined for an extended period.

3. Do Some Cross Training - Cross training is an important part of maintaining your body's flexibility and strength.  Cross training does not need to be intense.  I do some simple stretching and strength exercises 4-5 times per week for 10-20 minutes.  It's nothing special, but it keeps core muscles strong and flexible.  

4. Don't Race All the Races - While I run a number of races to compete or go for PRs, some races are run either for fun or as slightly harder effort training runs.  The best way to get used to racing is to practice racing at races.  Using races as training runs offers an awesome opportunity to practice fueling strategies and have supported runs to test out different strategies for PR attempts or attempts at longer distances.  For example, I used a 3:15 marathon pacing gig at the Grand Lake Marathon in Ohio as a final hard paced long run 2 weeks before a PR attempt in Chicago.  As it had been over 3 months since my last road marathon, this practice race was a test run of Chicago race day (on a very similar flat course).  The 3:15 pace ended up feeling like an easy effort run and was a huge confidence builder that got me mentally ready to PR in Chicago (and I did PR running a 2:52).  Recently I used a 50k to test fueling strategies and pacing for an upcoming 50 miler.  Using races for fun and/or training gets you used to getting up early and going through the race routine and help to ease race day jitters when the goal race does come around.

5. Listen to Your Body - Running frequent marathons and ultras requires a certain level of discipline of knowing when enough is enough.  There will be days when your body says no and you need to listen to it and rest.  There are times when I feel really good and can continue to push the training hard, and there are times where my body needs rest and I simply do some easy short runs, or take multiple days off.  When you frequently race, you will find your body does not lose fitness very fast, and you can afford to take some time off from hard training.  Most important thing is to rest when you feel you need rest.  No single day of training is worth sacrificing the greater goal.  Because of this I follow a generally unstructured training plan, and only work in a hard training day when I feel I can handle it.  Other than getting long runs in on a weekend, I'm pretty flexile on what days I do speed work, etc.  Each recovery from each race is different, after some races I feel great and can run hard a few days later.  Some races require more time.  The important thing is to listen to the body, and pay attention to the warning sings of injury of excessive fatigue.  Rest is not a four letter word, it is necessary.

6. Most of Your Runs Should Be Easy - Aside from races, I do 1 or 2 other hard training runs per month.  On weekends when I don't race, I do an easy to moderate pace long run, at a pace and distance that does not leave me feeling drained.  During the week, most of my running is done at 1:00 to 1:30 above marathon goal pace and most runs are in the 5-6 mile range (nothing too long).  Once every two weeks or so I'll do a fast tempo run to maintain speed.  Basically, your races are most of your hard runs.  By doing mostly easy/moderate running during the week, you will allow your body much needed recovery while maintaining fitness.

7. Be Willing To Compromise - What I mean by this is that you may not reach your fullest potential.  For example, if you target to run only 1 or 2 marathons per year as your A races, and you do rigorous training for these 2 races, you will probably run a better time than you will if you run marathons every two weeks.  If you are going to race frequently you may not reach your fullest potential as you need to dedicate a lot more time to recovery.  It depends on what you want.  I enjoy racing, so I race a lot.  If you are after a particularly ambitious time goal - it may be better to train more and race less so you can stick to a more structured training plan.  The one item I dislike about frequent racing is that I have lost some structure to my training - but again - be willing to compromise.

8. It's OK to miss a race - If you don't feel it, don't race it.  The great thing about frequent racing is there is always something on your calendar.  If you are feeling ill, hurt, or just aren't up for racing that weekend, then it's probably best to rest.  While I don't DNS often - it is inevitable that you will at some point when you take on a frequent racing schedule.  Last year I DNS'd one race (personal reasons), this year I had to DNS a 50k because I had the flu.  Stuff comes up in life, don't feel guilty about a single DNS.

So that's it, those are my tips.  Like any advice I give about running - I'll give you my common disclaimers.  What I wrote above works for me, it may not work for everyone.  I am of the opinion that running is a very personal sport, and different people respond differently to training.  A routine that works for me, may not work for you.  I tried to keep these tips fairly generic for that very reason, and not get into specifics on details of the workouts or exercises that I do.  Like I said, my training is generally unstructured.  What I encourage you to do is slowly experiment.  You will find something that works for you.  It won't come without some growing pains, but with focus and decent training you can run ALL the races, while still setting PRs, running longer distances, and evolving into an all around better runner.