I remember that when I first tried finding any information online on how people survived double weekends – as in, two marathons or even two ultras in two consecutive days, there was very little. I do remember coming across a post that essentially said (a very belated thank you to Traviss Wilcox for inspiration! Here’s a couple of other useful posts I found since: training for a double marathon and an account of doing a double) – second day is going to hurt at least starting out but once you get over it, it might even get better and that has been my experience of doing relatively heavy weekend mileage in September- the JW ultra on 12th September followed by a double (Birmingham Canal Canter on 19th September and Chesterfield marathon on 20th September) and then two weeks later, the Heart of England Forest marathon on 3rd October followed by Chester marathon the next day, 4th October). So one thing that might need to be part of disclaimer – it was a trail marathon in both cases followed by a road one, not two road ones – not sure whether that would have made a massive difference, perhaps some in terms of the pounding on the joints?
I finished all of them, with decent road times and with Chester even managing quite a decent negative split of about four minutes so not too bad:)
The anticipation was probably one of the worst bits. I remember starting out on the Birmingham Canal Canter and feeling quite sick, literally, mostly with anxiety – will I be able to make it through a fifty plus weekend? And it didn’t help that I had a really shitty time previous week on JW ultra which does run through some of the route of the Canter so that didn’t help at the outset, covering the same space where things didn’t go great, and partly psychologically as well. Although things did pick up for me once my focus became about getting to the cake station at mile seventeen or so, had some lovely strudel and perked up pretty much immediately. Well, must have been hungry… Something that I learnt from JW ultra was that chocolate works quite well – and mostly learnt it because I didn’t have any and was desperate for some:) and then it was nice to see people I know and then match some names to faces I sort of knew, like the bloke called nick that did say we seem to be bumping into one another at a lot of events. So got that out of the way in respectable 4:19 which would have been bang on ten minute miles. Went back home, had late lunch and got myself to Sheffield in the evening. Was freaking out about the morning also because my plan of getting to Chesterfield involved Uber and I hadn’t done that previously so didn’t know how reliable that would be etc. which meant that I got there ridiculously early with over an hour to spare. At least could have a coffee without being too rushed. There were some really beautiful views especially when going downhill although wasn’t that keen on the dual carriageway running and it was quite a small race, I was often on my own in the second half plus the fact that my 3:51 time got me sixth lady finish, I mean, seriously? I even managed to bump into somebody from work, small world and all that. I did finish strong, speeding up somewhat and overtaking at least two women bad then there was the interminable stretch through the park, first the outer loop, then the inner loop and then finally finish- a walk back to train station and the long awaited meal at the Polish restaurant where I was the only guest enjoying a well-earned pork chop. Importantly, on both days was making sure to have a chocolate milk right after the event, not sure if it massively helped but didn’t hurt either. I didn’t take that much time off in between, still went ahead and did the classes I normally do and weirdly enough, I think in between those two double weeks I did a really good parkrun time…
The next double was Heart of England marathon followed by Chester which was a bit of a feat of logistics- had to get myself to and from Henley in Arden on Saturday morning and then take myself to Chester Saturday evening which involved spending quite a lot of time at Birmingham New Street… The Heart of England race was OK-ish- some wonderful views and gorgeous autumnal landscape and running somewhere I wouldn’t get the opportunity. At the same time, there was the niggly fear about navigation and I tried sticking with people as much as possible but I’m just not really a fan of trail running in general. I remember running Chester the day after and thinking to myself how much happier I felt on the road where I could get a nice rhythm and not worry about navigation. Had a little too much cake at the 23 mile stop (OK, that may be one redeeming feature of trail/LDWA races – there is no cake on road marathons!) but then that actually worked out in my favour- gave me a boost towards the finish and then when I got back to the school which was the HQ/finish I realised I still had a chance to catch the 14:41 train if I hurry up and so I turned back and ran to the train station, having just ran for five hours… Made it home, had late lunch/tea and cooked off pizza for the train journey. Got to my airbnb shortly before ten, made some small talk and fell asleep pretty much straight after. Got myself nicely to the start, picked up race number and proceeded to have an excellent racing experience – much better than in 2013 where I went off too fast and was dying at mile 16. This year felt so much stronger and in control of the race overall, with a strong finish. In terms of fuel at the road marathons, I relied on a combination of my own gels and jelly babies from kind strangers, for some weird reason there always seem to be people standing on the side of the road with a bowl of jelly babies and what not, I just try not to think about what was on the hands of other runners who dipped in before me. At Chester, I also experimented with some Nakd nibbles (essentially dates with nuts) which surprisingly went down quite well and might take them with me to the 100k. I would also strategically use energy drinks that were provided by the organisers, I quite liked the Lucozade they had in Chester, don’t think there was anything in Chesterfield, though. When I calculated the carbs/calories for both double weekends, it worked out to pretty much 120 calories/hour, roughly 30g carbs per hour give or take which is on the lower end of the spectrum (I’ve seen recommendations as high as 90g/hour , especially for later stages of ultraracing) but seems to be working for me and seems to be giving me enough energy to pull out a “sprint” finish or at least a negative split. After all, I am on the smaller side and the other thing is, most of the time I’ve felt fine with the strategy I am using, only experiencing some mild discomfort once or twice, mostly due to gels – so I must be doing something that’s working.
So to sum all of that up in terms of learning from the experience – the fear of doing a “double double” was probably worse than actually doing it. I did learn a lot about fuelling, logistics and planning and I also confirmed, I think, my overall preference for road events and that I do enjoy the marathon distance and in fact, after I’m done with ultras for this year (ignoring the sneaky little one I am doing at the end of December, from Sunrise till Sunset) I actually want to focus on training for a faster marathon, in build up for another 100k in July, hopefully there will be another edition of the Keith Whyte 100k in County Cork as that looked like my kind of race, loops on a road:) I also learnt how to play the marathon more strategically and perfected the art of negative split and speeding up in the “second half” – seasoned runners say that marathon is divided into a 20-miler and a 10k and there is a lot of truth to that, and also learnt a lot about using mental techniques to distract myself in what sometimes feels like the really dark time, at least to me, the bits between mile 8-16 and then 16-20 which feel like my mental markers. Less than two weeks to go till my race!