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Back-to-back long runs are one of the best tools to prepare for an ultra. We utilize them ourselves in our own training, and they’re a staple in our training plans for anyone looking to complete a longer race. While they may look intimidating on paper, the benefits can truly be huge.
Back-to-back long runs are key to preparing mentally as well as physically for long races, and we recommend them for all ultras (50k and up), as well as mountain marathons where the terrain is technical and there’s significant vertical gain. Not only do these back-to-back sessions help build endurance, they also get you used to running on tired legs and develop your mental toughness.
Get used to running on tired legs? What’s that supposed to mean? Yes, this is a huge benefit. Day two of your back-to-back will often be a struggle and you’ll need to tap into your physical and mental reserves to complete it. Telling your legs to keep moving when all they want to do is quit is a skill you can learn, and by getting in your back-to-back long runs, you are practicing exactly that. During the second half of your race, you’ll feel similarly at times, and knowing that you’ve been in that position before will give you the confidence and mental toughness to power through (as well as legs that have gotten a chance to practice what it’s like to – that’s right – run on tired legs. That’s a skill in itself!)
Back-to-back long runs also check off a large chunk of your weekly volume, and at a much reduced injury risk compared to doing the entire distance in one go. One 60k training run versus two 30k runs over two days – similar training benefits but significantly less injury risk.
Back-to-backers are also an opportunity to test out your gear and nutrition, and get into the state of mind you’ll be in during your race. Use these as a testing ground for your nutrition plan and gear – what’s comfortable to wear for a long time? Where do you tend to develop chafing? What does your stomach tolerate vs. what doesn’t it like? How does your body respond to different types of weather and temperatures? Gather answers and streamline your plan!
How long should your back-to-back long runs be?
50k and mountain marathons: 50-60k over two days (ex. 30-30)
50 miler to 100k Race: 60-70k over two days (ex. 35-30)
100 miler: 70-80k over two days (ex. 40-30)
Will back-to-back long runs benefit you even if you are not running ultras? Absolutely! For shorter distance back-to-back runs, throw in a speed element on day 2 to simulate that fatigue you’ll be feeling towards the end of your race.
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How often should you do back-to-back long runs?
So much depends on how long you have to train for your race, but we like to get in two sets of back-to-back long runs for 50k and mountain marathons, 3 sets for 50 miles to 100k, and 4 sets of back-to-back in preparation for 100 mile races. These are ideally spread out over the 4-6 months leading up to your race.
Recover properly. Always take a rest day post back-to-back, and wait an extra day after that before you do any harder effort running. Back-to-back long runs take a toll on your body, so make sure to give it proper time to recover, and always listen to your physical and mental signals. Don’t rush into speed work if you’re still not feeling recovered.
Eat enough. You’ll be burning through a lot of calories over these two days, so make sure to fuel properly, both in your everyday routine and during training. Adding some additional snacks or meals both days can be the difference between making it through day 2 and recovering quickly (and avoiding injury in the long run – no pun intended) or not.
Run with friends. Try to plan your back-to-back long runs with your ultra running friends. It’ll make it much easier to complete if you have company, even if it’s just for a portion of your run.
Don’t worry about pace. Time on feet is the focus here, and your legs will be feeling the burn no matter how fast you go come the end of run number 2.
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