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Two 20-mile runs in one weekend

by Martha McCall
(St. Louis, MO, USA)

The hardest workout I ever completed was finishing two twenty mile trail runs in one weekend as preparation for an ultramarathon.

I ran twenty miles on hilly wooded trails on a Saturday morning and then repeated the run on Sunday morning. The only equipment I needed was my trail shoes and a Camelbak for water and food.
I did this workout five years ago at the age of 27.

I developed the workout based on input from friends in my local ultramarathon group during social runs and chats on our listserv. Most recommended doing back-to-back long runs on a weekend at least once before a big race.

Each twenty-mile run took about 5 hours. Over the two days, I spent about 10 hours running. I was in the best shape of my life at the time, at my lowest adult weight and best aerobic capacity.

The most difficult part of the workout was the pain and fatigue, especially by the end of the second run.

The run helped me physically by increasing my endurance and leg strength. Even more, the workout helped me mentally by giving me more confidence.

Because I was able to complete the workout even though I was tired and in pain, on race day I knew that I could persevere as well.

I did not have a running coach, although I ran with a more experienced running buddy who encouraged me to continue when I was tired. The camaraderie of running with a partner was what kept me going through the difficult parts.

I completed this workout on several occasions while training for various ultramarthons. I was able to finish the workout despite pain and fatigue. I was sore for about 24 hours after the second run.

The workout made me stronger and faster. After completing it, I was able to do other training runs on difficult terrain faster than I had in the past.

Because I had built up to these distances, I did not become injured as a result of the workout.

I continue to run and participate in ultramarathons, although less frequently now since I have two young children. I have not had time to do back-to-back long runs or 50-mile races since having my first child almost 3 years ago.

Instead I have been doing 50-kilometer races. I hope to be able to return to longer ultramarathons in the future when my children are older.

I would recommend that anyone hoping to finish an ultramarathon do back-to-back long runs. I recommend building up slowly to the distance in order to avoid injury or burnout. I also highly recommend finding a running partner or group.


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Note from Dr. Dan


Thanks for all the good tips. Many people have never thought about long-distance running. Yet it isn't beyond the capability of the average healthy adult.

And your advice about finding a running partner or group is excellent. One of the biggest factors of success in weight loss and fitness is having a coach or partner to work with.

Dr. Dan

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