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Want A Real Fitness Challenge? Try Running 3 Races In One Weekend

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Goofy and Dopey aren’t just Disney characters—they’re also nicknames for a certain type of insatiable runner. So insatiable, in fact, that one race isn’t enough: Serious runners are kicking it up a notch to compete in race challenges, where they compete in two, three, even four races—including marathons and halfs—in a single weekend.

While the trend might sound a little crazy, it’s incredibly popular: There’s the Bermuda Marathon’s Bermuda Triangle Challenge, with three races in three days, the JTB Maui Marathon’s three-day Warrior Challenge, and tons more across the country. Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, where runners complete both the Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon on consecutive days, will celebrate its tenth anniversary in January 2015. (Think running in Bermuda and at Disney sound great? Check out 10 Destination Races to Run Before You Die.)

But is running that many races in a row even safe? “The first question should be can you complete a marathon or half marathon without the other events,” says Steve Burgess, a former Bermuda national record holder, Mid Atlantic Athletic Club coach and fitness consultant for the Bermuda Marathon Weekend.

If that’s a yes, consider your history: Author and Olympian Jeff Galloway, who has developed a series of free training plans specifically for the runDisney challenges, suggests waiting until you’ve been pounding the pavement at least six months to tackle a half-marathon challenge, or have run as least one marathon before considering a marathon challenge. “Many novice runners complete the challenges, but tend to have more issues with aches, pains, and motivation due to inexperience,” says Galloway. If you have repeat injuries or extreme fatigue when training for long events, you’re not ready for a multi-race. (That's okay! Try one of The Best Mile Races In the U.S.

Once these problems and the training are under complete control, you may be ready to give it a shot. These five tips will help you survive multiple races in a single weekend. Plus, we’ve got a list of 25 racing buffets for the running glutton in you.

Practice Back-To-Back Runs
Every two or three weeks, include multi-day runs that match the days and distances you’ll tackle during the event. “Training consistently for multiple weeks will help your body adapt to the challenges of running on fatigued legs,” Burgess says.

For example, a runner training for a consecutive 10K and half-marathon might start running 1 mile and 7 miles back-to-back, gradually working toward 5 miles and 14 miles two days in a row. If you’re training for a three- or four-day event, build in weeks with three or four consecutive training days. During the weeks in between back-to-back efforts, give yourself shorter, easy runs.

If you do plan on “racing” both events—as opposed to jogging or using the first race as a warm-up for a harder effort the next day—don’t underestimate the toll a competitive 5K or similar race can take on the body, cautions coach Chris Heuisler, who guides runners through Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events as Westin Hotels & Resorts’ RunWESTIN concierge. “The last three miles of the half-marathon could be miserable if you aren’t adequately prepared for back-to-back efforts,” Heuisler says. (These marathon training tips can help make the races easier!)

Start Low and Slow
At the outset of your training, Galloway suggests starting with low mileage and gradually increasing over the course of 18 to 28 weeks (depending on the distances you are racing). “Steady mileage will put you in good standing for race weekend,” Burgess says. On your long runs, aim for a pace that’s at least 2 to 3 minutes per mile slower than your goal race pace. There's no such thing as running "too slow," Galloway adds. “You want to be able to carry on a conversation throughout the run, even at the end.”

Galloway suggests a “Magic Mile” time trial to predict a realistic race pace. Here’s how it works: After a slow, one-mile warm-up, run a measured mile about as hard as you can. Multiply that mile time by 1.15 for 10K, 1.2 for half-marathon, and 1.3 for marathon race pace. Keep in mind that your paces will be slower running multiple events than if you run a stand-alone race.

Walk It Off
Frequent walk breaks will allow you to go further with less injuries or fatigue during training and race week, says Galloway, who pioneered the Run Walk Run method. In fact, most runners will score faster overall times with short walk breaks—an average of 7 minutes faster for a half-marathon. Choose your run/walk ratio based on your overall pace (you can find your ideal pace at RunInjuryFree.com).

And when in doubt, walk it out. “If you are tired or get aches and pains, just walk the rest of your workout with a short stride,” Galloway says. “Power walking and walking with a long stride increase injury risk.”

Test Your Fuel
“Practice hydrating and using gels or other fuel during training runs,” Burgess says. “These will be key as your body starts to require extra nutrients each day you race.”

Galloway’s rule of thumb? Drink 2 to 4 ounces of water (a quarter to half a cup) every two miles with 30 to 40 calories of a blood sugar booster (like 3 to 4 gummy bears or sugar cubes). And whatever hydration and fuel plan you train with, stick to it on race week. “The golden rule of racing is ‘nothing new on race day,’” Heuisler says. That goes for food, drinks, and just about everything else, too. (Including gear! See 10 Must-Haves for Marathon Runners.) 

Train For The Worst
You can’t control the weather, so be ready to adapt to race day conditions, Burgess says. That might mean humidity, heat, wind, rain, chills, or hills, depending on the event. Train for the toughest conditions you might encounter. When it’s hot, slow your pace by one minute per mile once the thermometer hits 70 degrees and two minutes per mile if it’s above 80, Galloway advises.

And don’t underestimate how difficult it will be mentally. “The more you can prep both your mind and body for a race challenge, the better off you’ll be,” Heuisler says. (We've got your mind covered: Your Mental Marathon Training Plan.)

Choose Your Challenge

runDisney Challenges

• Dopey Challenge and Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge presented by Cigna, Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in Florida
• Star Wars Rebel Challenge presented by Sierra Nevada Corporation, Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in California
• Glass Slipper Challenge presented by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in Florida
• Pixie Dust Challenge presented by PANDORA Jewelry, Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend in California
• Dumbo Double Dare presented by Cigna, Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend in California

Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Remix Challenges

• Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon & ½ Marathon
• Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago ½ Marathon in Illinois
• Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas ½ Marathon in Texas
• Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon & ½ Marathon in Nevada
• Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon & ½ Marathon in Texas
• Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose ½ Marathon in California
• Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Louis Marathon & ½ Marathon in Missouri
• Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach ½ Marathon in Virginia

Other Challenges With Marathon or Half-Marathon Options

• Bermuda Triangle Challenge, Bermuda Marathon Weekend in Bermuda
• Bison Double, Yellowstone Half Marathon in Montana
• Dolphin and Whale Challenge, Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia
• Earn Your Mittens Challenge, Wisconsin Marathon and Kalamazoo Marathon in Michigan
• I-Challenge, Illinois Marathon
• I-35 Challenge, Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon in Missouri and IMT Des Moines Marathon in Iowa
• King Neptune Challenges, Atlantic City Marathon in New Jersey
• Skyline Chili 3-Way and 4-Way Challenges, Flying Pig Marathon in Ohio
• The Cowtown Challenge, The Cowtown Marathon in Texas
• Warrior Challenge, JTB Maui Marathon in Hawaii
• World Marathon Challenge, Polar Running Adventures

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