At the double

Advice about 'doing a double' from coach Bernard.

During my competitive years I could never see the point of training if there was a race going, and to be fair there were times when I definitely took it too far. More often though I was pleasantly surprised when I ran well again the day after a hard race.  There were many others with the same view, although one good friend took it to extremes, running a 30-mile race in London on Saturday and then trotting around a 2:47 marathon at Rugby on Sunday. To put this in context, he was a 2:19 marathon runner and he also held the world record for 100 miles on the track, so I guess that to him it was just a standard weekend’s work. 

Examples of a double

We expect to have to double from time to time during the track season, the county championship weekend in May being a case in point, and it’s increasingly the case with cross country.  As an example, the national relays in early November are a brilliant event to be part of, and in the past, we’ve had teams who just have to be part of it.  The relays take place in Mansfield and quite often fall the day before the first Oxfordshire league fixture.  The relay legs are relatively short (2 – 5 km) and in practice, those who’ve been at Berry Hill Park on Saturday are still on a high from the experience and turn in another sound performance on Sunday.  

There was a more recent example when the English Schools cup final took place in Newquay the day before a league fixture on the testing slopes of Cirencester, with several of our YAs intending to do both.  One experienced veteran athlete (who had frequently doubled up himself) asked whether I thought this sort of thing was a good idea.  While I definitely wouldn’t suggest doing it every weekend, my reply was that customary coach’s cop-out “it depends …”.  

How to deal with consecutive races

So what are some of the factors we need to think about when contemplating doubling up? We’ll assume for the purposes of this article that for whatever reason you find yourself having or wanting to race on consecutive days. And I do mean race, not heats and finals, different thing altogether.

The first and most obvious thing is am I fit enough for the job?? The true test of fitness is how well you recover, and if you are training effectively then putting two hard runs together needn’t be a huge problem. Indeed, there are some athletes who reckon that they train so hard that a race feels like a day off. Most of us mind you wouldn’t go quite that far, and so we do need to think about the two events together as a package. As I’ve said, a relay leg and a straight race can work well, as can a shorter event on Day 1 such as the schools' cup. For seniors, a 5000 / 10,000 m double on the track (either way round) is tough but doable, as is a short road race and a half-marathon (in that order, not the other way round). And we’ve seen last season that younger athletes with a sound endurance base can cope with 1500 and 3000m.

Understandably, our big concern is the possibility of falling between two stools, ie being greedy and then not doing well in either event. Just allowing this worry to creep into your mind is likely to have a deleterious effect on performance. So my advice for Day 1 is to forget about Day 2 completely and give the first race everything you’ve got.  Banish all thoughts such as “I’ll ease off a bit and save something for tomorrow” – doesn’t work. 

Preparing for the second race

However, as soon as you’ve crossed the finish line start thinking about getting ready to race again the following day. Get a drink as soon as you can, spikes off, trainers and tracksuit on. Then get yourself off for a gentle cooldown jog. This bit is absolutely essential, you need to ease out the effects of the first race as much as you can rather than have them still in your system when you start warming up on Day 2. Once that’s done, have another drink and a snack (almost anything will do, but carbs and a bit of protein such as a chicken and salad sandwich would be good). Then off home for a nice long shower, a big dinner (you’re a distance runner, you’ll still have loads of room after that sandwich) and a sit down.  

I often feel it’s the logistics that are the biggest problem in doubling up, the running is the easy bit. A long journey back can leave you stiffening up (another reason for that essential cooldown) and of course, you may not be back until quite late. Don’t miss out on your dinner but however late back you are taking 5 mins to put your spikes out to dry off and your club kit out to air. No one will care the following day if your vest isn’t freshly laundered, but you won’t feel ready for action if your kit is still damp from the combat of yesterday and your spikes are still caked in wet mud.

After all that, you can get off to bed secure in the knowledge that Day 1 is done and dusted and you’ve done your best, Day 2 will be a bonus. And on Day 2 you might want to allow a bit longer for warm up jogging if you are still feeling a bit stiff, but otherwise, you can line up in an optimistic frame of mind knowing you’ve given yourself every chance of another good run. Put all thoughts of Day 1 out of your mind, and definitely don’t go around telling everyone you’re tired from racing yesterday. Give it your best shot and you cannot then be disappointed in yourself.