The Challenge of Multiple Marathons

(This rather long article was to be published in a future issue of Marathon & Beyond magazine. Unfortunately, the November-December issue of this noteworthy magazine was its last and so I decided to publish my article here on this blog.)

Some people call us crazy. Others think we are pushing the limits and asking for trouble down the road. Most simply don’t understand the appeal of completing lots of races in a single weekend. I admit I don’t really understand the phenomenon myself but I continually seek out such challenges and invariably sign up for them. Once bitten by the bug, it is hard to resist.

Exactly what is a challenge?

There are the so-called ‘easy’ challenges – races that are part of a series, usually several months apart, often in a specific geographic region (though the particular location itself may vary, sometimes taking place in neighboring towns). Other challenges are more complex and take place on a single weekend or an entire week. Some may involve shorter races like a 5k or 10k on one day followed by a half or full marathon on the next. The idea of running challenges is becoming more and more popular. The Wall Street Journal (April 16, 2015) and Runner’s World (August 2015) have recently recognized the burgeoning popularity of such events.

The easy challenges are not my concern here. Heck, anybody can train for and complete a marathon every couple of months. It’s the select few, however, who can finish multiple races, with at least one marathon, on consecutive days. Those are the marathoners with bragging rights.

Are challenges ultras? Maybe. While the races are not completed during a single time frame, the distances covered are greater than 26.2 miles, so the title ‘ultramarathoner’ could indeed be applicable (see Rich Benyo’s editorial in the Jan/Feb issue of Marathon & Beyond). My experiences with challenge participants, however, is that titles are beside the point; completing the races matter most. These runners prefer to increase the number of marathons rather than the number of miles in a single ultra.

Who does them? And why?

The most obvious reason is to see if one can survive and live up to the challenge. Some runners want to try a challenge just to see what it’s like (and a single experience is probably enough for them). Other runners enjoy attempting feats that seem impossible, difficult, or may appear just plain crazy to other people; they like to test their abilities, courage, and stamina. Sometimes the premium is an enticement. Several people who did the Clam Chowdah Challenge during its first year stated that they really wanted the chowder bowl that was given to finishers. I understood because that was one reason I did that challenge. After the race, many of us ate the finish line chowder directly from our prize bowl.

Another reason to do challenges is to add states and statistics to one’s running résumé. Many participants are Marathon Maniacs and/or members of the 50 States Marathon Club. It makes economic sense to do multiple races in one city or in neighboring states in order to increase statistics and reach a higher level of membership. For example, to attain titanium, the most revered level of Maniac, a member would have to complete at least 52 marathons within 365 days or 30 marathons in 30 different states, countries, or provinces within 365 days or 30 marathons in 20 countries in that same yearly time frame. This is a major financial challenge in itself, so combining races and states can certainly help minimize expenses.

Some challenges include a half marathon on one day and a full on the next. Since many Maniacs are also Half Fanatics (i.e., Double Agents), they can count each race in their respective tallies. Members of the 50 States Marathon Club often attempt neighboring state marathon challenges, adding from 2 to 7 states in one trip.

Challenges also provide a great reason to travel, sightsee, and visit family and friends. Almost invariably the people who seek out challenges develop an enduring sense of camaraderie with their fellow sufferers. These friendships constitute a major reason why marathoners keep coming back for more, even after they finish all 50 states multiple times and attain the highest Maniac level. Most week-long races emphasize the lack of time constraints to each day’s race, so runners and walkers who might be worried about their ability to finish a race with a strict 5 or 6 hour time limit can rest easy. Many even offer a last place award to each day’s final finisher.

Regardless of the specific reason, people keep doing them because they are fun to do. Not only are they a way to gather more bling, tee shirts, and the envy of other runners, challenges provide a way for runners to gain a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

What do runners have to say about challenges?

I am a rank beginner when it comes to these challenges so I emailed a brief survey to some of my ‘frequent flyer’ running friends for their opinions and personal experiences. What they had to say, while anecdotal and unscientific, illustrate the reasons why many of them espouse such challenges as a boon to the sport. Many have been doing them for as long as 20 years. In a couple of cases, completing a weeklong challenge was a prelude to other more awe-inspiring events such as the Triple 7 Quest (7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents) or the Last Annual Vol State 500k. Several people found that finishing 5-7 marathons in a week provided great training for these longer extremely difficult events.

Do runners have a preference for a particular type of challenge? Most did not. They enjoyed them all! A surprisingly large number liked to do 7 in a row. To me, those are the hardest, especially if there is a 100 to 500 mile distance between race locations. The marathon might be difficult but the drive immediately afterwards to the next race venue can be a killer. On the other hand, 7 day races held in the same area (like the Savage 7), make travel a nonissue, especially if one stays at a nearby hotel. A few runners, however, preferred doubles or triples because they could treat each one as an individual ‘normal’ race, with the goal of running fast and obtaining better finishing times.

As far as training, it seems most experienced challenge runners don’t bother. With so many races on their schedules, there is no need; they are already primed and ready. Some take a couple of days before a challenge to taper and a couple of days after to recover, but otherwise they do nothing at all special. For newbies to the sport, this is probably ill-advised but for marathoners who regularly complete 3 or 4 marathons a month, attempting a challenge without adding miles is not an issue. Cross-training, especially weight training, yoga, and Pilates, may help with strength, balance, and flexibility. For me, a couple of easy low-mileage days before a challenge followed by an additional two days of active ‘sloth’ – resting, eating, slow walking, enjoying other leisure pursuits –helps me get ready for the next round of races.

After each challenge is completed, runners agreed that it is time to celebrate and bask in success at finishing. The most important things to do were EAT, SLEEP, REST, drink chocolate milk, and EAT some more. Some also mentioned the importance of stretching and easy exercise to keep muscles from tightening up, but overall it was rest and food that surfaced as critical for recovery and to prepare for the next challenge.

Is it healthy? Or sane?

Can people really run long races day after day and not damage their bodies? Running is good for the soul but is so much intense racing also good for the body? Most of the scientific research is concerned with the consequences of running ultramarathons, events of single distances 50k and longer. Skin problems (blisters, chafing, and sunburn), musculoskeletal injuries (especially stress fractures), and liver, kidney, and respiratory problems are among the problems frequently faced by ultrarunners. Despite the demands made by ultrarunning, however, researchers generally agree that well-trained and experienced racers usually have no more health problems than the average runner and fewer chronic illnesses than the general population.

The medical literature is sparse, however, when it comes to the physical and psychological effects of running daily marathons. A PubMed literature search turned up only a single study of 8 recreational runners who completed 7 marathons on 7 consecutive days. This event was conducted on a 1.032 meter track on the Danish island of Bornholm in the summer of 2010. Researchers concluded that daily marathon running had no serious biochemical effects on runners while a number of health-related factors such as total cholesterol and fat percentage showed marked improvement. The study did not examine the psychological effects of running daily marathons but I would guess that – in this instance – the boredom of running around a track for a week might be the only negative, at least for me.

In my informal survey, I asked about injuries. How do frequent challengers avoid knee and foot problems – or do they? Surprisingly, most of them have personally experienced no injuries or problems, other than normal fatigue after a series. Occasionally they may have swollen ankles or foot pain, but these will occasionally surface after finishing single marathons as well.

There are LOTS of challenges to choose from

Even though ‘official’ challenges are a relatively recent phenomenon, many runners have been informally doing doubles and triples on their own for years. In fact, race directors often find out that runners are combining races on their own and quickly learn to make multiple events official and legitimate.

Challenges can be divided into 4 broad categories:

  • Expensive but appealing
  • Affordable and worthwhile
  • Small and intimate
  • Week-long immersion

Expensive but hard to resist: Disney’s Marathon Weekend (Orlando, FL) –

Prior to 2006, the half and full marathons at Disney World were held on the same day. This made for a lot of course congestion so in 2006 the two races were separated, with the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday. The Goofy Race and a Half Challenge was designed for runners who wanted to run both races. Disney race directors expected about 100 runners to sign up for the challenge and were surprised when almost 3000 runners registered. The Goofy has sold out quickly every year since, with about 6500 finishers.

Legend has it that at the first Goofy pre-race Q and A forum, someone asked what runners would get if they signed up for Goofy plus the family fun 5k on Friday. The response was that there was no special reward for anyone ‘Dopey’ enough to do that. Regardless, some intrepid runners signed up, on their own, for all 3 races. I did the Goofy in 2008 and remember listening to people talk about the unofficial ‘Dopey.’ In 2014, Disney made it a legitimate challenge, even taking it one step further by moving the 5k to Thursday and adding a new 10k race on Saturday. Thus the official Dopey was born. It has over 6000 finishers each year and sells out early.

There’s quite a bit of bling for Dopey finishers: 6 medals, 6 shirts, and a lot of envious glances from Disney park visitors. I hardly ever wear medals after races, but post-Dopey I wore all 6 as I maneuvered around the parks, clanking loudly. The accolades and comments I received made it worth lugging several pounds of metal around my neck. The downsides of the Dopey? It costs over $550 for early registration (not including the cost of hotels and park tickets) plus one must brave early morning bus rides to the gathering point for the races.

Affordable and worthwhile

There are plenty of more moderately priced challenges available. These attract both hard-core racers as well as those who want the specific premium or who simply want to test what a challenge is like – the “hey, maybe I could do that!” group. These range in size from very small local affairs held in city parks to medium-sized races in major cities. The majority of challenges in this group focus on a particular city but a few encompass distinct marathons in different but nearby states.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all challenges, modest or otherwise, is the Tahoe Triple (, held in Reno, NV, in the fall and now in its 14th year. It is not cheap to enter but neither is it as pricey as a trip to Disney World. Runners circle Lake Tahoe, 72 miles in circumference, by running marathons on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with each succeeding day’s race beginning at the preceding day’s finish line. Runners are bused to the start of each race but must find their own way back to their hotels at the end of the first 2 days. In addition, the first 2 marathons are largely self-supporting with only a few water stops along the way. This makes a crew almost essential. The roads are not closed to traffic on these days and some sections follow busy highways so runners must exercise caution. Elevation may also be an issue; on the first day, the highest point is Spooner Summit, at 7150 feet. On the third day, Triple challengers participate in the official Lake Tahoe Marathon.

The Tahoe Triple has had over 1000 finishers since its inception in 2008, with about 70 to 90 runners each year. Each finisher receives 3 medals, wind shirt, license plate holder, singlet, travel bag, and completion plaque. Feedback has been so great that there are now multiple variations of the challenge, including the Tahoe Half Marathon Trifecta (3 half marathons on 3 different days), a Double Marathon with a 10k in the middle, the Midnight Express (a 72 mile ultra), the Super Tahoe Triple (2 marathons on Saturday and Sunday, plus the Midnight Express Ultra), and the Double, Triple, or Quadzilla Dare. Where will it end?

A great example of a double weekend that was originally two distinct events in two separate states is the Mississippi Blues/First Light weekend in January. Maniacs quickly discovered that Jackson, MS, and Mobile, AL, are a relatively short drive apart and if you are going to one southern state for a race, why not do the other as well? Now officially called the Back2Back Challenge (, the respective race directors quickly recognized the value in attracting dual runners and now they cooperate fully in making it as easy as possible to do both.   For about $40, runners can take a chartered bus for the round trip from Jackson to Mobile and back. Since many runners fly into Jackson and don’t want to rent a car, the bus makes it easy to get 2 races in 2 states without having to drive.

The Back2Back Challenge has experienced impressive growth, from 30 people the first year to 525 in 2014. Finishers get a special spinner medal showcasing Mississippi on one-side and Alabama on the other. This challenge offers – in Mississippi’s race director John Noblin’s words – “the opportunity to do 2 stand-alone races that show off 2 neat Southern cities at a time of year when a lot of the country can’t even run outside.”

Not to be outdone, the I-35 Challenge ( held in October highlights 2 Midwestern cities only 3 hours apart along the interstate highway that connects them. The Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon in Missouri on Saturday and the Des Moines Marathon in Iowa on Sunday offer runners a chance to feel like celebrities with a commemorative bib, shirt, medal, and post-race photo. The idea of the challenge was once again generated by runners who questioned the race directors about the feasibility of driving between both races. It was made official in 2014 and quickly sold out.

For those who prefer challenges that remain within city limits, there are several to choose from. The King Neptune Challenge ( in Virginia Beach, VA, in March is only for fast and confident racers because, in addition to an 8k on Saturday, runners must finish two races on Sunday. The first race, a half marathon, must be completed in under 1 hour 45 minutes in order to be at the start line of the full marathon later that morning. In 2015, about 25% of the field did not make this cutoff and that can be devastatingly disappointing. For 87 finishers who were successful, 6 medals were their reward. If King Neptune seems too daunting, the Whale and Dolphin challenges might be more appealing. Runners in both must complete that same 8k on Saturday as the Neptune challengers but then can choose either a half or full marathon for their Sunday race. In its first year, the Whale had 180 finishers and the Dolphin 531.

If you are extremely partial to all things porcine, the Flying Pig 4-Way Challenge ( in Cincinnati, OH, on the first weekend in May might be just the ticket. It consists of running both the 5k and 10k on Saturday morning and the full marathon on Sunday. Depending on your 5k finishing time, you will have between 1-2 hours to get to the start of the 10k, eminently doable for most. This challenge gets its name from Skyline Chili, Cincinnati’s famous combo of spaghetti, chili, cheese, and onions, and a major sponsor of the weekend’s festivities. Runners who don’t feel up to the 4-way can opt for the 3-way (just do the half instead of the full – and omit the onions from the chili).

Rewards include a plaque to display all of the 3-dimensional medals earned: 2 small pig medals for the shorter races and a large piggy medal for the full or half plus a challenge tee shirt. I did the 4-way in 2013, its inaugural year and – with the exception of my 2011 Boston Marathon medal – my Pig medals are my favorites. Now in its 3rd year, the 4-way has grown from 150 finishers to 230. I am waiting for a 5-way challenge – adding beans to that famous chili – and perhaps moving the 5 and 10k races to Friday, holding the half on Saturday, and the full on Sunday. Now that would be a feast for pig lovers!

Another single location opportunity is the Clam Chowdah Challenge ( in Falmouth, Massachusetts, at the end of October. Since the Cape Cod half and full marathons were already on separate days, race officials decided to offer runners the choice to do both, with the ultimate prize – a lovely clam chowder bowl. I signed up for the challenge in its first year, 2011, just so I could eat my finish line chowder from that coveted bowl. Since then, 500 people have managed to complete the challenge. The courses are lovely but hilly, a running challenge in themselves. In the works is a new Half Shell Challenge, a 2-person relay with each individual covering either half of the half or full marathons.

Small and intimate

Some challenges are smaller and have their own special ‘feel.’ These events attract lots of local runners, mostly Maniacs, as well as runners from more distant states. Texas in particular offers several. Two of the most noteworthy are the Running the Distance series (Texas Threesome in May, Texas Quad in November, and the Texas Double in December) and the I Ran Marathons events (2, 3, 4, and more day events held throughout the year).

Running the Distance races ( are held at Bachman Lake in Dallas, TX, and offer fellowship in a low-key atmosphere plus flexible time limits, buckles for Quad finishers, series tee shirt, and medals for each completed run. There may be as many as 100 runners per race, but the usual number hovers around 15-20 a day so racers get to know each other very well as they continue their laps around the lake. Another laid-back series, the I Ran Marathons events  ( take runners along out-and-back sections of the Leon Creek Greenway in San Antonio, TX. Rewards include a series tee shirt, medals for each day, and a personalized trophy for those who complete the entire event. Family members who want to participate in shorter races can opt for the 5 or 10k races that are offered, and for those diehards who wish to go farther, there are ultras as well.

Week-long immersion challenges

These are a true recent phenomenon: challenges that last from 5 to 7 days. Although runners can choose as few as one or two races in a series, many sign up and finish every single one of them. These attract not only Maniacs and 50 Staters but also a surprisingly large number of first-timers, often local, who want to test their abilities in a more relaxed environment. There is usually no time limit or a very generous one, thus broadening the scope and appeal to runners with injuries, a wide spectrum of age groups, and slower runners and walkers.

Sometimes these events take advantage of otherwise race-deficient times of the year. In 2010, Chuck Savage, an accomplished Florida marathoner and architect by profession, decided to make good use of the relatively slow time for business between Christmas and New Year’s Day. He mentioned to some running pals that he was planning to run a marathon each day on a high school track in Ocala, FL, and invited them to join him. In its first year, 5 people finished all 7 days. Word soon spread and the Savage 7 ( became an annual event. Locations and race directors varied during the next several permutations but by 2013, the S7 found a home in Ocala once again, this time along the tree-lined paved trails of the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway.

I did four of the Savage 7 in 2013 and found the new location to be scenic, paved, and convenient, with plenty of parking and real bathrooms (always a plus in my book). People can sign up for as many marathons as they dare. A stalwart bunch return each year to complete all 7. Numbers have grown from the original 5 finishers to around 200 runners who attempt at least one of the marathons. The S7 is not a competition; rather the goal is to have a good time. As Chuck succinctly puts it, “the [real] challenge is to ‘survive’ all 7 days.”

Probably the most extensive marathon immersion events are masterminded by Clint Burleson and his Mainly Marathon enterprise ( With the exception of the Day of the Dead series (seven races all set in Las Cruces, NM), most Mainly Marathon (MM) race events cover 5 to 7 states in as many days, often with 2 to 5 hour drives between them. There are now 7 multi-state series covering 40 states with plans to add more. Popular series include Appalachian (WV, VA, TN, NC, SC, GA, AL), Center of the Nation (MT, ND, SD, WY, NE, CO), Heartland (OH, MI, IN, IL, IA, WI, MN), and Dustbowl (TX, OK, KS, CO, NM). Yes, that means that marathoners must do the race, jump in their cars, and drive to the next state, find their hotel, eat and sleep, and make their way to the next day’s location. I’ve never been able to do all 7 races in a series because the drives are just too daunting for me to attempt; perhaps if I could finish faster, I would find it easier. But this doesn’t deter the hundreds of marathoners who show up for each series.

Because of the additional cost, the MM weeklong races do not use chip timing but instead use the rubber band timing method. Since these marathons consists of numerous laps around a central area or park, each time runners finish a lap they collect a rubber band to put on their arm. Volunteers count laps as well but the rubber bands make it easy for both officials and runners to keep track of how many more times they must make a circuit. As their reward for completing a MM series, participants get a medal for each day as well as special awards for series finishers. Since each series is connected by a theme, the individual state medals are connected to each other with a hook and is designed to hang from a larger series medal.

It was after he did the MM Dustbowl series that Chuck Savage came up with the idea of the New England Challenge ( He realized that putting on marathons in these small and fairly close together states would be relatively easy and the month of May promised good weather. The NE Challenge includes only 5 of the 6 states (VT is missing) but occasionally the Shires of Vermont marathon takes place the weekend before or after the NE challenge so VT can be checked off by 50 Staters. The marathons in this series have been certified and will be chip timed in 2016.

One notable aspect of aid station food at these weeklong events is how they resemble the ‘buffets’ at ultras instead of the usual gels and bananas at ordinary marathons – there are often sandwiches, pizza, and homemade goodies, tantalizing food that is far more typical of longer races.

Are there any downsides to challenges?

Most runners who seek out challenges and continue to do them regularly don’t seem to complain much – there’s fatigue, of course, and the cost of travel and perhaps some burnout – but essentially participants are exhilarated after completing every challenge. They bask in the strong friendships that result from seeing each other at so many events.

From the race director’s perspective, there can be a few occasional blips. Logistics for 2-7 days can be a challenge in itself, especially for smaller races. Sometimes challenges require a little extra planning, coordination with highway and police departments, and expense on the part of race officials, though this seems to be more of an issue with smaller races that operate with a minimal budget. In larger races, costs are often absorbed in higher registration fees while the other details like timekeeping, volunteers, and longer expo hours are relatively easy for bigger races with corporate sponsors.

On the plus side, challenges make good economic sense for the cities where they are held. Out-of-town runners bring their friends and families, stay several nights in local hotels, dine in neighborhood restaurants, and shop for souvenirs and necessities in nearby stores.

Ready to try one? Here are some tips

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss specialized training plans. Some runners simply add 10% to their base with an additional long run a week or so before the actual challenge. Others, myself included, sign up for as many other races, short and long, as they can afford, both expense and time-wise, to get acclimated to endurance running.

If you are an average runner who wants to try a challenge, here is some advice from experienced challengers

  • Start out easy and go slow, especially on the first day (wise but much easier said than done)
  • If you are attempting a week of marathons, hold back some of your energy and speed for those other days; try to make the last day your best
  • Your goal should be to finish each day’s race within the specified time limit and without injury
  • After each day’s race, be sure to eat, drink, and rest sufficiently; hydrate with electrolytes and/or chocolate milk; consume meals with carbs and protein; cool down by stretching, walking, icing, and using foam rollers; nap and sleep
  • Talk to others, smile a lot, and enjoy yourself; believe in yourself and in your training

And on the practical side

  • If you are traveling any distance to the challenge, give yourself a bit of time to adjust to climate differences as well as altitude and time changes
  • Where you stay is also important when traveling. Hotels closest to the race sites are usually the most convenient, giving you maximum time to rest between races.
  • When traveling distances greater than 50 miles to the next location, be sure to stretch before getting in your car. I remember begging my husband to pull into the breakdown lane on an interstate highway between races during the New England Challenge because of severe hamstring cramps. I must have made a humorous sight as I stretched out my legs while leaning against the car but other marathoners driving by surely understood. It was a lesson painfully learned. I stretched carefully after that experience
  • If at all possible, bring sufficient clothes and shoes to last through the number of races you plan to do. Clothes and shoes don’t always dry in time for the next race
  • Don’t expect to qualify for Boston or get a PR. Sure, you might indeed be lucky enough to do one or both, and that would be great, but your major goal should be to survive the challenge and live to tell about it


No matter how insane others may think we are, dedicated marathon challenge runners will continue to look for new opportunities to test their mettle. As long as there are challenges out there, people like myself will be drawn to them. The rewards are both material and intangible; the experiences are unforgettable.

My thanks and appreciation to the many runner friends and race directors who kindly responded to my survey questions.


Hoffman, MD, Krishnan, E “Health and Exercise-related Medical Issues among 1,212 Ultramarathon Runners: Baseline Findings from the Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking (ULTRA) Study” PLOS ONE, V. 9 (1), January 2014, e83867 (available at

Karstoft, K, Solomon, TP, Laye, MJ, Pedersen, BK “Daily Marathon Running for a Week-The Biochemical and Body Compositional Effects of Participation” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, V. 27 (11), November 2013, pp. 2927-2933.

Krabak, BJ, Waite, B, Lipman, G “Injury and illnesses Prevention for Ultramarathoners” Current Sports Medicine Reports, V. 12 (3), May-June 2013, pp. 183-189.

Krabak, BJ, Waite, B, Schiff, MA “Study of Injury and Illness Rates in Multiday Ultramarathon Runners” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, V. 43 (12), December 2011, pp. 2314-2320.

Sidebar – Other Challenges

Seabrook Lucky Trail ( – half on Saturday, full on Sunday in Seabrook, TX (March)

Christie Clinic Illinois I–Challenge ( – 5k on Friday and 10k, half, or full on Saturday in Champaign/Urbana (April)

Cowtown Challenge ( – 5k or 10k on Saturday and half, full, or 50k on Sunday in Ft. Worth, TX (February)

Bermuda Triangle ( – mile run on Friday, 10k on Saturday, half or full on Sunday in Hamilton, Bermuda (January)

Maui Marathon Warrior ( – 5k or 10k on Saturday and marathon on Sunday in Maui, HI (September)

Firecracker Triple ( – three marathons in the Portland, OR, area (July 4 weekend)

Earn Your Mittens Double ( – marathons in Kalamazoo, MI, and Kenosha, WI May)

Where to find more? Check out the 50 State Marathon Club’s doubles page and the Racer’s Gadget at

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