Three races in three days: a true test of running fitness

As runners, many of us have our post-race customs – some more peculiar than others. For me, over the years it has become customary to go for a post-race pizza. Then I will always take a rest day, and have a gentle recovery jog the day after that.

One thing I'd never normally do is finish a 10km road race, go home and eat another meal, set out my racing gear again, have a restless night's sleep, then do an 8km trail race the next day. And then repeat it all again with a 5km track race the day after that. But that is what I did recently. And, as I write this nearly a week later, I am – shockingly – still in recovery. I seem to have been hit with that familiar post-marathon body shutdown that makes me feel suddenly very unfit, where even a gentle jog feels tremendously hard work. But I haven't done a marathon! Not even close, and it was over three days. What has happened to me?

The race in which I took part was the inaugural Tour de Exeter. Its organiser, Peter Ferlie of Ironbridge Runner, told us the idea was based on the former Tour of Tameside. This was a six-day event that put runners through varying distances, terrains and gradients. It was the ultimate test of overall running fitness – and here we were doing our own mini version of it.

My times were 50:57 for 10km road (PB), 44:43 for 8km trail (hilly), and 24:47 for 5km track (far from my best). This made my overall time 2:00:27. Enthused by this new type of challenge, I know I will definitely be taking part again next year, but I don't really want to wait that long. After a bit of internet searching for future races (another post-race custom), I can't seem to find any other such events in my region. On the other side of the country, the Tour of Tameside was this year resurrected and renamed the Tour of Merseyside. Its arduous six days featured distances between five miles and a half marathon, and included a beach run, trails and road. But I can't find anything else anywhere (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Why aren't there more of these types of events? I have my own theory that it is because the fashion these days is either to take part in races of increasing distances – halves, marathons, ultras, multi-day ultras – or to take part in "crazy" events such as 24-hour team relays, or army-style obstacle courses. With all of this going on, doing three really quite ordinary races on consecutive days neither ticks the box of "Wow, you're running such a long way", nor the box of "Wow, that looks scary". But where is the box for "Wow, you must have a really strong overall running fitness"?

If you haven't taken part in a multi-stage event such as Exeter or Merseyside this year, I urge you to do so next year. If there isn't one near you, perhaps organise it yourself. The benefits are worth it. You will be tested on your stamina on hills, your power on track, your endurance on road, and your sense of humour when it all starts to feel too much.

You will experience starting a race when you are already fatigued. Within a lap of starting the 5k, my legs were already feeling wobbly from the night before. This can give you a very modest insight into the toughness of some truly elite events.

Then you will also have the interesting task of working out a race and recovery strategy that goes beyond just one race. When do you push and when do you hold back? What is your nutrition and hydration strategy? How much stretching might be too much? Do you take an ice bath after a tough race, or not? And how do you cope with three consecutive days of pre-race nerves?

The event also poses the question of what makes a person the better runner. I was almost head to head with one man for all three days: he pipped me on day one, but I beat him in the second and third races. So which of us is fitter, or the better runner?

More importantly, what do you do when your best racing kit is still in the wash, and you are left only with the old sports bra that has the buckle missing and doesn't hold you still quite as much? (Answer: you wear the better bra, even though it is wet/dirty.)

If none of these challenges is enough for you to consider doing a race tour, I have one more argument with which to wear you down. As all of us know, there is never a friendlier conversation to be had than with a fellow runner after a difficult race. So imagine how friendly that conversation will be after three such races. Or six. Or … who wants to arrange a longer one?

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