You can only run two marathons in a year. One in the fall. One in the spring. That’s what I was told when I started running them. Like the 10 percent rule, it’s one of the foundational myths of running. And as a Type A rule-follower, I was inclined to listen. Even though that meant my goal of running in all 50 states would take 25 years to accomplish, I plodded along. But in the back of my mind, I began to question the logic of the two-per-year rule. It felt like a waste to build all the way up over 16 weeks, only to start the whole thing again the next season.
I started small. Last fall, I was planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon here at home. I don’t run well at big city races, so I didn’t have any time goals. Plus the race wasn’t even going to count for a state, because I already had Virginia and D.C. hasn’t (yet!) gained statehood. I decided to sneak in another fall race three weeks before, in West Virginia. It felt devious, illicit, like I was conspiring against all that I knew. But it worked out. I ran both races at a comfortable pace, felt great, and had fun.
Equipped with that evidence and still a Type A striver, I decided to one-up myself this spring. Instead of running just one, or two, spring marathons, I’d run three. And again, it worked out. In fact, it more that worked out. I ran a PR in the first (Austin, February) and another in the second (Tobacco Road, March). Come June, I ran a sweaty Hatfield-McCoy Marathon through the hills of Kentucky coal country and managed to place first in my age group. Along the way I PR’d at a couple of shorter distances, too. Rather than running myself ragged, as I’d fear, I’ve ran myself into the best shape of my life.
I wasn’t running 20-milers every weekend all spring or anything, but I did run a lot. And I did yoga. And some crosstraining in the pool here or there. I don’t have a secret. I know I’ve been lucky to skirt injury, but I like to think it’s helped to keep my goals in check and manage my expectations along with the miles. And taking a few days off after a marathon can go a lot further than you’d think (even if a week or a month on the couch sounds so much more appealing after crossing the finish line).
With consistent, regular running now just a normal part of my life, it makes ramping back up to “train” that much easier. I’ve already slipped easily into my next cycle, with two marathons on the books for fall, and dreams of fast times and BQs dancing in my head.
Abby McIntyre is the copy chief for Slate magazine. She lives and runs in Washington, D.C.