Having grown up breaking myself with mileage my body couldn’t maintain, I was skeptical and resentful of people who ran more than once a day.
Besides, years ago I’d heard that Mark Wetmore, the famous head coach at the successful University of Colorado, advised his athletes to optimize for running once a day. His logic was that as busy students they were better off making the most of a single run and then making time for sleep amid the rest of their hectic schedule. As an adult, I felt that my schedule was busy enough to also qualify for the same advice.
But something shifted when I decided to try for an OTQ. I forced myself to question each assumption and in doing so realized that I simply needed to run more, and that logistically that couldn’t always happen before breakfast.
And so I ran twice one day.
Then I did it again.
The first couple of times I sort of tip-toed out the door nervously, unsure of how my legs would manage. I’d stride for a minute or two noticing that a sense of bounce was missing compared to the morning session. But I’d get the run done, and gain a sense of accomplishment and resilience. I was doing a thing I didn’t think I could do.
Before I knew it I had doubled enough that I was no longer afraid. In fact, I felt free.
Aiming to increase mileage with only 7 runs a week felt pressure-packed. Each effort needed to go smoothly, and extensively. Aiming to fashion myself into the next level of marathoner meant many runs pushing the boundary of my ability. But with second sessions available, I had options.
For starters, I’d just do a 3–4 mile run. Then Patrick, my teammate, mentioned that he felt anything less than 30 minutes was more inconvenient than it was worth. So I stretched by run out over the 30min mark, and then beyond. The unexpected joy of the second session was the permission to move with ease.
Often starting at a minute slower per mile than my average pace, sometimes two!, I’d challenge myself to see how effortlessly I could coax myself to run. If it felt like barely a shuffle at first, all the better. After all, this session was a dollop on top of the day! It was gravy. No need to stress.
About this time I read a comment someone made about the “East African easy run,” where you intentionally overdress, and if you begin to overheat it’s a sign to go even slower. Championships aren’t won with easy run pace after all.
The second run is also freeing if the morning run doesn’t go well. With a planned secondary session I’ve cut my morning run short when I wasn’t feeling well. Possibly drowsy, or simply running out of time before the workday needed to begin, “I’ll just go a little longer than planned this afternoon.” I’d reason.
Of course, it wasn’t all upside. Stomach troubles were my most common foe. Eating too late led me shuffling for a bathroom several times. And eating too little would succumb me to pacing in a haze, dizzy from sugar depletion.
So I learned to watch my pre-run meal and to sometimes pack a gel.
All simple cues to track in pursuit of more miles in a day. More minutes on feet. More strength for a later date.
Then second runs taught me about time.
When I ran each day I thought of the week as one of those pillboxes with seven compartments. Each carton can be filled with what you choose.
But running more than once I day forced me to consider hours.
Many people prefer to run in the morning and then after work. This optimizes rest inside the day but didn’t always work for me because it stole time away from seeing my son after school. While there are only 24 hours in a day, and you can only fit so much, my preference became an early morning run followed by a second at lunch. Only resting 4–5 hours is enough to refuel and also digest, while affording a nice mid-day work break.
And it wasn’t just the hours between I began to consider.
Running each morning allows 23 hours to rebound. Running in the afternoon after a previous morning session means over 30. And running in the evening before an early morning session can leave as little as 8–10 hours before you’re going again.
With this new calculation taking place constantly I began to see my running less like a thing I did 6–7 times a week, and more as a lifestyle of movement I was weaving throughout my life. It didn’t always go well. At times I’d head out to run 5–7 and shut it down after 3. Other times I got overzealous and did two ten milers, leaving me cooked the next day.
Testing. Learning. And gaining strength.
The body also needs rest though. Mileage without recovery is mostly meaningless.
My favorite type of recovery is the day entirely off. This makes sense but feels difficult to schedule as an aspiring marathoner. I settled on Sundays. A day to be spent with my family without obligation to exercise. But I’d have to make the rest abundantly necessary.
So I stacked 100 miles in the preceding six days.
I realize the triple empirical digit is arbitrary, but in my marathoner’s mind, it held meaning. I had to get there to trust that my legs would still be beneath me late in such a long race.
So I stacked mileage high for six, then not at all for one, which left me feeling almost LAZY by Monday morning. It’d typically been over 40 hours since my last mile!
Time to get to work!
Tuning weeks this way layered on strength in a way that felt sustainable, which was welcome months into a training block pointed toward a race filled with an intimidating goal.
But what I learned from embracing double runs is that you must get there session by session, recover period by recovery period, fitting it into a busy life, sometimes skipping sessions entirely on occasion.
“You can only do what you can do,” a friend cautioned once when I became stressed by a dip in the numbers.
So I took a breath and tried to let go of the frustration I felt of having missed a weekly mileage goal.
After all, I had another run scheduled in about 12 hours…