Running the miles, 26.2 of them on back-to-back days in two time zones, might be the easy part.
Because walking the tightrope in getting from the Triad to Charlotte to Chicago and to Boston and then back to North Carolina could challenge a seasoned planner and certainly the traveler.
Hamptonville's Nathan Beamguard and Winston-Salem's Jeremy Bush and Matt Grannis are setting off this week for their excellent running – and flying – adventures, all for the chance to run in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday and the Boston Marathon on Monday.
"Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Bush says, "being able to run two world major marathons in two cities on two days back-to-back was a pretty cool idea. Pretty cool opportunity that I don't think will ever happen again."
The Chicago Marathon's date was set for Oct. 10. When the Boston Marathon, postponed from its traditional third Monday in April, landed on Oct. 11, runners who were entered in Chicago but also qualified for Boston faced a choice.
Or a chance.
"I said, 'Well, there goes that,' and then I thought about it for a minute, and I said, 'Or ...'" Beamguard says, drawing out the word and then offering a laugh, "this could be a one-time opportunity to run two majors on back-to-back days."
Bush posed his idea to Grannis, his training buddy.
"What do you think about doing a back-to-back?" Bush asked Grannis.
"Absolutely not," Grannis told him. "You're crazy."
The more he thought, the more he thought of it.
"It would be a pretty cool story and then also share it with a good running friend," Grannis says. "I thought it'd be a cool experience."
The best-laid plans
Rules for the Boston Marathon, and that the race is the second of the two, have added to the challenge. Bush and Grannis initially planned to travel from North Carolina to Chicago, run the first marathon, then fly into Boston in the afternoon, narrowly beating the closing of packet pickup. The marathon requires that only the runner can pick up his or her packet.
COVID protocols in Boston complicated that.
"I had to change all my stuff last week," Bush says, referring to flight plans.
"They have a screening for your vaccination status or vaccination card or you have to take an on-site COVID test, just to be able to go to the expo to get your bib,” he says.
"That ends at 4:30 on Sunday, which blew my plans up. I was going to be landing at 5 o'clock."
Bush and Grannis will fly from North Carolina to Boston on Friday to get their bibs, although a layover in their same-day flight to Chicago will land them back where they started, just in time for dinner – at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Beamguard, who leaves today with his wife, Rebecca, to visit their daughter, Suzie, in Chicago, will make a roundtrip flight from the city to Boston on Friday to satisfy the Boston Marathon's requirements.
Preparing for a double
Forget the travel for a moment, and think about running 26.2 miles on consecutive days. The experience will be new for all three runners.
"I really haven't done anything that would be exactly like it," Beamguard, 49, says. "I've never run more than a 50K. I've done high-mileage training before, lots of long, slower miles than short, fast miles. But I've not done anything quite like this."
Beamguard, Bush and Grannis all completed long runs on back-to-back days in training. Beamguard also ran in the Blue Ridge Relay in September, totaling 37 miles at 10K pace during a 27-hour stretch on mountain roads from Mount Rogers in Virginia to Asheville.
"Definitely the double weekend long runs," Grannis, 43, says of training with Bush. "Specifically we've done two or three weekends where we did two 20-mile runs back-to-back with some quality within those."
"The Sunday one," Bush, 41, adds, "would be a little bit easier, but then maybe throw in a 3- or 4-mile close at the end, have a fast finish to it."
All three runners expect to make quick city tours once the starting guns sound, notably on the first leg of the back-to-back on Chicago’s flat course.
Beamguard's marathon best is two hours and 55 minutes, and he believes he can beat that Sunday.
"My training has gone really, really well," Beamguard says. "I'm as healthy as I've been in three or four years. And I think I might be able to run a PR. In Chicago, if I get good weather, I feel like I need to try and run that PR."
As for Boston the next day?
"So at that point, racing Chicago full-out," Beamguard says, "just finishing Boston would be fine. Just crossing the line is good enough."
Bush and Grannis, meanwhile, are also aiming for times better than three hours, but in both races.
"We're going to try to be very conservative in Chicago, be smart there," Grannis says. "And then we obviously know Boston is going to be the more difficult task. But we'll see what we have after Heartbreak Hill and take a shot at it."
And it is Bush who has set the most audacious goal of this group and perhaps of any runner in the Triad this fall. Not only is he aiming for sub-threes on Sunday and Monday, Bush is scheduled to run in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7.
"I'm treating this as the first leg," Bush says of the weekend. "The big thing has been within four weeks, 28 days, I will have run all three of the United States' world marathon majors, and that would only leave the international ones.
"Ideally I want to do sub-three across all three races."
Bush is confident that the strengths gained physically and mentally will get him to his goals, but he's also eager just to run with friends and to see others along the way.
"Success at the end of all of this will be just the experience," Bush says, "and knowing that I did all I could, put myself out there, put myself on the line and put myself in a position to do something that not many people can say they've done. And if I do my best, whatever happens after that, I'm completely fine with."
It's go time
For their non-running friends who know what they're up to, these runners have answered the questions, such as the ones posed to Grannis, who weeks ago just might have agreed.
• "Are you crazy?"
• "Do you want to die?"
• "What do you have against yourself?"
But Grannis gets it, we get it, and so do their families, the way Rebecca Beamguard does.
"She accepted a long time ago," Nathan Beamguard says, "that when it comes to running, I might be a little crazy."
So off they go: Beamguard today and then Bush and Grannis following on Friday.
Asked which would be easier, marathons on consecutive days or navigating a cumbersome travel schedule, Beamguard laughed.
"Hopefully running the miles," he says. "If air travel goes smoothly, I think my schedule will be fairly doable. As long as there's no major airline delay, it'll be hectic, a lot of moving around and not a lot of rest, but I don't think it will be that tough."