The dates started aligning like stars, but Jordan Tropf didn’t notice the once-in-a-lifetime constellation of marathons forming until about a month and a half ago.
The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic left marquee races, including the Boston Marathon, in limbo. After postponing last year’s race, the Boston Athletic Association announced plans to reschedule for Oct. 11. Moving the spring race to the fall put it in the same time frame as another of the six World Marathon Majors — Chicago, slated for Oct. 10.
Tropf already had plans for the fall. He wanted to cross the Marathon des Sables, a six-day ultramarathon through Morocco, off his running bucket list.
But his wife, Hannah, a senior sports marketing specialist for running at Under Armour, noticed one more coincidence. Jordan and Hannah live in Silver Spring, Md., and the Baltimore Running Festival was right in their backyard, set for Oct. 9.
“We joked for a few weeks once we realized the change of dates, that we had three major marathons in three days, and that it would be not only a whirlwind for someone racing those three, but just from a work standpoint getting to all three,” Hannah said.
Hannah couldn’t help being curious. She knew her husband.
“Nothing ever surprises me anymore with Jordan,” Hannah said. “He’s always up for a good challenge.”
Hannah threw out the question. Jordan couldn’t contain himself.
“That sounds like the coolest thing ever.”
“That’s when I knew we were going to have to find a way that he could do all three,” Hannah said.
Tropf has run all three events before, but three marathons in three days will be uncharted territory, and a challenge that Tropf couldn’t resist.
“We realized that really there’s the perfect storm this fall. That’s kind of what set this whole thing in motion. This is like the American trifecta,” Tropf said. “I couldn’t imagine a better series of races. Boston, mostly because it’s personal, but Chicago and Boston back-to-back is unreal.
“I’m always looking for that opportunity to push myself, and this was it. These are my three favorite races of all time.”
Putting himself through a 26.2-mile gauntlet is Tropf’s idea of fun. By day, he works at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as a resident in orthopedic surgery. He started running marathons as a student at the Naval Academy.
“The big thing for Jordan is he doesn’t do things for attention or public perception or anything,” Hannah said. “I think what really drives him is, ‘What can I try that’s different, something I’ve never done before and that challenges me in a new way?’ ”
Getting through all three races will be as much a feat of logistics as it will be a feat of athleticism.
“At every step of the way, there’s a chance that this thing may fall flat on its face,” Tropf said.
His schedule will be packed tightly, getting from airports to race centers. Gaining an hour traveling from Baltimore to Chicago, then losing it going from Chicago to Boston. The normal race experience with pre-dinners and rest will be replaced with to-go meals in a hotel room.
“Really, what the schedule looks like is running the race each day, an hour or two to get some food, get recovered, and then we’re headed to the airport,” Hannah said. “Get to the airport, fly to the next city, get in pretty late, get set up for the next day and do it all again. So there’s not much downtime.”
Traveling to major markets takes some of the worries out of the itinerary.
“Somehow it kind of just all fell into place,” Tropf said. “Now with this, there’s not a ton of room for error. Like if that Southwest flight is delayed by an hour, we’re going to be in an interesting situation.”
The novelty was one thing, but Tropf set a target time of 2 hours, 30 minutes in each marathon to push himself.
“What I wanted to do was set a goal,” he said. “I’m a really goal-oriented person, so 2:30′s really ambitious as hell. But if we hit it, that’s amazing. If we don’t, if we’re going for that, we’re not really going to stray too far in the weeds. Really for me, I want to hit these as fast as I can. That’s what that 2:30 means to me.”
He started training later than normal because he didn’t settle on running all three until July, but he was already preparing for the run in Morocco.
“This was a total experiment for me,” Tropf said. “Training for this has been the best training I’ve ever done for running, but it’s been very high-volume.”
The closest thing Tropf has done to three races in three days was in 2019 when he ran the Boston Marathon and the Big Sur Marathon in one week.
“It’s hard to train for something that’s a week apart,” Tropf said. “How the running schedule works, you do all your training, and then the last week or two before the race, you taper, you take your miles way down and let your body recover and get ready for a really hard effort.
“So what you do is you taper, you hit this race and then that next week you’re like, ‘What do I do now?’ ”
There won’t be time to taper with three races packed together.
“My whole approach to running is pretty laid back,” he said. “Nothing has to be perfect, you just have to make the best of every circumstance. That approach, for me, has really allowed me to have a lot of fun and do OK no matter what.”
Tropf is ready for the challenge and the experience, knowing how rare both are.
“These are the premier races in the United States,” Tropf said. “And to end at Boston, it honestly doesn’t get any better than this. This is a fantasy for me.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.