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Running a Marathon: Why You Should Join the Club

Today during my commute to and from work I listened to Episode 184 of Steve Runner’s Phedippidations podcast (you can download it directly from Itunes by clicking here). In this episode, Steve tells the story of how he managed to successfully complete the 2009 Boston Marathon with only 5 weeks of training, but really, the podcast went much deeper than that, and it really made me think quite a bit about why it is that those of us who run marathons choose to do so. Steve talks a lot about his childhood in this episode, and how running a marathon really was not something anyone would have thought that he would be able to do. Twenty marathons later, Steve has proven them all wrong, and has learned a lot about himself in the process. For many of us who have just started running in the past few years, Steve’s podcast has been an inspiration, and I can honestly say that his encouragement played a big role in my growth as a runner. Getting back to this particular episode on Boston 2009, one quote in particular that came right at the end of the podcast really struck me:

“Run a marathon, not for the purpose of bragging to others that you did, but to prove to yourself that you can.”

After hearing this line, I got to thinking about what running a marathon meant to me, and why everybody deserves the experience of running and completing one. As Steve so eloquently puts it, completing a marathon is not something you should do for bragging rights. Sure, becoming a marathoner puts you in a club that few people on this planet belong to, but that’s really not what makes the experience so special. The reason why completing a marathon matters to me lies in the challenge of overcoming adversity, of confronting something so seemingly impossible and pushing through to the finishline. Completing a marathon is special because of what it means to you, and not what it says about you to anyone else.

For those of us with no chance of ever winning a 26.2 mile race, why do we put ourselves through the pain and mental anguish of such an undertaking. And lets be honest, the pain doesn’t just come from the race itself – training for a marathon involves significant dedication and self-discipline. Who in their right mind forces themself out of the house for a lonely 20-mile run on a weekend morning for the sole purpose of being able to run 6.2 miles longer than that on race day? Are we crazy? Why do we subject our bodies to this? Aren’t there better things we could be doing with our time? I would argue no on all counts, and I’ll try to explain why.

If you want to read the story of how I became a runner and marathoner, you can read this post, but I want to talk a bit more philosophically here about why running a marathon was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I look at it this way – there are few moments in your life that become so etched into your brain that you can recall them like they happened yesterday. My wedding day and the births of each of my kids fall squarely in this category. This is also what running the Vermont City Marathon last year was like for me. I can still recall almost every single moment of that race in vivid detail, and that tells me that it affected me deeply. I shed a tear at the starting line simply thinking about all of the work that had gotten me to that point. I shared stories with fellow runners before and during the race, and the support I received from total strangers was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Most importantly, however, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I was capable of doing something that just a year or so beforehand I would have deemed impossible. I had never run more than 3 miles at once, and the idea of running 26.2 in one go seemed absurd. Well, here I am 2 years later ready to tackle marathon #2 in just a few weeks time, and I’m quite sure that this habit is here to stay.

Running a marathon changed me in some fundamental way that I can’t really explain. It’s now not so much something that I want to do, but rather something that I have to do. I need to revisit that feeling of pushing myself the mental and physical brink, and to see myself push successfully through. It’s not that I enjoy the pain in some masochistic way, but rather that I can prove to myself that I can take whatever the marathon dishes out. The last 6-10 miles of a marthon are a true test of human perserverance and mental fortitude, and they really show you what you’re made of.

So, if you’re reading this and thinking, even in the way back corner of your mind, that you might want to run a marathon, I’m living proof that you can succeed. You should do it, and you absolutely can do it. With proper training and dedication, I’m convinced that anybody can complete a marathon. I guarantee that if you do join the club, you will agree that it was well worth the effort.

I’ll finish with a second quote from Steve Runner’s Phedippidations Episode 184 that really sums up this post:

“If you’ve never run a marathon, don’t ask us why we do, let us ask you why you have not.”

Two years ago I would have come up with any number of reasons why I had not. Today however, I have run one, and I’m pretty sure that I know why I will continue to do so. My hope is that you will put on your shoes and join the club.

Happy Running!

Update 5/6/09: Need further proof that anyone can run and complete a marathon? Want to feel the emotion at the finish-line as average people do the impossible? Click here to watch a high-quality stream of the PBS NOVA Marathon Challenge documentary free and in its entirety on YouTube.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. sdrunner says:

    It’s really nice to be able to find so many other people that are interested in running. I ran in high school and thought that if you didn’t join collegiate running, you were pretty much done with it other than casual running. But I have come to realize that there are many many dedicated runners out there training. I hope to race again, maybe not a marathon, but something.

  2. thepixelsuite says:

    Lovely post and very well written. I am reminded of something I think Bill Rogers says in Spirit of the Marathon. Something to the effect of, “Once you cross that finish line, you feel like there’s nothing you can’t do.”

  3. sdrunner1 says:

    I’m really glad I found this post, it’s a really great post that I can totally relate to. I ran in HS cross country, and we only raced 3 miles. I think I preferred Track over XC though, since I liked running shorter distances at a faster pace. The way I saw it was, the shorter the race and the faster you run, the sooner it was over..

    I have just recently started getting back into running and got a couple of 5Ks under my belt. But just reading all of these blogs about marathons and half marathons, it makes me feel like I haven’t accomplished much as a runner. And I think it’s sort of true, running 26.2 compared to 3.1 is so much more difficult, I would never imagine myself doing it. I have been looking for a half marathon training plan and have my eyes set on a race in the near future, followed by at least 3 halfs next year and a full. The thing is, I haven’t even started on the training for these marathons, so I don’t even know what I am getting myself into.

    But after reading this post (I have to catch up on some other really good posts you have and want to listen to that podcast too!), I do feel a little reassured that after all of that training, 1) I will be able to complete the race 2) really feel like a runner and want more! Thanks again!

    • Pete Larson says:

      Phong – Thanks for the feedback! With sites like Dailymile and Twitter it’s
      easy to get hung up on running farther and farther. Pushing yourself to the
      limit in a 5k can be every bit as challenging as completing a marathon, but
      I will admit that running a marathon is unlike any other running experience
      I have had. The last ten miles are kind of like a long, exaggerated version
      of the final quarter-mile of a 5K. The journey and completion of a marathon
      are well worth the effort, and I have no doubt that you’d love the ride.

  4. stevepoling2 says:

    awesome post! Just signed up for my first marathon. Thx for your encouragement. Part of me thinks I am nuts and the other part of me wonders how I will persevere in the final 6 to 10 miles. Nonetheless, I know I can do it!

    • Pete Larson says:

      It’ll be an experience unlike anything you’ve ever done – those last 6-10
      miles are quite an adventure! Which marathon are you doing?

      Pete

      • stevepoling2 says:

        I am both nervous and excited. Reading the post on your first marathon went a long ways in helping me decide to dive in – so, thanks! I am doing the Tucson Marathon: link to tucsonmarathon.com
        I am sure I will be asking you questions on Twitter along the way :)

  5. stevepoling2 says:

    Btw, love your blog. Keep up the great work!

    Could you give me your advice?
    I am training for my first marathon on 12/13. I am working on my race strategy. Today, in a training run, I ran 13.1 mi at an 8:35/mi pace. Let’s say this is my pace as the race nears. Should I start my marathon at this pace and see how far I get with it? much thanks!
    Steve

    • Pete Larson says:

      I’m not sure that I’m the best source of advice regarding marathon pacing
      given that I’ve crashed and burned in all three of mine around mile 17 :)
      My strategy has generally been to go out at the pace I’d like to run and see
      how far I can hold it. For you, I guess it would depend on how comfortable
      you were running the half at that pace. If it was relatively painless, it
      might be a reasonable goal, but if it was a struggle you may want to scale
      it back a bit. For me, doing race pace long runs is the best gauge for what
      I can handle though even that can be tough when it comes to a marathon. The
      last six miles are such a wildcard on marathon day! The guy I find to be
      really helpful regarding these types of questions is @calebmasland on
      Twitter.

      Pete

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