Should you do a marathon?

It’s spring! Which means many of you might be thinking about the fall. A fall marathon, that is. Are you debating doing your first marathon this year? Great! Kudos to you for considering challenging yourself! Should you do a marathon this year? Well, that depends. (Note, this is all my opinion based on my thoughts/experiences with running. I am not an expert nor am I a running coach.)

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Chicago Marathon 2012

Do you really want to, or do you feel like you should? I’ve always had the mindset that if you have to talk yourself into a race … don’t. I strongly considered doing a triathlon this year, I was offered free training through an excellent triathlon training group. I met with the owner, toured the facilitiies, talked about a plan and a goal race, etc. Eventually I realized I was considering doing a triathlon not because I truly wanted to do it, but because the opportunity presented itself. If I wasn’t excited about it now, I doubt I’d be excited about it on race day. So I decided not to do it. Triathlons will always be there, so if at some point my heart is in it, I can do it. Right now I have a lot of other things I’d rather focus my time and energy on.

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Annabelle and Declan, Chicago Marathon 2013

Can you do it? Most people can physically run a marathon after the proper training. But you also need to consider if you’re injury prone, if your schedule will allow for training, and if you have enough of a base built up.  Personally, I think racing should be like passing a grade in school. You shouldn’t graduate to the marathon until you’ve passed the half marathon – meaning you successfully trained for and completed a half marathon feeling good (exhausted, but satisfied). You figured out a successful fueling and pacing strategy during a half. Because if you’re still struggling during half marathons, you’ll struggle a lot more during a full. I also think you need to have a good base built up – you’ve been running consistently for at least a year, and go into your official marathon trianing regularly running at least ~20 miles per week. (Note: If you’re another type of endurance athlete – cycling, tri, swimming, rowing, etc – then substitute ~20 mpw of running with ~3 hours per week of your endurance sport of choice, and you should be in good shape. Haha literally.)

That’s not to say people don’t jump right into the full marathon distance and do well, and, um, good for them. But it’s kind of risky. Considering how much I personally struggled when I tried to just jump into half marathon training when I didn’t know what I was doing, I can only imagine if I had attempted that with a full. OW.

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Pete, Chicago 2013

Are you willing to give up your summer? This is a slight exaggeration. But you’ll have to do a long run every weekend. At the start of your training plan, it won’t be a huge deal, but once your long runs get to be 15, 18, 20 miles long … they will take over half of your weekend. The night before will [theoretically] be spent eating the right amount of carbs, drinking little to no alcohol, and going to bed at a reasonable hour, then waking up early, eating your perfect breakfast, heading out to your run, then running for anywhere from 2-4 hours, then coming home and going through your post-run ritual (eating another breakfast, stretching, foam rolling, ice bathing, showering, napping). So plan to give up at least one weekend night/day pretty much every weekend. If you have vacation plans, you might have to get creative if a scheduled long run falls while out of town. And during the week, you’ll like be running an additional 2-3 days, plus working in cross-training, yoga and/or strength training.

Does it scare you? Good! It should! It’s OK to go into marathon training a little bit scared, nervous, intimidated, etc. Even if you feel like you’ve “mastered” the half marathon distance, this is obviously double that.

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My late Uncle Tom, Chicago Marathon 1988

Do you really want to do it, despite all of the above? Great! Go for it. Good luck!

Have you run a marathon – why did you decide to do it, and how did you know you were ready (if you were)?
If you’ve never done one and want to someday, how will you personally know you’re ready? 

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9 Comments on “Should you do a marathon?”

  1. I did my first marathon a few weeks ago, having gone against most of your tips! I had never raced (running) longer than a 10k and was definitely not regularly running 20miles a week (maybe a month!). However – I’d spent a year full-on training for triathlon, averaging 8 hours of training a week for a full year. I had also spent that year reading a LOT of blogs in order to learn about nutrition etc for triathlon. Lots of those blogs are written by marathon runners so I’d learned loads and knew what I was letting myself in for! I had a fantastic marathon, absolutely loved it, beat my goal time and now can’t wait to do another one! So as you say, there are no hard and fast rules 🙂 I would encourage anything thinking about it but too scared to take the leap to sign up for it!

  2. I definitely did what you suggested: worked my way up to a full by feeling more comfortable with half marathons. I decided in 2007 that I would run a full marathon in 2010 so I gave myself plenty of time 🙂 Why did I run three more after that first one? The second two were because I knew I could do better than my first and the third was because I wanted to run my hometown marathon. Now, though, I think I’d be okay if I never ran another one. There are just so many more ways I want to spend my time!

    1. I’m thinking I might be a one and done marathoner, but I think my knee has made that decision for me. But I would like to be able to do half marathons again, even if it’s just once a year, so that’s my goal.

  3. I am the dumbass who casually ran a 10k and then decided 3 months later I should register for the MarineCorps Marathon. Best decision of my life! I enjoyed every minute of training and learned over the next few years of racing that I was capable of exceeding my own expectations.

  4. Great tips. Yes, all that training (and subsequent recovery) does take time and effort, but has been worth it every time I’ve crossed the finish line!

  5. I’ve done 39 marathons. For the first one, I had never run more than 16 miles at one time. It was pre-internet. Ignorance was bliss. I was also 25. I would not recommend that approach. I think most people can accomplish a marathon with a pretty basic schedule and enough time to ramp up.

  6. I started running in the summer of 2005 and ran my first marathon the following year. I trained with a group and my longest run was 16 miles. You can imagine how I felt once I was around mile 15. I am a firm believer that anyone can run a marathon. It takes alot of time and commitment. But I agree the real question is “Do you want to run a marathon”?

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