Marathon Runners Are Awesome, But I Don’t Want to Be One

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

If you’ve never run a marathon, there’s a good chance that it’s difficult for you to imagine doing so. I mean, who in their right mind would voluntarily run 26 miles and 385 yards? I bet there are more people in this world who can’t run a single mile without stopping than there are people who can — that’s just a hypothesis, but I’m going with it. What I’m wondering is, what inspires people to run a marathon? Why run 26 miles instead of, say, 10? Or five? I’d be happy if I could run five miles without stopping.

From what I’ve read, it’s not like there are all these superbly-superior fitness benefits to running all those extra miles. On the contrary, for many people it actually increases their risk of injury. And on a related note, people who run for weight loss often find that they don’t lose any weight (or at least not enough to justify all the extra time spent pounding the pavement). The simple reason: they’re not burning off all the extra calories they’re eating when they come home starved from a run.

Everyone has a different motivating reason for doing what they do. Some people run because they actually like running that much. Some do it strictly for the fitness benefits. And some people run marathons because it’s a specific, measurable accomplishment. If you can say, “I ran a marathon,” it’s considered an awesome feat. If you’ve trained for a marathon, you’ve probably gotten up earlier in the morning than you wanted to; run in less than favorable weather conditions; given up social activities because they interfered with your training schedule. It’s something that you worked hard for, dedicated yourself to, spent multiple hours on…and other people recognize how much you had to go through to reach that finish line.

(As an aside: I’ve met several men over the past few years who have run long races — anywhere from ten miles to a full marathon — without any kind of advance training. They were fit, sure, but the ability to run so far on a whim just astounds me. Even though they were hurting afterward, and their finish-times were pretty slow, they were able to get through it. Let me assure you, I could not run ten miles right now. I could walk for ten miles, yes. But run it? No.)

I’ve said before that I’m casual when it comes to exercise. If I don’t want to do something one day, I’ll make sure to fit it in later. I don’t use hard, strict written schedules and goals to motivate me (although I recognize that using those methods would probably make me a little bit more hardcore and bad-ass and whatnot). This lackadaisical attitude towards fitness doesn’t lend itself well to the marathon mentality. Even though I think it would be completely awesome to tell people that I ran a marathon, I have to be honest with myself and admit that I’m one of those people who would be doing it just to be able to say that I did.

It’s not that I don’t think I could do it. Even though I couldn’t run a long distance right now, I know that it’s not impossible if I were willing to dedicate myself to the training. It’s just that I don’t have “Run a marathon” on my internal to-do list. I wouldn’t be motivated enough to make it happen.

However, I do think it’s completely and utterly awesome when someone I know — whether online or in-person — decides it’s something they want to do and dedicates themselves to making it happen. Twenty-six miles? I salute you.

Related Reading:

The Everyday Athlete: The Basics of Running. I liked the last one best:

Know that you are capable of far more than you ever imagined. We sell ourselves short all the time. We consistently underestimate ourselves. You’re pretty phenomenal, take it from me. And you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish. Take the risk. Push on your walls. Dream big. And then bigger. Seriously. Go crazy. I swear — you can do it.

Half-Fast: Advice for a New Runner (This is a humorous post: “Give up running while you still can.”)

You’ll feel guilty when you skip a run. Your toenails will turn black and fall off, and what’s even worse is that you’ll be happy about it as though it was some sick rite of passage. Your grocery budget will be consumed by gels and Gatorade. You’ll get so obsessive about your mileage, your pace, and your heart rate that you’ll spend hours pouring over your training log. You’ll need to purchase a Garmin (another couple hundred dollars at least) to keep better track of your training runs and to analyze your running in greater depth. People will look at you like you’re crazy because you ARE crazy for thinking about taking up running.

Sarah ran her first marathon early this year and was extremely proud.

I made the final few turns into the finish chute. I definitely had a huge smile on my face as I neared the line. After crossing the finish, it felt very strange to walk and not run. My legs had been running for SUCH a long time that it just felt like running was more natural than walking. [...]

My race was, by any measure, very slow. However, I completed my two goals — to finish in minimal pain and happy and smiling, and to run the entire distance, only walking water stops when needed. I’m planning on racing Marine Corps Marathon in the fall and this definitely made me excited to have another go at The Distance.

Melanie has run marathons in the past, but had to tone down her running when she got a sore hip. Now she’s getting Back on the Bandwagon and has a goal to run the Chicago marathon this year.

Runners World: Want to run fast? Run uphill.

MSNBC: Are you running yourself to death? Participating in a marathon can put severe stress on your body.

That’s Fit: Run – You’ll Live Longer


  1. Although my IT Band keeps me from running marathons, I have to admit to being a fan of long-distance running.

    There is something about: the dedication required to get yourself trained (because let’s face it, I will never be one of those people who can wake up and run 13-miles without training); the motivation to push yourself over a long distance; such tangible proof of progress and accomplishment. Whenever I feel like I’m getting too complacent with life, I challenge myself to a half-marathon to get myself focused again.

    So, it doesn’t have to be only about marathons — let it be about your distance of choice, or your activity of choice — whatever it is that makes you feel alive and kicking!

    Posted May 7, 2009 at 10:21 am #
  2. I agree – I think some people’s bodies are just more suited to this type of endurance test. And I definitely don’t think it’s a healthy idea for just anyone. I know if I were to run that much, I would want to eat more than is healthy for me to compensate – LOL. I find it amusing too that they do those major carb-a-thons prior to big events like that. Doesn’t eating thousands of calories of white pasta negate the upside of subjecting your body to that torture? I do think it’s a major statement though of mind over body, for sure. Will power to persist through something long like that shows something for sure!

    Posted May 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm #
  3. I know when I’ve trained for my marathons (even for my 1/2 marathons), MANY people have let me know how crazy they think I am! I know I am crazy for doing it, but I am also lucky that I haven’t been plagued with bad knees or prone to random injuries – aside from my most recent one.

    I know I give up a lot when I train, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll look back and regret it? But then after not being able to run and being a bit of a bia during that time, I know it’s a good choice (my friends/family certainly agree!). :-)

    Posted May 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm #
  4. Running a marathon is alot like climbing a mountain..its something exhilarating and inspiring…yes, I am the person who did it because she wanted the challenge, i wanted to say at the end of the day – I DID IT..I can do anything. Is it something I will ever be great at-No, I’ll never set records or be known for my ‘marathon time’ but in the end, I’m ok with that. I like taking something that seems so ‘large’ and saying I accomplished it..telling my girls ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’ and meaning every word of it (and having the medal to prove it.) I think it boils down to this…people do what they find drives them…be it running, finding the best deals in the store or blogging. It what fuels our passions.

    Posted May 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm #
  5. According to the Half Sigma blog, there are stats that the death rate of marathon runners is higher than that of almost any other sport. The human body was not meant for long-term punishment. Here are some links:

    Days of the Broken Arrows
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 10:54 pm #
  6. i love running. and i love running marathons. because i baby my body and take vitamins, get acupuncture, and massage on a regular basis, i didn’t even feel like i ran 26.2, just 2 days after my event this week. :) i love having a regiman, a schedule, a routine. i need discipline like that.

    Posted May 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm #
  7. it seems most people I know who have run a marathon use it as a measurable goal. You’re right, it sounds great at parties. I for one, have never had a desire to run one, even though I’m a fitness advocate. I don’t like running, period. And I also think it’s way harder on your body than other types of exercise. But I think it’s great when people accomplish one. Different strokes…

    Posted May 11, 2009 at 12:39 pm #
  8. I’m way behind on my Google Reader so I’m just now seeing this, but I wanted to say thanks for the shout-out. Sometimes even we marathoners can’t really put into words why exactly we do it. We just know we love to!

    Posted May 18, 2009 at 4:41 pm #
  9. You can come and yell for me in Crystal City this October, when I’m on mile 23 in my marathon debut and will be wondering why the hell I am doing this?

    Posted May 21, 2009 at 8:51 pm #