Marathon season is well and truly upon us. My work email and my social media feeds have been full of training runs and questions about fuelling and tapering for the past few months, and then maranoia inevitably hits, and the internet explodes with even more questions. It’s impossible to avoid the M word at this time of year, and when you have a large community of runners around you, it can feel like you’re the only person not running a marathon this spring. It can make you feel like maybe you should.
But in the midst of marathon fever, I wanted to write a blog about why it’s ok NOT to want to run a marathon.
You’re not the only one
You’re not the only one who hasn’t run one. Honestly. Nobody quite knows the true figure of the population who has run a marathon, but it is a very small percentage. When you are surrounded by runners, you can feel a certain pressure to increase the distance and run a marathon, and a lot of people I have chatted to to about this perceive this societal pressure on them. It can be hard to ignore. I think that social media is partially responsible for this rise in the collective desire to run further, as marathon and ultra running becomes popularised, more and more people are striving for it. It’s natural to want to do something challenging, to make ourselves, and others, proud, but your heart has to really be in it to complete a marathon. Would training for a fast 5k time be equally challenging? I think perhaps it would, in a way less detrimental to our bodies.
You’ll no doubt have a very nice balance between running – your hobby – and work, family and friends. When you train for a marathon, it becomes all-consuming. Your life revolved around your training schedule. I remember crossing the finish line of my first marathon hand in hand with my husband, and as we hobbled down The Mall afterwards, he whispered to me, “You don’t need to run another marathon now, do you? We haven’t seen much of you these past few months.” That’s the reality: training takes up a lot of time when you are having to fit in 2-3 hour long runs every weekend, and all the other supporting sessions. Something else has to give way to make room for it.
Too many miles can lead to injury
If you’re a newer runner, it’s likely you aren’t ready for the toll that marathon training can take on the body. I know of a lot of people who have run a marathon within approximately a year of starting running. As a coach, thisalways shocks me, because I would always recommend people build mileage slowly to avoid injury and would advise getting a few years of running in your legs before even considering a marathon. Increasing mileage too quickly can lead to illness and injury through overtraining, which is an issue we don’t talk about enough. Sometimes it works out ok, but do you want to take that risk?
Love your toenails
Do you value your toenails? Marathon running will likely prepare you to say goodbye to a few. And let’s not talk about the blisters, and the chafing, and the gut problems that long distance running can bring. You only have to look back at some of my blog posts from marathons and ultras for the full gory details. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Don’t rush to increase the distance. Test yourself at shorter distances first. You might discover that you are made for the 5 or 10k distance, but if you rush through and don’t give yourself time to really focus on shorter distances, you’ll never know. You might find a joy of trail running, or fell running, like I have. You might discover you’re a speedster on the track. Marathon (or ultra) running is not the ultimate goal. I have said before that I believe everyone is capable of running a marathon, and I still stand by that. However, I don’t believe everyone should. You should do what makes you happy, not what you feel is expected of you.
Thank you to all those who responded to my question on Twitter about marathon running. Here’s the full thread if you have a spare half hour to read through all the many, varied responses.
A bit of background to this blog post: I’ve been pondering the whys of marathon running for a few weeks now, as Manchester Marathon approaches this weekend, and I have made the decision NOT to run it myself. I had originally booked a whole year ago as a goal race for me to finally attempt that sub 3:45, which I know I am capable of with some focused training. However, over winter, I haven’t been motivated to get the specific speed endurance training in, or the longer miles, and I couldn’t work out why. Friends have tried to help by accompanying me on longer runs, but deep down I knew I didn’t want to run another road marathon. And I think that’s what it has come down to – with a road race, I feel under an odd pressure (mostly self-imposed, but also societal to an extent) to beat my personal best, That knowledge that I know I’m nowhere near PB shape at the moment because I haven’t been focused on training for it has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a lurching in my stomach about the thought of running a road marathon where I know I will be disappointed with my time. I thought about just going along to ‘enjoy’ it, but it’s a road marathon through Stretford, Sale and Altrincham and I just can’t get excited about it. I thought about another marathon medal; I’ve got a Manchester one already, I don’t really want another unless I feel like I’ve worked hard for it. I thought about offering to keep a friend company around it, but I don’t feel like I’d be much motivation, considering I have none myself. So I’ve decided not to do it at all. And it got me thinking about what I really enjoy about running: I love the feel of the breeze on my face; I love exploring our local hills and trails; I love running with my dogs; I love running with friends and getting a bit misplaced on the moors; I love the way it makes me feel; I love the views; I love the change in seasons and the weather. There is nothing about running through a city for 26.2 miles at a pace bordering on uncomfortable that excites me anymore. And I’m ok with that.
Feature image by permission of Ben Lumley (@bensnapsstuff)