When you think of the word "marathon", you probably think of a long, long run. Or maybe the word conjures up images of a TV marathon or an interminable stretch of time. Regardless, a marathon is something that takes commitment and dedication, and that commitment results in a sense of pride and personal achievement once the event is done.
Whether you're running to compete or just want the satisfaction of completing something major, you have good reason to set yourself the goal of running a marathon at least once in your life.
If you know any marathoners or ultramarathoners, chances are these people are disciplined, dedicated, and in very good shape. If you're thinking of running a marathon but feel as if you're too overweight or too out of shape, you can still begin training and just build up gradually. Training for a marathon and working your way up to actually be able to complete one can be just as rewarding as finishing the race on race day.
Marathon training can help build discipline and get you into the best shape of your life, but it can also have some profound psychological benefits. It's no secret that people undertake long journeys on foot to centre themselves or metaphorically find direction (Cheryl Strayed's Wild is an example), and electing to complete a marathon can give many people a renewed sense of purpose and grounding. If you're going through a time of turbulent life change, are suffering from severe ennui, or want to challenge yourself by trying something new, choosing to run a marathon can be an excellent option.
If you have never seriously run before, or if you have a known history of injuries, careful planning is a must. A common mistake in training is building up mileage too quickly, as this can result in overuse injuries. Patellofemoral pain, stress fractures, and joint issues are common.
Even before you begin extensive training, though, it's important to make sure your form is correct. Incorrect running form, even at relatively short distances, can lead to injury that can sideline you indefinitely. Some running shops offer gait analysis, which is an excellent way to assess your form and injury risk.
However, this can be costly. If you don't have the resources to have your form analysed, there are some things you can look out for in your own running:
- Be mindful of your strike. Many people don't think about the position of their feet as they touch ground. However, certain foot strikes can both waste energy and make you more prone to injury. Striking with your heel first is one of the most common (and risky) strikes. Aside from sending force back up your leg (thus placing undue stress on your bones and joints and making you more prone to fractures), this strike wastes energy. A mid-foot strike saves energy and propels you forward much more effectively. If you are a natural heel striker, it's wise to take some time to retrain yourself. This takes focus and dedication, but it's well worth it.
- Think about posture. Make sure you have your shoulders back and your head up – hunching can lead to extra stress on your spine. In addition, your arms should help further your run – they should be at your sides and move front to back (but not side to side) as you run.
- If you want something in between getting a professional evaluation and teaching yourself, you can ask a friend to assess your form and give you feedback. This brings us to an oft-asked question – is it best to train alone or with friends? The answer to this question is essentially: whatever you're most comfortable with is best for you. Some people work best alone, and training can be a time of productive introspection. Other people thrive on companionship and do best with an accountability partner. A good balance is having one or two group runs a week mixed in with several solo runs.
Why Are More People Than Ever Running Marathons?
Most people don't have a deep knowledge of sports they don't follow or play. Not everyone knows about the intricacies of gymnastics, for instance, but just about everyone knows what a marathon is. It's a recognisable achievement, and it requires work and dedication. The benefits of that achievement don't end with completing the race – regardless of whether or not you opt to run other marathons, you're still in better shape and have likely become more disciplined. Many people have their own personal reasons for marathoning as well.
Broader Life Lessons from Marathon Running
It's often said that people learn the most about themselves while going through challenges. This is often used to refer to times of emotional or interpersonal stress, but physical and mental challenges (like building up to a marathon and possibly dealing with injuries and setbacks) can help you learn much about yourself.
Many who train for marathons find a sense of perseverance they didn't know they had before they began training. This can be empowering and encouraging in many other areas of life – not just physical activity.
Essentially, there's a reason why so many people have set "complete a marathon" as a goal. It's something that teaches discipline, gets people into better physical health, and leads to a sense of incredible accomplishment. That's something worth doing at least once in a lifetime. What's your reason for running a marathon? Share with us your thoughts!