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Is Jumping On The Marathon Bandwagon The Right Move For You?

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Years ago when I first moved to Chicago, I was just getting into running. I had one half-marathon under my belt, and I considered anything over 6 miles a long run. I joined Fleet Feet Chicago’s Chick’s Night and not only started running longer distances more comfortably, but I made a whole new group of friends! The thing is, when you submerge yourself in the running community, running a marathon starts to feel like the new normal, and it’s no surprise.

Since I began regularly running in 2004, the number of marathon finishers has increased from 386,000 to 509,000 in 2015 (hitting an all time high in 2014 of 550,600), according to Running USA‘s annual report. When everyone around you is talking about training for a marathon and you see Facebook post after Facebook post of smiling faces with marathon medals, it’s easy to feel like you should have signed up for one, like, yesterday. I mean, everyone’s doing it, right?

Not so fast! Training for and running a marathon is a big commitment for your body and your time. Signing up to run one because everyone else is, is a sure way to burn out, or worse, get injured. Here are a few things to consider before registering for the almighty 26.2

What’s Motivating You?

If your motivating factor for running a marathon is because your friend did one, or you think you have to complete the distance to be a “real runner”, your experience will be less than stellar. While race day is well supported, and the congratulatory “likes” are plentiful, training for a marathon is a solitary mission. Even if you train with a group, there are no spectators and no medal for getting a 10-miler in before heading into work.

To stay motivated and committed week in and week out for the months leading up to the race, your reason for running needs to be personal. For me, it was a new way to challenge myself. I ran 5 half-marathons before signing up for a full, and wanted to test myself. I knew I could do 13.1 and was well versed in that type of training. The marathon, to me, was a physical and mental test. Could I push myself harder? Did I have the willpower to pull myself from my comfy bed to run 15 miles at 5:30am on a Saturday? It was on my mind for a year and I knew the only way to find out was to sign up!

Some people use the marathon to mark a milestone; a birthday, retirement, coming back after a baby, or celebrating sobriety are all deeply personal reasons for putting a marathon on your calendar. Whatever your reason, make sure you’re doing it for you and not because of outside expectation that may or may not be real.


Do You Have the Time?

The marathon itself may take 5 hours of your day, but preparing your body for 26.2 miles will take a minimum of 4 months. Really ask yourself if you have the time to run up to 5 days each week, and can you take 3 hours each weekend to get your long run in. If you travel for work, this may be tricky, and if you have young kids at home, even trickier! It’s not that it cannot be done, it just takes some planning. Look at your schedule and realistically ask yourself where you will squeeze in your training.

For those with spouses and especially those with children, talk to your partner before signing up. If they aren’t willing to adjust their routine to accommodate your early mornings, or were hoping this was the summer you’d travel the country together, there is going to be resentment. Tell them your why, and look at your calendars together so you’re both on the same page in what training for a marathon means for your family.


Mother running in the parkPhoto from Outdoor Nation

What Else is Going On in Your Life?

Just got a new job? Selling your house? Moving to a new state? Have an infant at home? Congratulations, that’s really exciting! However, this probably isn’t the opportune time to sign up for a physical and time-consuming challenge. The emotional and physical stress of marathon training will leave little extra for dealing with outside challenges. Rest is as important in your training as the miles you put in. Without proper recovery, your muscles won’t be able to operate at their best and you’ll be running on fumes. Look at your life in the big picture and ask yourself if you have room for a big change at this time.

Are You Really Ready?

If you just got into running in the past few months, or are coming off an injury, consider putting your marathon goals on hold. While it’s certainly not required to run shorter distance races before going for the big one, it can help tremendously with your confidence and ensure your body can handle the training. Getting comfortable with the logistics of racing – what to wear, gear check, pacing, water stops, etc. – will help calm marathon race day nerves. By doing a handful of shorter distance races you can develop a race-day routine and have one aspect of this endeavor seem like old-hat.

Also, getting used to following a training plan on a smaller volume will allow you to see how your body reacts to training. You’ll be able to see how many days of training you can handle; for some runners, anything more than 3 days a week leaves them achy and run down, while others are fine to run 5. Running with a group or solo is a personal preference, so figuring out what works for you before committing to a 5-month training plan that includes 20-mile long runs, is a good idea! Choosing a training program that meets in person for weekly runs is great for outside accountability (after all, when you run by yourself no one knows or cares if you did 8 mile or 12 miles but you!), however some runners need the alone time that only running by yourself allows.

group runPhoto from SocialLifeChicago

If your IT band betrayed you on 20 miles a week, you’ll want to slowly build up to heavier mileage as opposed to jumping in and hoping it holds up. Marathon training will beat you up so if you have any existing injuries or are recently recovered, consider starting with a smaller goal. Runners are stubborn – you know that! – and when a race is on the calendar it’s easy to ignore aches and pains in pursuit of a medal. Get started on the right foot – pun intended – by going into training with a clean bill of health.

So, Are You Feeling Ready?!

The marathon is an incredibly rewarding experience that takes serious heart. If you’re considering signing up, take some time to ask yourself these questions, and be honest. If now is not the time for you, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Running a marathon takes your full commitment, and making sure you’re ready to take it on is the best way to ensure you have an enjoyable experience!