For runners, the ultimate achievement is often seen as the marathon. Even if you only ever do one, there is a huge sense of pride that comes from being able to say you’ve run the distance. However, the marathon isn’t for everyone and if you don’t ever cover 26.2 miles, it is important to know you are no less a runner. You aren’t less impressive. In fact, sometimes recognizing you aren’t going to run a marathon takes more strength and responsibility than forcing your body to do something it’s not meant to do.
If you’re on the fence about this distance, here are a few reasons you shouldn’t run a marathon:
1. YOU’RE NOT PHYSICALLY READY
To run a marathon both safely and successfully, you have to dedicate enough mileage and time to the sport. If you’ve only been running a short amount of time — and not regularly — you shouldn’t run this distance.
“If you haven’t been running consistently — meaning three times weekly — for at least a year, you should probably wait to run a marathon,” explains running coach Kyle Kranz. “While most physically fit people could train for and run a marathon in under a year, the fact is if you have at least a year of consistent running under your belt, you’ll have a better first experience.”
The same goes for coming back from injury. You have to make sure to put in enough miles after your recovery to ensure you’re back to a solid base and healthy enough to take on the intense training required. “If you’re coming back from an injury, it is not the time to jump into marathon training and ramp up your long runs, add speed workouts and increase your weekly mileage,” cautions Kristy Campbell, running coach and founder of Run The Long Road Coaching. “It’s a recipe for reinjury.”
2. YOU CAN’T DEDICATE ENOUGH TIME TO TRAINING
The marathon itself takes hours to run from start to finish, so you can only imagine how long training takes to adequately prepare. For months, you — and your family and friends — should expect to dedicate hours of your week to running, nutrition and proper rest. You will be tired and on weekends and don’t be surprised if you need a nap after a particularly grueling long run.
“If you cannot allocate the time during the week to run at least 30 miles weekly, you should probably not train for a marathon,” notes Kranz. “To successfully and safely cover 26.2 miles, it is wise to be able to run at least that amount of weekly mileage, which will often include a 15-plus mile single run.”
You may have enough miles under your belt to run a marathon, but if you have a lot going on outside of running in your daily life, focus your attention on those priorities before taking your time away to run.
“Maybe you just started a demanding job, are caring for a sick relative or just had a baby? Marathon training is a big time commitment and is something else you will be adding to an already full plate,” adds Campbell. “It takes a great deal of motivation, commitment and sacrifice to train for 16 weeks. Your mental game needs to be on point.”
3. YOU NEED MORE RACING EXPERIENCE
Though a runner can absolutely run a marathon as their first race, most coaches advise runners to tackle a half-marathon first. Not only will you have a better understanding of what to expect from training, but you’ll also have a solid base on which to build.
“For an experienced runner who has simply never done a race before, I would likely be fine giving them the OK to enter a marathon as their first race — but even then I would suggest doing one or two tune-up shorter races,” adds Kranz. “Race day is something special and having at least a couple of these days to know what it’s like can be helpful to calm you on the day of the marathon.”
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Campbell agrees and adds that it can help runners be absolutely sure they want to run a marathon. If you don’t have enough time to dedicate training for the long mileage, a half marathon may be a better fit.
FINAL CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE YOU SIGN UP
Though you may check each of the boxes above, there are still a few more things to consider, especially when it comes to the time involved in training.
“Outside of the time spent running, runners need to factor time in for strength training and mobility work — including foam rolling and drills — to remain injury-free,” concludes Campbell. “They also need to be cognizant of their nutrition and sleep; it’s so much more than just putting in the miles.”
Consider talking to a coach who can ensure you are ready to tackle the distance. Because the marathon is growing in popularity, it is easy to diminish how hard a race it really is. Your body will absolutely be changed by the race, and you need to be prepared for the recovery time after the race is over.
“I like to remind my athletes that the marathon is not a normal run — it’s more like a traumatic event for the body,” confirms Kranz. “It is impossible to fully prepare your body for what it will experience during a 26.2 mile run at best effort. Even elite marathoners running 140 miles weekly cannot fully prepare the body.”
Both Kranz and Campbell note that runners should be prepared for the delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, that will follow post-race from microtears in the leg muscles. Though you can reduce the soreness, you need to be both mentally and physically prepared for all of the time and effort you will put in before, during and after your race.