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8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Run A Marathon

Do the pros outweigh the cons? We'll let you be the judge.

Our counterargument against the marathon is a call to action for everyone who wants to run just for the sake of running.

People put a lot of weight into the significance of running a marathon.

It’s an achievement that is universally applauded, a badge of honor. You even get a big, shiny medal at the end to hang around your neck.

Running marathons is the reason a lot of people run, period.

They sign up and start running, huffing and puffing, pounding the pavement, all leading up to that big day. The point of their running is purely to complete their marathon event.

When they cross the finish line, they can then put their running shoes at the back of the closet and go on with life.

On the other hand, many long-term distance runners have never actually completed a formal marathon—and they have no intention of doing so, either. They either stick to shorter races such as a 10K or half marathon, or don’t race at all.

As we here at Marathon Handbook often write guides to promote marathon running and provide marathon runners with our best coaching advice, we decided to look at the other side of the coin for once.  

Put simply, we wanted to look at the reasons why you shouldn’t run a marathon. Keep reading to find out why.

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Run A Marathon 1

#1: Marathon Running Misses The Point Of Running

Many runners associate running with solitude, peace, and time alone with just their thoughts or perhaps accompanied by a friend. Running can be an extremely meditative experience—just you and your own pace, breath, and thoughts.

Marathon training, on the other hand, naturally pulls your attention in a different direction. 

When worrying about pace, distance, and carbohydrate fueling, it can be harder to use running for reflection and head-clearing. Suddenly, you’re a slave to your GPS watch, workouts, and training plan. Chi-running this is not.

Then you have race day itself. The crowds, the music, the free t-shirts and high-fives. Sure, it’s exciting, and of course, it’s hard not to feel a buzz of adrenaline. But if your idea of running is peace and calm, then a marathon is probably not your scene.

Related: Chi Running Guide

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#2: Running 26.2 miles is not great for your body

First, to clarify, running is good for your body in general —great, in fact. Running is an all-natural form of cardiovascular exercise that we’re basically designed to do, and it provides tons of health benefits.

Running 26.2 miles, however, is a different story. Assuming you’re a beginner runner and you’ve never covered 26.2 miles before, you should be prepared for pain.

As you push your muscles past their limits, your legs will start to go weak and tight. Your internal organs, especially your kidneys, go into overdrive to deal with the exertion and blood and fluids pumping through your system.  

Of course, your feet will take a beating. Injuries, old and new, are waiting in the wings to pounce. There’s a strong chance you’ll chafe in places you never knew existed, and that is all just during the race.

After you finish, you will experience days of stiffness, soreness, and general weakness. Your immune system is lowered, making your body more susceptible to viruses.

The slight benefit of marathon running is that it can condition your body to get used to running long distances, but for many, this is a negligible point; after the pain of their first marathon, some decide never to run another!

London Marathon featured

#3: It’s a dog and pony show

Event t-shirts.

Freebie bags.

Runners dressed like Fred Flintstone.

Corporate sponsorship everywhere you look.

There’s no two ways about it – marathons are big business these days. Companies are climbing over each other to be associated with the big city race. And you can see why.

Thousands of regular people doing something healthy together—there’s a feel-good factor involved that is hard to find anywhere else.

These days, race registration expos are swamped with brands trying to push their latest sports drink or running shoes. It’s not unusual to leave a race expo with a mandatory goodie bag filled with junk you’ll never use.

Even after the marathon, there are the inevitable follow-up emails, offering downloadable certificates, exclusive photo packs at crazy prices, and—just sometimes—a commemorative mug with your face on it.

For some, the dog and pony show that is a marathon is as far from their concept of ‘running’ as they can imagine.

justrun

#4: You can get all the benefits of marathon running by just going for a run

OK, we’re not talking about the big medal or the cheesy finish-line selfies you get to post on Instagram after you’re done with the New York or Boston Marathon. We’re talking about everything else.

Simply running regularly, with no specific event to train for, can be just as good for your body as marathon training—it can even be better if you avoid some overly strenuous marathon training plans.

You still get all the physical benefits of cardiovascular exercise—better overall health, weight loss, more regulated sleep, and a better mental state—than if you were training for a marathon.

In addition, there’s no pressure or performance anxiety about the event coming up. You simply run as you wish.

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Run A Marathon 3

#5: Marathon training can lead to muscular imbalances

Most people who train for marathons typically spend all their training time just running. They leave the strength training and cross-training out. After all, most runners think it is a non-essential, ‘nice to have’ part of the preparation.

Committing to running exclusively can often create imbalances in your muscles, specifically your legs.  

Most long-term runners have suffered from the overuse injury Runner’s Knee at some point, and this is exactly the cause.  

Running tightens and strengthens your hamstrings while weakening your hips and a few other areas. In short, that springy chain of muscles running down your legs is imbalanced, which is when injuries occur.

It’s common for runners ramping up their mileage in preparation for a marathon race to suffer one of these injuries through overtraining or not strengthening the areas that running neglects.

In short, running makes your legs stiffer and imbalanced—no doubt. A tight marathon training schedule usually does nothing to compensate for this.

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#6: Marathon training takes up a significant amount of your free time

Marathon training is a commitment.

When training, I typically run four times per week—two to three times on weekdays after work and one long run at the weekend.

The weekend long run, in particular, is a big commitment.  

Not only does it carve out 2-5 hours of your precious free time, but you’ve got to be physically prepared for it. This means no after-work beers the night before and no binge eating on weekends. It can seriously change your social and personal life.

Simply running, on the other hand, does not have the same impact. You can schedule your runs around your other plans, and if you can’t go for a run for a few days – who cares?  There’s no pressure and no plan you’re meant to stick to.

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#7: Do you really need to prove to yourself that you can run a marathon?

Marathons often attract a certain type of personality.

The ‘type-A’.

Goal-oriented people set ambitious targets for themselves in their professional and personal lives and then hunt them down until they’re completed.

For some, completing a marathon is a way to prove to themselves that they can do it, to become part of the ‘marathon club’.

Then, after completing their first marathon, the bug sets in, and time goals begin to creep up. A sub-4-hour marathon, a sub-3-hour marathon, and so on. Maybe you even hire a running coach and get really serious, or decide to pump up the distance and run an ultra marathon.

However, many others see no appeal in completing a marathon ‘just because they can.’  They are happier simply running.

#8: The ‘accomplishment’ can be a letdown

Barely anyone considers how they’ll feel mentally after their first marathon—they assume that they will be overcome with relief, joy, and fulfillment.

While it’s true that the finish line can be a place of excitement, fun, and smiles, often, it’s after the marathon has wrapped up that people can begin to feel low.

Your body is tired, and you are mentally exhausted. Instead of feeling jubilation the next day, you feel a weird sense of loss, like something you’ve cared about has left you.  

It’s common to feel like this after a first marathon. The reason is that a major part of your recent life has ended—all the months of preparation, excitement, and anticipation—and it’s all over in a few hours—done, forever.  

And what’s more, there will never be another ‘first marathon.’ As much as you’d like to chase the feeling of achievement and accomplishment again,  if you just do the same thing next year, you probably won’t reach those same highs as you did last year.

Who doesn’t experience this sense of loss?

People who just run.  People who run for themselves and aren’t marathon goal-oriented.

Part of the beauty of running is that it means different things to different people. 

Some people will be lifelong runners and never run a marathon, and some will run a marathon and never run again. Others will run marathon after marathon, chasing new times, new goals, and that new PR.

Which are you?

Now, to really mix up how you feel,l check out this next guide:

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

9 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Run A Marathon”

  1. I’m considering running a marathon and this is an interesting read! However, I want to contest the final point. I felt the disappointment you described after I finished my bachelor’s degree. There was an ending, and it was a loss. Do I regret doing it though, now 20 years later? Absolutely not. People also feel that sense of loss and sadness after getting married, and again, that doesn’t mean that getting married is a bad idea. I think it’s important therefore to think about the week or two after the event – get some self-care in, be gentle with yourself, and perhaps even expect the dip.

    And… even after reading this, I still think I might sign up… maybe.

    Reply
  2. 100% get the whole article. Especially the sense of loss after it was completed. I had to find another plan. Which I did. I still didn’t feel like I was excited to run. So I started looking for another marathon. I found one and won the lottery for another. Excited to start again.

    Reply
  3. I’ve run 6 of them and I enjoyed every one of them – but no more, only 1/2 marathons. At 82 it’s a social event as well as a physical challenge, and I get slower each year…oh well. I chat with guys and gals on the run and listen to my favorite tunes ( Bach, Beatles, Keith Jarrett jazz, Chick Corea latin ) when not chatting. It’s my time !!

    Reply
  4. So true! Taking my free time is so relatable. I trained for marathon once and finished, and it cost a lot. I still don’t know whether I’d run another one. I had the so-called runner’s face and lost my chubby cheeks. I feel so much better doing half-marathons and still having my cheeks!

    Reply
  5. I ran London 2023 after getting a ballot entry, and was super excited about it being from London myself.
    I enjoyed the structure of the training, and was able to put aside the time for the long runs. Plus I do most of my running along the Thames, so I knew the last 10km+ like the back of my hands.
    But on the day, I just really didn’t enjoy it at all.
    My target pace slipped away at about 27km, and then it was just no fun. I was running on streets I always run on, the landmarks that people flock to see were not new or intestesting for me. The crowds were overwhelming compared to my usual solitary runs.
    I spent alot of time trying to spot my family who came to watch, but weren’t where they said they would be.
    It became a chore to finish.
    And although I did finish only 20mins later than planned, I was annoyed at myself for not getting the time I’d trained for, and felt i’d missed out on that ‘special something’ that people seem to love so much about the London marathon.
    So I vowed I’d never do another.

    …and then I signed up for Manchester 2025! Hahaha.
    Glutton for punishment, I guess.

    Reply
  6. It would be great to get a “12-month Plan to Train for Nothing” 🙂

    I want to run 3-4 times a week and still advance my fitness and running strength this year without targeting any specific events. I love this article but honestly without training for a goal date makes it hard to find a structured plan to follow….

    Reply
  7. Having run four marathons and two ultras, I concede there are some disadvantages. Ultimately it comes down to what makes you happy and unhappy. No one should be discouraged from trying it once. If you like it, keep going. If the sacrifice is excessive, do something easier. Ultimately running is something done for pleasure. Stop when you can’t see the point.

    Reply

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