Our counter argument against the marathon – a call to action for everyone who just wants to run 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 honour. 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 then start running – huffing and puffing, pounding the streets – all leading up to that big day. The point of their running is purely to complete their marathon event. Then they can put the running shoes at the back of the wardrobe, 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 to, either.
After last week’s post Why You Should Run A Marathon, we decided to look at the other side of the coin. Put simply, we wanted to look at the reasons why you shouldn’t run a marathon.
1. Marathon Running Misses The Point Of Running
Many marathon runners associate their running with solitude, peace, time alone with just their thoughts or 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. It can be harder to use running for reflection and head-clearing when you’re worrying about pace, distance and fuelling. Suddenly, you’re a slave to your GPS and training plan. Chi-running this is not.
Then you have the race itself – the crowds, the music, the free t-shirts and high-fives. Sure it’s exciting. 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
2. Running 26.2 miles is not good for your body
First off, a clarification – marathon training, in general, is good for your body. Great, in fact. Running is a great for you – it’s an all-natural form of cardiovascular exercise that we’re basically designed to do.
Running 26.2 miles, however, is a different story. Unless you’re already running marathons every month for fun, it’s hard to say that there’s much physical benefit from running a marathon. Assuming that you’ve never covered 26.2 miles before, then you should be prepared for pain.
Your legs will start to go weak and tight as you push your muscles past their limits. And 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’ve never felt before . . . and that is all just during the race.
After you finish, there’s the days of stiffness and general weakness. Your immune system is lowered, meaning your body is much more susceptible to any viruses floating around.
The slight benefit from marathon running is that is can condition your body to get more used to running long distances – but for many, this is a negligible point – after the pain of their first marathon, they decide they’re never going to run another!
3. It’s a dog and pony show
Runners dressed like Fred Flintstone.
Corporate sponsorship everywhere you look.
There’s no two ways about it – these days, marathons are big business. 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 shoe – often employing non-runners as marketing people. 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’s the inevitable follow-up emails, offering you 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.
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. 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 for you in the case of some over-strenuous marathon training plans.
You still get all the physical benefits of cardiovascular exercise – better overall health, weight loss, more regulated sleep and better mental state – than if you were training for a marathon. And there’s no pressure, or performance anxiety, about the event coming up. You simply run as you wish.
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 cross training out . . . after all, it is a non-essential, ‘nice to have’ part of the preparation.
The problem with committing to running exclusively is that it can often create imbalances in your muscle system – specifically your legs.
The majority of long-term runners have suffered from Runner’s Knee at some point, and this is exactly what the cause is. Running makes your hamstrings tight and strong, and leaves your hips and a few other areas weak – in short, that springy chain of muscles running down your legs is imbalanced – and this is when injuries occur.
It’s very common for runners who are ramping up their mileage in preparation for a marathon to suffer one of these injuries, through over-training or not strengthening the areas that running neglects.
In short, running makes your legs stiffer, and imbalanced – no doubt. And a tight marathon training schedule usually does nothing to compensate for this.
6. Marathon training takes up a significant amount of your free time
Marathon training is a commitment.
When training, I typically run 4 times per week – 2-3 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, no binge-eating at the weekend. 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, no plan you’re meant to be sticking to.
7. Do you really need to prove to yourself that you can run a marathon?
Marathons often attract a certain type of personality.
The people who are goal-oriented, who set ambitious targets for themselves in their professional and personal lives, and then hunt them down until they’re completed.
For some, a lot of the motivation for completing a marathon is to prove to themselves that they can do it. To become part of the ‘marathon club’.
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 let down
Barely anyone considers how they’ll feel mentally after their first marathon – they’ll assume that they will be overcome with relief, joy and fulfilment.
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. The next day, instead of feeling jubilation, you feel a weird sense of loss . . . like something you’ve cared about has left you. It’s common after a first marathon to feel like this. The reason is that a major part of your recent life has come to an end. All the months of preparation, the 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.
Who doesn’t experience this sense of loss?
People who just run. People who run for themselves, and aren’t goal-oriented.
Part of the beauty of running is that it means different things to different people. Not everyone is going to be a runner for their whole life. And not every runner is going to run marathons.