Running A Marathon Isn’t Meant To Be Easy

Have you signed up for a marathon recently?

Marathon training and running your 26.2 miles isn’t going to be easy.

But then, it’s not meant to be easy.

If it were, everyone else would do it.

Running a marathon is meant to be hard. And that’s maybe the greatest reason to run one.

Of course, distance running is physically taxing. But the majority of the hard stuff actually takes place inside your grey matter.

On those training days when you have to get out of bed early to train, it’s hard.

On the evenings when you’re physically exhausted from training but still have to finish some chores, it’s hard.

And on marathon day, when you’re 23 miles in and your body is screaming at you to stop, it’s hard.

Physical discomfort is inevitable.

But it’s your ability to deal with mental discomfort, and persevere, which will pull you through.

Some people refer to this as grit. It’s your proclivity to do tough, unrewarding things today in order to work towards something better in the future.

And marathons are perhaps one of the greatest examples of grit we can find in our society.

Seeking Out Hard Things

No-one brags about walking up a grassy slope, people brag about climbing Mount Everest.

Penn Jillette

Marathon runners are often told “wow, you must be really fit to be able to run 26.2 miles!”

Of course, you need to be physically in shape to cover 26.2 miles in one outing.

But what these comments completely overlook is the perseverance required to continually push your body at a high rate of exertion for hours on end.

Regardless of your fitness and ability levels, no-one finds running a marathon easy.

Whether you’re an elite runner competing for the podium, or a walk-run rookie who is completing their first-ever marathon, everyone has to dig deep over those 26.2 miles.

The physical discomfort is unavoidable. But what really makes you a marathon runner is your ability to persevere – which is mostly a mental game over a physical one.

Those of us who sign up for marathons are actively seeking hard things in life.

We’re looking for personal challenges, inviting in the discomfort and hardship, knowing that we’ll find the process tough – but ultimately there’s something in that which makes it rewarding.

Marathon training can give us focus and purpose, which can, in turn, give momentum to other aspects of our lives.

What It Takes To Train For a Marathon

Signing up for a marathon is easy.

Log on to the organiser’s website. Punch in a few details, and – boom – you’ve got your entry.

The hard part is, of course, the training.

It’s easy to launch into marathon training with a jolt of enthusiasm. Those first few weeks of your marathon training plan are relatively light, and you often finish feeling you could have gone further.

But as the weeks and months progress, the volume of marathon training miles increases relentlessly. By the time your training peaks, you can be easily booking 40+ miles each week, training for hours on end.

This means waking up early to train.

It means training on sore legs and tired bodies.

It can mean sacrificing family and friend time to go running when it’s dark, cold, raining, and unpleasant.

It means persevering when every part of you is looking for reasons to rationalise stopping, and throwing in the towel.

It means sacrificing easy comfort and voluntarily throwing yourself into something challenging, for a future goal.

But maybe that’s the point.

If running a marathon was easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?

Prepare Yourself

Marathons times have never been so slow as they are right now.

The reason?

Well there are two, in my opinion.

The first reason is that more and more non-runners, or rookie runners, are signing up for marathons. Their lack of running background naturally makes them slower, which slows down the overall average finishing time.

One of my favourite things is to work with new runners and see how inspired they are to complete a marathon. And increased participation has a lot of trickle-down effects to communities, charities, and the new runners’ wellbeing.

The second reason – which, in full disclosure, is partially speculation on my part – is that the average marathon runner of today prepares less than the average marathon runner of 20 years ago.

It’s been shown that the slow-down between the first and second halfs of a 26.2 mile marathon are becoming more pronounced – meaning the average marathon runner is positive-splitting, or slowing down, worse than ever before.

This is a sign more and more runners are turning up to the start line of their marathon under-prepared. They’re either under-trained (and hence bonk early) or lack a suitable pace strategy that would carry them through their marathon.

Regardless of your fitness level or running background, good preparation should be a key part of your marathon process.

Whether you’re a walker or a runner, you should invest the time to train your body to go the distance.

Simply rocking up to the start line having done a few half-assed training runs doesn’t do you any favors.

You’ll inevitably hit the wall, you may get injured, and it’ll be a painful process.

Sure, you might limp to the finish line and get the medal, but did you earn it?

Is the medal a reward for pushing through one day of pain, or is it an acknowledgment of the hard work you’ve invested over weeks, months, and years?

I’ll always choose the latter.

There are no hacks for running a marathon.

Don’t try to cut corners, or think you can wing it on the day.

Lean in to the struggle of marathon training.

Enjoy the hard work, and the rewarding afterburn of a good day’s running.

Don’t try and make your marathon easy.

Running a marathon is meant to be hard, and we’re all the better for it.

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.

7 thoughts on “Running A Marathon Isn’t Meant To Be Easy”

  1. I needed to hear this right now. I’ve signed up to do a marathon in October and I’m at that point where I’m starting to find the training hard! It’s definitely more mental and I’ve just got to tell myself I can do this. Great read before my long run tomorrow

  2. Thank you for this, I needed to read this. First time marathon runner and I’m in shock as to how much training is required, almost like having a second job and harder when you in you’re late 50s. I was about to skimp on the training this week, but realised I shouldn’t.


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