Over the past decade or so, marathon running has become popular among the more common athlete. In the early days of marathoning, the 26.2 mile distance was reserved for the more serious athlete but over recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of marathon finishers. This increase in overall numbers has also included a shift in the gender and ages of participants. In fact, the gender division shifted from about 10% women and 90% men in 1980 to almost equally split in 2013. There has also been an increase in the median age over the years. More surprising though is the increase in number of finishers. In my lifetime, the growth has been exponential and now there are more than half a million marathon finishers each year. Obviously, all of these athletes are not competing for the win or even qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Many are running marathons to cross the finish line. If you watch a big city marathon, you’ll see a variety of people of all shapes and sizes, ages, and backgrounds. And each of these people has different goals and different reasons for taking on this distance. Regardless of your reason for running a marathon, training for and finishing a marathon is a life-changing experience.
|Gender and Age Group Breakdown|
|Masters (40 yrs+)||26%||41%||44%||44%||46%||46%||46%||47%|
|Open (20 – 39 yrs)||69%||57%||54%||54%||52%||52%||52%||50%|
|Juniors (under 20)||5%||2%||2%||2%||2%||2%||2%||3%|
|Median Age Overall||37||38||37||37||37||36|
|Year||Estimated U.S. Marathon Finisher Total|
|*NOTE: ING New York City Marathon cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy (47,000-plus likely finishers if held).|
Maybe you’re considering running a marathon. If that thought has crossed your mind, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before committing. Although many people sign up for a marathon with little to no running experience, I don’t recommend this at all. Running a marathon is tough, no matter how well-prepared you are so I would advise carefully considering these questions and evaluating your reasons. This list is not all-inclusive but will at least get you thinking about what is involved in training for a marathon.
- How long have I been running? It is generally advised that you should have a minimum of one year of consistent running experience and have a solid mileage base. Most training plans are somewhere around 4 months long and start with at least 20 miles a week and go up quickly. A good guideline would be the ability to run at least 10 miles for a long run. Many training plans have several long runs of 18-22 miles at the peak training time along with mid-distance runs during the week. If you don’t have a solid base prior to beginning training, you risk injury that could derail your training.
- Why do I want to run a marathon? It is a good idea to know your “why” for running a marathon. There will be ups and downs throughout training. Without a personally meaningful reason for running a marathon, it can be easy to give up and quit when the going gets tough. If your reason is you’ve been running for 10 years and all your friends say you should run a marathon, it may not be your time to sign up. But if you are looking for a challenge and have a burning desire to become a marathoner, you’re probably ready to explore it a little further. Your “why” should be strong enough to keep you going throughout the months of training.
- Have I run a half marathon before? If you haven’t run a long distance before, it can be hard to understand why this is important. While crossing the finish line of your first marathon is truly a momentous and happy occasion, there are many, many ups and downs along the way. You will not only deal with physical fatigue, but emotional highs and lows as well. These can be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows but are perfectly normal and to be expected. I recommend running at least one or two half marathons to get a good idea if your body and mind can handle the distance. Running a full marathon is far more than simply running two half marathons back-to-back. Training for a marathon will involve many long runs of half marathon distance or more. Before I decided to run a marathon, I had already completed 10 half marathons.
- Do I have time? I’m going to be perfectly honest about this one. Marathon training takes time – lots of time. You can plan on 5 days a week for varying lengths of time. Although you may not be running this much, there will be cross training, core work and rest that you will need to fit in. As training progresses, your mileage will build and your runs will take more time. Many long runs will go up to 18 to 20 miles and that takes time. And you’ll probably want to take a nap after that. Intense training like this will also require more rest throughout the week so you’ll need to get to bed early to ensure your body gets enough rest to recover properly.
- Do I have a support system in place? Every runner needs a good support system. I can’t emphasize this one enough….you can’t do this alone! If you have a family, you will want to have their support. Since there is such a big time commitment involved, having help with your children and household responsibilities may be necessary. Having a supportive spouse or partner is helpful to make sure that you are able to get out the door and train without feeling guilty or like you should be doing something else. I also recommend having a training partner. As with the marathon itself, training has many ups and downs. You may experience doubts and low points during training and having a training partner that understands and has been through the same thing can be a great source of support. Having a buddy to run with can make the miles fly by and keep you accountable in your training. There is probably a local running club in your community that you could connect with and there are many online forums to share thoughts and ask for advice. You’re even welcome to reach out to me for support!
Is running a marathon on your bucket list? For all of you experienced marathoners, what advice would you offer someone considering running a marathon?