Why run a marathon?

The Welsh Castles Relay - photo by David Knight

The Welsh Castles Relay

Running a marathon is one of the most challenging and rewarding events that any of us will experience.  The human body imposes natural limitations on the distance we can run easily.  Twenty miles is about the furthest we can go comfortably, even if we are well trained, before we begin to run out of fuel and our muscles begin to hurt.  The marathon distance is exquisitely set to take us beyond our comfort zone, into a realm in which we confront the limitations of our bodies and our minds.  We complete the marathon distance only by patient preparation and mental discipline.  There are no short cuts, no easy ways out.  The marathon takes us up to, and beyond, the limit of human endurance, into an unknown zone where we confront our true selves, and discover our inner strengths and limits.

Thirty-five thousand people run the London Marathon each year, and tens of thousands of runners also take part in big city marathons such as New York, Paris, Boston, and Sydney.  Why do we all do it? There is something about the challenge of the marathon that attracts our adventurousness.

Most participants in a marathon want to finish.  They may run the whole distance; more likely they will run and walk, just as long as they get round.  These are the real heroes of the marathon – the runners who have risen to a challenge unlike anything they have done before.  They may be running for charity, perhaps in memory of a loved one, or to show themselves and the world that they have the inner strength to succeed.

The next group of marathon runners want to perform and improve.  These are often club runners, and they may well have run a marathon before, and now want to finish in a faster time (or at least fight off the effects of advancing age by finishing no slower). The pressure is enormous: they train for months, focused on a single race. If they happen to have a bad day, it will be another six months before they have their next chance to achieve their goals and recover their pride and confidence.

The third and final group of runners are the elite racers, hoping to do well, or perhaps win, at least in their age group. Again, their opportunities to achieve their goals are rare.  Unless they are blessed with an extraordinary physiology, marathon athletes may have as few as eight or ten good marathon races in their whole lifetime; some have as few as two or three.

There are plenty of good reasons for training for and running a marathon.  The training will help you to lose weight and increase your fitness.  Running will bring you more self-confidence and energy.  Achieving such a demanding goal will earn you self-respect, and the esteem of others around you.

One of the excitements and pleasures of the marathon is that all these runners take part in the same race, with the same sense of occasion.  All know that, in different ways, they are facing up to their own challenge.

Which football-lover has played in a team with their football idols? Which hockey player has skated with the great names of hockey?  As a runner, I’ve been privileged to take part in races with my heroes, including Paula Radcliffe, Josiah Tugwane, Bill Rodgers and Haile Gebreselassie.  They beat me, for sure, but we were all part of it together.

8 Responses to Why run a marathon?

  • Andre Roelleke Smyth:

    Very interesting indeed. I’m 40 years old and was well over weight and one day my son said I was fat after watching some tv program. However one day I picked up my running shoes and track suit and went out for a run….I did that every morning, but work hours changed and evening times instead. It took 1 year to shred 3 stone and attempt to lose more but that terms to be the hardest. 2011 has been the most challenging I have ever done and was an still is continuing….First week of April I completed the Brighton full marathon and 5 days after the London Marathon…continued training for the Run to the Beat Half marathon and took 17 minutes off my time from 2010. End of this Month I’m going to Germany for the Frankfurt Marathon and then next year Paris. Why am I doing it…because it a challenge to me…..I’m a dad of a boy and a girl and have the most amazing wife who understands, but has also seen less of me, as I run 2hours maybe longer to get the miles in.
    My only trouble is balance the right recovery drinks and I find Maximuscle helps Viper…Is there anything else you would recommend…kind regards Andre

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  • Why run a marathon?
    Certainly not for the anguish of trying to beat your best time or the pain of trying to over extend yourself, no!
    You ask yourself this in practically every race and the answer comes back the same each time –
    ” Because I can.”
    The elation of having completed and overcome your personal barriers persists for as long as you want and drives you through your next race.

  • David:

    Fits me to a tee. Finished my first marathon last year (was supposed to be my last) but only trained to around 18 miles and had to walk after getting leg cramps at 19. So will be going again this year to try and run the 26. Will train more this time. Hope I haven’t caught the bug though as the time required for training is not easy to fit in. Would like to concentrate on the half marathons. But we’ll find out this year if at the finish I convince myself I’ve done enough this time…… or will I need to try again?

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