Really, Why 26.2?

Since I completed my first marathon in 2003, I think I have been marathoning’s biggest cheerleader. I can’t count the number of people I have told, “YOU should run a marathon! You can totally do it!” I’ve said this to casual runners, serious runners, and people who would not even run if being chased. The non-runners usually look at me like I am insane, and tell me (quite frankly) that there’s not a chance in hell they are going to ever do this, so could I  (please) shut up now.  Others listen to my marathon pitches and walk away giving it serious consideration.  Some have gone on to run one or several marathons. Still others acknowledge that, yes, they’ve been considering a marathon for quite some time now, and maybe one day they’ll do it.

While on my 26.2-foot -high soap box, I’ve learned to monitor when to stop talking and when to keep on going.  Yet, for the most part, a little resistance from my audience does not slow me down. I am relentless in my marathon promotion. However, after reading, “An Inside Look” one would probably wonder why I push this multiple hour torture session, because the #1 known fact about running a marathon is that it sure ain’t easy.

So, why the hype? Why are marathons filling up at record rates… attracting droves of runners and non-runners alike? Why do people go back to marathoning even after being injured time and time again?  Are all runners basically mad? Quite possibly yes, we are mad. But there’s a reason beyond the madness that draws us in to the allure of 26.2.

The real reason lies in the fact that consciously and unconsciously, our collective human conscience is onto something as far as marathons are concerned.  It’s actually a huge secret that is revealed to us early on in the training phase of marathon preparation.

This secret goes beyond the physical benefits of running – that you can lose weight, lower cholesterol, improve fitness, reduce stress, and feel better, etc. This is what I call the “Well, no duh” benefits to training for marathons.

There is something bigger going on here.

This “something” begins with the training. A transformation of self-discipline and dedication slowly grows as one makes and follows a training schedule. What starts as “How am I going to fit all of these miles in and still get everything else done?” grows into a daily calendar that makes more space for running and eating well, and less space for TV watching, junk food eating, and unnecessary boozin’.  Going to bed early on a Friday night for a Saturday long run isn’t a chore, it becomes a normal part of existence.  In turn, waking early isn’t so bad either. After all, by the time you are done with your shower, your “pre-marathon self” would be just getting out of bed.

As this new lifestyle of scheduled runs, good nutrition, and a healthier outlook evolves, a shift takes place in the way a runner looks at the world. With more energy, better fitting clothes, and less stress, our lives in general just tend to look sunnier. The training schedule that once looked scary and impossible to tackle is in fact proving to be quite gratifying. It starts out with 5-7-9-10 mile distances for  “long” runs, and as you cover each distance your confidence grows. “Damn, I just ran 10 miles today. Who would have thought I could do that?”  Then, you hit 12, 14, 16, 18 miles, and you finish with such self-pride and accomplishment that you want to tell everyone you meet about the runs.  (“Sure, I’ll meet you for lunch. I just ran 16 today, so I’m kind of hungry…” ) And, as you hit each bigger mileage mark, you get there and feel more confident that you will be able to do the 26.2 miles you once thought were impossible.   You also think about doing more in all areas of your life… What else can I do that I didn’t think I could before?  A mental and emotional transformation is taking place as your body physically transforms.

In the midst of this transformation,  you start to think of your new routine as “normal.”  You get to a point where long runs of 12-14-16 seem routine to you, so you say things to people like, “Oh, I just ran 10 today…”  They will look at you like you’re nuts (mad), and reply, “Oh, only  10, huh?”  It’s instances like these that prove you are not the same person who started this whole marathon business.

Yes, you’re pushing the boundaries of what you once thought was possible, and you’re winning at it. Not winning in a crazy Charlie Sheen-manic way, but winning in the true sense of the word. And without even really trying, this “win” is spilling into your regular life.  It seems that your  professional, personal, and life goals are gaining new clarity as you move forward in your training program.  You become more productive and goal oriented in everything. It’s pretty amazing.

Now of course, in this land of training, not everything is fun and games.  There are runs that don’t go so well.  While on training runs, you learn about fun things like digestive issues.  You also learn about hydration and lack thereof. You find out (the hard way) about blisters and chafing and toe nails falling off. There are other setbacks too. Muscles become sore, and injuries pop up. A million roadblocks can enter your path, but you don’t quit.  If something is really hurting, you’ll seek out doctors, PT’s, massage therapists, or anyone (I’ve even sought out a body energy worker) to help get back on track.

No, you don’t want to quit, because you want, like nothing else in the world, to make it to race day healthy and ready for action.  By committing to a marathon, you have made a commitment to yourself to test your physical, emotional, and mental limits.  So, with all of this training and growth under your fuel belt, you go to your marathon. And, at the start line, you are full of emotions because you know that you did not reach this place without much, much preparation. It hits you then, that simply being there, in the sea of runners all working for the same thing, is pretty darn amazing.  You know that even at the start line, you have accomplished more than you ever thought you could.

With this little gem, you move forward, realizing that the marathon, like your training and your life, will not be easy. In fact it won’t even be that fun.  But you also know that there is something inside you that will help you get through it, come hell or high water. And this, is why you signed up in the first place; to ignite the light inside you that lets you know that when you put your body, mind, and spirit together, anything really is possible.

Whatever your particular dose of madness drives you to do, pursue it with everything you’ve got, folks… life is full of marathons, just pick the one you want to do, and enter it with spirit and passion.

by abbey algiers

copyright 2011


“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” 

– John “The Penguin”Bingham