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Runner’s column: why I don’t want to run a marathon

Runner's Column: why I don't want to run a marathonThe question I continually get from my running and non-running friends when discussing races and distance training is always the same: When are you running a marathon?

And my answer has slowly migrated into a very confident zone: Not soon and maybe not ever.

For some runners, this may seem sacrilegious. The marathon for any distance runner and racer is portrayed as something you are supposed to aspire to. The participation numbers for people registering and running marathons is growing each year. In 1980, 143,000 people finished marathons in the United States. Last year, that figure soared to 550,637. Finishing times? Almost an hour slower on average for men comparing those same time periods.

It would seem like everyone is doing it, or at least tried at least once, so why not try it?

For me, it is simple: I don’t like to cry and I like to run fast.

Eastern Finish: Why I don't want to run a marathon

Eastern States 20-miler finish line. Smiling on the outside but crying on the inside.

The winter of 2013-14 in New England was brutal with extreme cold (many pre-dawn runs came with icy roads, high snowbanks and temperatures below zero). I was training for the Eastern States 20-miler – a race that runs from the NH/Maine border to just north of the Massachusetts border. Many Boston Marathon runners use this late March race as their last tune-up before their big race. It was to be my longest race and longest run yet. My training was going OK. I had some calf strain flare-ups and every run that exceeded 14-15 miles made me feel like I was falling apart – my form disintegrated, my feet hurt, and I was useless for the rest of the day.

The race itself was a torture chamber of weather: 36 degrees, 35 mph winds, and heavy rain at the start that let up to a steady light rain and fog for the duration of the run. I felt fine for the first 14 miles and was going along ahead of schedule. Then, muscle cramps in my right hamstring followed by cramps in my left Achilles at mile 18 severely slowed my pace. I actually yelped out loud twice at about mile 18.5 and managed to finish powered on pride alone and knowing that if I stopped I would not be able to re-start. My 2:38 finish was admirable but I don’t think I could have run or walked or even shuffled another 6.2 miles.

Many runners have told me, “If you can run 20, you can run a marathon.” But here’s the thing: I don’t want to.

You train for a marathon, you sacrifice much and risk even more. I have a huge amount of admiration for those who do this but at the same time, instead of getting faster and fitter at shorter distances, many runners are shuffling and half-jogging their way to marathon-finisher status. That’s not for me.

Pursuing running is a very personal ambition and being influenced by others to endeavor what used to be the pinnacle distance race may not be the best course for you.

Here’s some reason why I don’t want to run a marathon:

  1. Time: I regularly train for half marathons. This involves 3-4 runs a week with one long run on the weekend ranging from 10-14 miles. To run a marathon would require boosting my miles and my time to the point that something would have to be given up. When training for half marathons, I like that I can do my long run on a Sunday morning and still play with my son, go hiking, or mow the lawn in the afternoon. I’m tired but not incapacitated.
  2. Injury: You increase the pounding on your legs and feet and you increase the potential for injury. That’s a fact no matter how well you cross-train, strength train, do yoga, and adhere to a strict diet. Also, I’d like to keep my toenails.
  3. My wife: File this under the effect training for a marathon has on others. I previously wrote about the power of compromise when you are the sole runner under one roof. Running a marathon, given all of my other hobbies, interests, and obligations as well as relationships with my wife and son would make a marathon pursuit selfish.
  4. Competition: I’m one of those runners that looks at results, particularly the column that shows where I finished in my age group at races. I’m ego-driven with racing – which is good and bad – and I know my strength as a runner is in the half-marathon distance. Could I run and take walk breaks to a four-hour marathon? Probably. But it’s not something I would be particularly proud about. Running a sub 1:30 half marathon? That’s something I could be ecstatic about. It’s called a race for a reason and – for me, personally – simply finishing is not good enough.
  5. The allure: The sheer volume of people, included celebrities, who have run a marathon has taken the shine off the distance. What used to be one of the rarest of athletic accomplishments has become nearly commonplace.

Written by Rob Haneisen.

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