Friday, March 18, 2011

The Marathon

Perhaps one of the more unfortunate myths perpetuated by the mainstream running media is that the be all, end all of ones' running experience is to run a marathon. Although this may not always be said openly, it is certainly inferred in a variety of books and articles. There is a whole industry that has grown up around taking runners from basically a handful of miles in a week, to being able to run a marathon within a year or less. I have seen training "plans" that say you can get to the starting line in 6 months. Jeff Galloway has made a career out of preparing people for marathons,people who you would classify as "fun" runners. I'd like to quickly add here that I am not criticizing anyone for attempting to run a marathon. As you may have seen in a previous post or two,my view of runners is that anyone who gets out there everyday is equal no matter how fast their per mile time is. Also,it appears that most of these 0 miles to your marathon in X amount of months organizations are linked to charities and that is commendable. However, I have a problem with taking people with virtually no real running or mileage history into that twilight zone that can be what the marathon ends up being.Those of you who have run marathons know what I'm talking about,I have run several and not one of them have been easy,not one,and that goes from my slowest one to the fastest.The only marathon that didn't beat me up as much as the others was a trail one I did several years ago. Most other runners I have spoken with over the years confirm what I have experienced. So what am I getting at? It is my belief that no distance or quest for a certain time is worth it if it ends up causing you to give up running. I have spoken to countless runners of varying abilities that have quit running as a result of mental or physical burn-out that occurred after preparing for, and/or racing a distance they were ill-prepared to run or just weren't suited for. I paraphrase 9 time New York City marathon winner Grete Waitz here,she said,"I see too many people running the marathon who would be better suited running a 10k or half-marathon." Running should be a lifelong activity,despite the naysayers,running is a healthy endeavor when approached intelligently.That means you know and listen to your body. As Harry Callahan said: "A man's got to know his limitations." That goes for women too. I am also talking here to the runners who run and race well. I'm sure I am showing my age but there was a time when distance runners sort of "graduated" in their running to the point where they then ran a marathon after having years and years of miles under their belt.Google Carlos Lopes and you will read an excellent example of this.Unfortunately, this school of thought changed decades ago because of several reasons,not the least of which is the "glamourization" of the marathon by the media.Can a young runner have success in a marathon? Of course he can. Is it wise? Often not.The training and racing involved in the marathon distance can take a toll on a runner's body and psyche. Here's the standard I use,unless you will be able to toe the line at the upcoming Olympic marathon trial, then potentially committing your running career to a distance prematurely could be foolish. Look at the alternatives,5k's, 10k's 20k's, half-marathons,30k's.Explore and reach your goals at these distances before moving on to the marathon. I should also mention trail runs at varying distances. Again,there's a big difference between racing on the trails and racing over pavement.

Ultimately,running should be something that brings about positive feelings such as joy,happiness,peace of mind,etc. If your running, training or racing is making you neurotic,discouraged or feeling mentally or physically fried, then you need to change something,the sooner the better.

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