In every sport, there is a holy grail in which the athletes of the sport set out to achieve. Team sports have goals of hoisting trophies, but what about individual sports like running? There may not be a trophy, but there is a number, and that number is 26.2.
Such a unique number can only be tied to one thing, the marathon. A grueling test of the human spirit, both mentally and physically. The marathon lasts for 26.2 brutal miles where people truly learn what they are made of. In 2011, the average marathon time for males was 4:37 (10:34/mile pace) and 4:52 (11:08/mile pace) for females. To get an idea what that feels like, imagine what if feels like to run. Then, imagine something that takes nearly 5 hours. Now, imagine what it feels like to run for that long.
The popularity of the distance has taken off in the last decade. In 2000, about 299,000 people finished a marathon. In 2011, that number rose to over 525,000 finishers. What is the cause for this rise in marathon finishers?
I believe that it is due to a more widespread knowledge of how to safely conquer the distance for the first time. There are local running clubs, online coaching plans, and a number of other resources that runners can find to help them run a marathon for the first time.
So what if you feel like you are ready to tackle a marathon for the first time? Here are some ways to get on the path to tackling your first 26.2 mile adventure.
Financial commitment is key in the marathon. As you’ll learn, marathons aren’t cheap. They are perhaps the most logistically complicated race to host due to the distance, number of participants, and resources needed. A smaller marathon such as the Eugene Marathon, will cost roughly $100, depending on when you register. A big city race, such as the New York City Marathon, will cost over $250. So by signing up for a marathon, you have made the financial commitment, which is a good source of motivation. Nearly all marathons have a no refund policy, so once you hit the register button, that money is in the pocket of race organizers with no way of getting back to you, so you might as well run the race you invested in.
There are endless numbers of training plans floating around there on the web, ranging from those with the goal of just getting you to the finish line, to plans tailored for you to run faster than ever before. When I ran my first marathon in 2010, I used a free online training plan from RunnersWorld.com. I entered a recent race time, how much I currently run, how hard I wanted to train, and several other items of info, and I was instantly given a 16-week plan. For those of you who haven’t run a marathon before, 16 weeks is the standard length of marathon training plans. You can safely train for one in as little as 12 weeks, but not until you have a few marathons under your belt first.
Having a plan laid out is perhaps the best motivation of training. You have a daily goal, and it feels great when you can come back and cross off the run after completing it. But the most important thing to understand about training plans is that in no way are they binding. Training for a marathon is time consuming, and sometimes life gets in the way. Out of the six marathons I have run, only once have I been able to follow the plan nearly 100 percent. More often than not, you’ll miss some runs, or have to adjust the plan to fit your schedule. This is perfectly acceptable. For a beginner, the most important part of your plan is the long run on the weekend. This run is how you will build your endurance to safely reach the finish line on race day. The shorter runs during the week are more of a way to maintain your fitness more than anything. You can afford to miss some shorter runs, but make it a priority to complete every long run on your calendar.
The most popular time for marathons is generally during the spring (April and May) and fall (September and October), because the weather is usually best for running during these months. Once you feel ready to take on the distance, do a search on the web for a marathon during these months and get yourself signed up. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote about the marathon from Dick Beardsley, a former top American marathon runner.
“When you cross that finish line, no matter how slow, no matter how fast, it will change your life forever.”