Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Marathon: A Race Too Far?

My cousin, Karin, facebooked me this really great article from Running Times magazine. It's called "The Marathon: A Race Too Far?" and is a thought provoking commentary by Jonathan Beverly on marathoning and runners who choose to primarily focus on the 26.2 mile distance.

I strongly, strongly suggest that all past or present marathoners take the time to read this well thought out, super insightful article by clicking here. I've read it a few times to ensure I fully digested the key points.

Throughout the article, Beverly (a pretty accomplished runner and 27 time marathoner) is very careful to not offend marathoners of any ability level and he has a completely non-judgemental stance. But he posits that perhaps "the marathon, as a race, is too far for many runners most of the time". He specifically refers to "serious runners" who have run marathons multiple times in the past and know they can complete another, but who haven't been able to "take their training to the level necessary to make the marathon truly a race rather than a survival test".

Wow. Already, I'm hooked on hearing more. What he said is so true for many of the marathoners I know (both in person and virtually). We run marathons, we are challenged by marathons, but we don't yet 'race' marathons, rather we 'just' finish them. I hope you can see my tongue wedged firmly in my cheek when I say 'just' because, no matter how experienced the runner, finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment. There is no 'just' finishing a marathon; it is always something to be proud of. (Well, maybe Dean Karnazes 'just' finishes them, but he's clearly not human:) )

Beverly notes that this very fact - that completing a marathon no matter the pace is always an athletic accomplishment- may be why so many of us do it. Our non-running peers seem so impressed by the 26.2 mile distance that by running a marathon 'slow' runners "unlikely to win their age groups in local races receive the same accolades as someone almost twice as fast who completed a 1/2 marathon". In Beverly's words "it's difficult to explain that a 17:00 5K is harder than a 3:30 marathon. The same is true in our daily training: When our office-mates ask, 'How many miles did you do today?' answering 10 is far more impressive than, 'Five, but three of them were 800m intervals at 5:20 per mile pace'. (They stopped listening at 'five')."

So true, right?

Now if you love, love, love marathons, then by all means runs marathons! But if you merely enjoy marathons and the sense of accomplishment after completing them, it may be worth taking a step back and consider whether the 26.2 distance should continue to be your main focus week in and week out.

Until yesterday, I was beginning to think that I was in the latter category and should start to think about my big picture running goals. I do enjoy marathons and plan to run them the rest of my life. But, I'll admit, maybe too much of my pride in marathons comes from the look on other people's faces when they hear that I've run x number of marathons (7 if you care), or that I ran 22 miles over the weekend or that I want to run a marathon in every state. Part of my pride is because I am proud of myself- really, who DOES stuff like that ???- but I like impressing others as well. But is my goal in running to impress others? Obviously, not. But what is my goal??

Having a month long hiatus from any serious running gave me time to reflect on this. And I concluded that maybe it's time to step back the distance a bit- focus on 1/2 marathons and maybe even 5ks. I didn't really miss running all that much and had to do some serious self-convincing to get out there for my 18 miler yesterday.

But then I ran 18 miles. And somewhere b/t miles 8 and 15 I was reminded how much I love distance running. I didn't even start to enjoy my run yesterday until well over an hour into it. But then I became quite content trotting along, listening to my music, exploring the lakefront (I had to take some new paths to get in the full mileage). I like eating gu chomps mid-run. I like knowing for the rest of day that I covered serious ground on my own 2 feet. (I like feeling free to eat a couple hundred calories over my usual calorie goal.) And I like that I WAS NOT TIRED while running- my legs and lungs were FINE even though I've been off the running bandwagon for a month. Humans evolved to be distance runners so it shouldn't be a surprise that it feels natural (once you are in the shape to do so it really does become comfortable, as long as you keep it nice and slow).

I have 2 marathons coming up- Rockford and Madison. I was thinking of dialing back Rockford to a 1/2 because I'm not in the PR shape I wanted to be in and thought maybe "only" doing a 1/2 in Rockford would allow me to possibly PR in Madison. But after yesterday's run, I think I should do both fulls because I like marathons! I like them whether I PR or not. I've had some significant PR's this year- 5K, 1/2 marathon and marathon- which got me into this mind-set of needing to improve at every race. But sometimes weather, timing, and life get in the way of proper training and race day success. But I won't let those things get in the way of me having a good time on 5/15 and 5/29. Right now, enjoying marathons should be more of a priority than PR'ing anything. For now.

Next up, my revised running goals for next year (July to July). This summer, I'm starting a new job that will be even more demanding than the one I have now, so it truly won't be possible to train for marathons for a year or so. But I have a plan for that year that will make my marathoning even stronger when I return to distance running in July 2012:)

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