What I really think of 26.2

So. Marathon #3 is in the bag and I’m pretty happy with my 20-minute PR. And while I think I can definitely run faster (someday), I’m going to take a break from marathons for a little while. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great experience. I loved the high mileage and long runs. The attention to nutrition. The workouts. The excitement that you can only get from a big city marathon. But all in all, I think that the 26.2 distance is 1) too long and 2) over-hyped

As soon as you say you’re a competitive runner, people usually ask: “So, have you run a marathon?” I understand why marathons get a lot of attention – they’re the longest distance most runners will ever race, they’re glamorous (Oprah, P. Diddy, and Katie Holmes are all marathoners!), and they’re hard. And I have all the respect in the world for people who train diligently to complete the distance. BUT, I consider myself a competitive runner and my goal isn’t just to finish races, I want to push myself to my absolute athletic boundaries. If my goal was just to run for fun, then I can absolutely see myself signing up for a race every year. However, as long as my body will allow me – I want to race. Fast. And you know what? Actually racing 26.2 is a big gamble. You can really only peak for 1-2 marathons a year and by doing so you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket. Last minute injury? A case of the flu? Torrential rain and wind on race day? Planning for a marathon is a risk – months of training can be for naught if something unfortunate happens. And if things don’t turn out as expected, you’re facing at least 3 weeks of recovery before you can start another training cycle. And that’s assuming that you’re not only physically, but mentally ready to begin again.

I also think that just because marathons are long, it doesn’t mean they’re the hardest race distance. I have just as much respect for a runner who trains hard and really nails a cross-country race or sets a 5K PR as I do for someone who runs 26.2 miles. I guess what I’m trying to say is that running a marathon isn’t what makes you a “real” runner. So many people feel peer-pressured to run this event, even if it’s not the best option for them. Running marathons requires high mileage and a big time committment and if your knees can’t handle 20-milers or you have a demanding job, racing 5k’s or 10k’s (or even track races!) might be a better option. Enjoyment and dedication are what make you a “real” runner, not running X amount of miles.

That being said, I do like to challenge myself and I think I can run sub-3:15 someday. But I also want to focus on shorter races for a little while. To run a fast 5k or 10k (or even half-marathon) interval workouts are essential and it’s a lot easier to do those with teammates and a coach. As long as I’m unmarried and without dependants, I figure now is the time for me to be selfish and focus on my training. I can go to a Tuesday night workout, run some fast 400’s, and then collapse into bed with a clif bar – no babysitter to worry about, no husband to cook for.

My general plan for the next few years is to set goals for myself, enjoy shorter races (if you can call 13.1 miles “short, hehe), and build a solid pace. Perhaps around 30 (assuming I don’t have a baby on board or something crazy like that), I’ll give the marathon another go. Many running experts say that you need to complete at least 3 marathon training cycles before you really start to understand the beast – you need to figure out what kind of mileage, recovery, nutrition, and hydration is optimal for your body. I agree with the “rule of 3” – I finally felt like I started to get things right with this most recent training cycle. When I try again in a few years (I’m not that far off from 30!), I don’t think my approach will change much. The only difference? I’ll have some extra years of experience and more speed in my legs.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with me? Or do marathons still rank #1 for you? I’d really like to hear some other opinions! Recipes and other light-hearted running commentary will return tomorrow : )

p.s. A few years ago, Runner’s World published an interesting article on age and marathoning – interesting read!

  • I really appreciate hearing your honesty Miss Megan and I also must say I agree with you on the whole “marathon is king” mentality that a lot of runners seem to have. I really don’t see why people put so much emphasis on them. Plus it is really frustrating to always be asked if you’re planning on running a marathon. The two don’t have to go hand in hand.

  • Couldn’t agree more-and I’ve talked about the same thing on my blog plenty of times too. If anything, I find uber-short distances, like the mile and shorter to be harder to race than the marathon. And I find the half to be my favorite distance-just long enough without being too long 🙂

    Also, it gets to the whole “completing” vs. “competing” thing which you mentioned and I’m totally with you there. I’m more impressed with the person who gives it their all to run a kick-ass 5K than one who runs a marathon with no intention of giving it their all.

    Which is why when I get suggestions to run so-and-so race “just for fun”…I can’t get into that mindset. When I have the bib and D-tag on, unless I have a specific plan (e.g., at the 18-mile tuneup, the plan was 2 loops easy 1 loop MP) it’s hard for me not to want to race.

  • Marathons are #1 for me at the moment just because finishing one had been a life goal for such a long time and now I’m gonna be obsessed with breaking 4 hours haha. But I agree with what all you said about it being a risk– after what happened with my first attempt in Nashville (torrential rain and tornado warnings causing cancellation when I passed Mile 20), NYC felt like such REDEMPTION.

    I don’t think I’ll be running them forever, either, though. But my current goal is to someday qualify for Boston. Maybe by 30? I’m 23 now, so plenty of time, right?? 🙂

    Oh, and not because I’m a distance snob or anything, but my pet peeve is when people throw around the word “marathon” to describe any race (like “I have a 5K marathon this weekend!”). A marathon is a (26.2 mile) marathon! Haha, end of rant.

  • i really like this post. i definitely think that 26.2 is overrated. i HATE that it’s the only way some people consider someone to be a serious runner. running a wicked fast 5k is worthy of praise too!

    i really really do like the marathon distance though. although i will way that i enjoy racing in general. i think i might want to dabble in shorter races after boston because i’ve really been enjoying the speedwork parts of my current marathon training.

  • I am NOT FAST at all so I really enjoy going the longer distances. However, I think the half-marathon is my “sweet spot” race. It’s long enough to make me feel like I accomplished a big thing but not SO LONG that it destroys my body/mind (hello, marathon!)

    That being said, I just ran my first marathon October 10 and I’m already thinking about my next one… I swear it’s some sort of addiction!

  • I have always said that marathons are too much for me long term. I have specific goals I want to accomplish, but then I think I’m going to hang up my marathon shoes for a long time.
    I love the half marathon distance. My body feels good after a half marathon, I feel accomplished and proud.
    But, after a full marathon I feel broken down and depleted. Sure, I’m also accomplished and proud, but at what cost?

  • Liz

    I absolutely agree and LOVE this post! Although I have yet to run a marathon, I understand the whole peer pressure element. I’m scheduled to run NYC next year (auto entry) and it’s a goal of mine, but I’m doing it for me – not to impress, BQ or for bloggie cred! I hope to not die and to have fun….dnd of story! 🙂

  • I have the need for speed, so races 10k and under for me = )

  • A big part of the charm of marathons is exactly that they are HARD. They are harder to plan for, train for, execute and recover from than other race distances. Racing them requires not just physical fitness but also mental stamina and discipline. If you like racing shorter distances there is no shame or lack of respect compared to the marathon. Some of the greatest/well known distance runners weren’t known for their Marathon performances (Zatopek etc). A serious 5K competitor is obviously more (athletically) accomplished than an overweight run/walk guy doing his first marathon. However there is a reason that the top 5k/10k athletes graduate to the marathon – because it takes a stronger body and mind to race a marathon. Calling the marathon over-hyped is refusing to understand the mental strength and discipline it takes (specially for people who started running later in life).

  • Megan this is such an excellent post. The comment about marathon training puts “all your eggs in one basket” is spot-on. Several times during this season I knew I could probably go out and smash my 10k PR, but training forces you to be conservative. I had never heard of this “rule of 3” but I find it very interesting—is this a Pfitz token of wisdom? (I’m hoping to get his book for Christmas…). And I absolutely have a ton of respect for middle-distance runners, in fact I think to some degree, performing well at the 5k and 10k is much harder than doing well in a marathon. It’s too bad that Runner’s World—which I love—has the monopoly on running media. I think a lot of the marathon hype can be attributed to their pages. And that’s fine. But you don’t see many people saying the same things you’ve said here, and it’s just as worthwhile a point of view. I’d like to link to this post on my blog to spread the love.

    Personally, I love the marathon, and I really want to do another, but I have so much to improve upon first. NYC 2010 was my first marathon and I let myself run for fun, with no time goal. Loved the experience but posted a pretty crappy time, given what I think I’m capable of running. Now that I have my first marathon out of my system, I have other goals I want to tackle to ensure I’m better prepared for the next one: lower my 10k and half times, bump up my base mileage to 40+ per week, etc.

  • @Guarav – I certainly don’t want to trivalize the amount of mental and physical preparation that goes into marathon training. It’s hard! I know this, believe me. My point about the distance being “over-hyped” is that it’s become the popular thing to. Many people put finishing a marathon on their “bucket” list. Celebrities make headlines for completing the distance and as Sara pointed out – I think a disproportionate amount of media is dedicated to the marathon (vs. other running events).

    I certainly agree that you need a solid base and level of experience to step up to the marathon distance – which is exactly what many elites do after years of track and xc training. However, I know quite a few newbie runners who make the marathon their first race…ever!

  • Jacqui

    I WILL NEVER RUN A MARATHON EVER! I love to race, and that means being able to race 1-2 per month, not twice per year. LONG LIVE THE 5K-10K!

  • Julia

    I’m considering a half, but I have exactly zero interest in running a marathon. In large part I think that comes from 1) not being able to devote time to proper training, and 2) not wanting to go into one just hoping to finish and not caring about my time. If I were to run a marathon, then it would have to be in a time I’d be proud of, damn it!

    I suppose this may change some day, but I really like the shorter distances. They are more manageable time-wise, so I can run more of them and, consequently, see improved times more often.

  • You make some good points – running a marathon is certainly NOT an essential criterion for being a “runner”, and marathons are not a good match for every runner (physically and otherwise). But I think it is important to note that some people do it because they truly love it, and actually some of your reasons for not liking it are some of the reasons I DO like it!
    I ran my first marathon at 19 (years before I even knew about the blogging community), and the only other person I really knew who had run a marathon was my mom. I love the marathon distance for so many reasons that I know are all 100% personal. I do it because I love it and maybe someday I won’t love it anymore, in which case I would switch it up and not think any less of myself. It makes me sad to see that people actually feel pressure to run one if their bodies, lifestyles and/or personalities don’t fit with marathoning – why sacrifice your happiness?
    I wish marathon running wasn’t such an “in” thing right now – people who do it “just to do it” or for attention totally miss the point!

  • Yup!

    I think it is too bad that there is not more air time given to how intense and fulfilling the true RACING of short distances can be. There is a less glory, sure, and you might not get a finisher’s trophy (!!!), but you’re bonkers if you think it’s easy or less fun. The trick is feeling out your body and what you’ll be happiest doing. The idea of crossing off a bucket list item like a marathon at at 26 is bizarre to me. I’m still going to have legs at 40. Um, hopefully.

    @Gaurav – Gotta disagree with you there. A stronger body and mind to race a marathon? Tell that to Usain Bolt. Or milers. Pro runners graduate to the marathon because they think they’ll have a better chance of winning $$ there, or they’re more suited to it. With that reasoning, an top ultramarathoner has a stronger body and mind than a top 5K runner, which I think both parties would take issue with. It’s not better or worse, it’s just very, very different.

  • It’s neat to hear a marathoner say that marathons aren’t the best thing in running. It is cool to say you can do one, but for me, I just don’t think I could do it. Running 14 or 18 or 20 miles for a training run sounds crazy and daunting. And 26.2 sounds like it would take me hours and hours and hours, and I’m pretty sure my body can’t handle the training. 13.1 is my goal right now. I agree that running means different things to everyone and we all run for different reasons. It’s fun to follow people who are different than us though!

  • Ummm yes I agree with every word you wrote. I want to run Boston one day but I think I’m done with marathons for awhile. Marathons should be, well, raced and most of the time, they are not. Even for me…
    I miss running faster, being faster. Averaging 10 min miles for a marathon is depressing for me so I am going to go back to 5K-10Ks and I’m excited! Thanks for writing this.

  • a-freakin’-men! shorter races are just as challenging (if running for a time, not just to finish) but so much less taxing on your body and heck, your social life. obviously the body is more important here… right? 😉

  • Ah, what a great, insightful post. Like you, I loved training for the marathon, the process, the miles, the nutrition, the preparation, and of most of all, the competing.

    But I’m with you on the idea of focusing on shorter distances and not getting too caught up in the marathon bug while you’re younger. I want to work on sharpening and honing in on my best 5K/10K/15K speed while I still have the ease of fast-twitch youth. That natural speed will start to deplete in the next decade, but my “marathon” legs will still be there, so I may as well take advantage of that ‘youth-speed’ while I’ve got it.

    The media has definitely done a lot to sensationalize the marathon. Not to take away anything from the challenge of 26.2, but I agree that choosing to focus on shorter distances doesn’t make one any less of a runner.

  • It’s nice to hear what you have to say about marathons. Having never run one I feel that anyone that can get through it is pretty tough, but ya I can only imagine the huge committment. It’ll be fun to read about more of your shorter runs in the future.

  • it was fun to join the marathon club. and it is sad to miss out on all the excitement marathon runners get, with the hype around the races esp ones like boston and NYC. that said i am in your camp and have no interest in the actual mileage. although i want to do it again b/c i know i can go faster than 3:37. i totally lost steam at the end and did not have the history of enough mileage or even enough mileage in my training to stand on. so i am proud of what i did do, but left feeling unfinished. but soooooooooooooooo not in a rush to do another one. despite the hype.

  • I run because it feels good. My husband and friends all run. We’re not fast, but we go out and have fun. A 5k on a Thursday night followed by beer. A 200 mile relay with 11 of your closest friends. A marathon is something I want to do for me. I know it is more mental than physical (for me) and it is just something I need to push through. Maybe I’ll want to do more, maybe not.
    I will always run.
    Just run. Just be happy.


  • Great post, Megan. I have never run a marathon, and though I hope to one day, I get a little frustrated that people’s automatic assumption is that if you run, you should have run a marathon (especially if you have been at it a couple years). I love the half-marathon distance, because you can train to it in a period of time, but not have everything riding on it, as you indicate about the 26.2. I can run halfs, but still love other distances. Congrats again on your race, and getting speedy again at some other distances!

  • AR

    The ridiculous depression I’ve been in since Chicago is proof of what a fucking gamble the damn marathon is: if you try and peak for just one, anything can derail your goals pretty easily, and its pretty hard to just regroup. At least it is for me. (I’m middle aged and fat – for a runner – though, so mileage might vary 😉 )
    Anyhow, I think you’re dead on. And you’re also probably making a smart move. I didn’t run a marathon until I was 29 for a reason. ;p

    Damn, this comment has too much crap about me. New paragraph to get back to task:

    Take advantage of youth/speedy training partners when you’ve got em. The long distances will wait. 😉

  • Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on marathoning. I agree that there’s a real and unhealthy temptation to stick with marathons just to feel like a “real runner”. I’ve run four now, and I felt pretty burned out by the time my last race rolled around. I felt like I’d just been putting in the miles without a real sense of purpose, and I had a pretty miserable race as a result. I can really relate to your post-marathon feelings; I, too, would like to come back to 26.2 at some time in the future, but for now, I’m going to focus on really racing shorter distances rather than churning out the long runs.

    Best of luck with your future training, and thanks for keeping up your great blog! I just discovered it a few weeks ago, right before my last race, and I’ve really enjoyed following you through the New York marathon and reading your thoughts afterward.


  • LKW

    First. I love your blog. I also like competitive runners. I too don’t want to just be a finisher, I want to do my best. Your thoughts are well reasoned, but some of the comments appear that people are taking the *hater bait* Marathons have become king because they are BIG spectacles that are rooted in a magnificent story (Phedippedes) and tradition. I think the other distances are awesome and definitely qualify you as a *real runner* but would never want the Marathon accomplishment as a finisher to be equated with the ordinary.

  • I’m not a runner, but can certainly understand all of that. It makes a lot of sense to me. We each have our own personal preferences and ways we want to challenge ourselves. We can reach just as worthy of goals, no matter what the distance or type of training.

  • Great post, Megan!! I think marathons are definitely hyped and even glamorized (thanks, Oprah and P. Diddy),and there’s so much more to running than just marathongs. (<– hehe, typo that I'm not fixing) Even though I have to say I kinda dug the marathon distance, really preparing to race one is a MUCH larger committment (mentally, physically, etc.) than I ever thought. Heck, I'm injured now and already thinking the next one I want to run in May is out of the question. Shorter races are just as fun, competitive,a little easier to prep and recover from and I think we can get so much out of them (PRs! more SPEED!). Your plans for the next year sound perfect for you!

  • Yes, yes and yes. As anyone who ran Chicago can attest, marathons are risky. All of your eggs are in this basket and then it’s 87 degrees on race day? Oh well, thanks for coming, try again next year. Sorry you spent four months training for this. Good luck with the two that it’s going to take you to really 100% recover.

    Not to mention that, as several others have mentioned, a well-executed 5K (or 10K, or mile) is every bit as challenging as a marathon, in its own way.

    Yay for racing shorter stuff for a while! I know I am really looking forward to focusing on 10Ks and halves this winter, then moving in to 5Ks and track races in the spring/summer!

  • Felicity

    my biggest pet peeve isn’t necessarily the hype that all marathons get, but the hype that one particular marathon gets.. *cough* Boston *cough*. The first thing that almost anyone asks you when you say you’re a marathoner is “have you run Boston?” as if it’s somehow more impressive than any other 26.2 mile race.
    Even my dad, who went to Olympic Trials for the marathon still gets the reaction, “Oh…but have you run Boston?”
    I’m still trying to figure out what all the hype is about, but in my mind 26.2 is 26.2 is 26.2

  • Annie

    Thank you for this post! I have had two knee surgeries and I am so excited that I am able to run again, but I always feel put off when I have to defend my decision to keep runs under 15 miles. I want to keep my knees in decent shape so I can run for many years but it seems like everyone assumes if you can run at all you might as well be aiming for finishing a marathon. Personally, I am happy to run 8 miles every morning for years to come instead of having a marathon time to talk about.
    I find this post very comforting!!

  • There are some people who have done a marathon that I will never consider a “serious runner.” Bucket listers are a big pet peeve of mine.

    It always surprises me when elite runners, who I’ve heard of many times, make a “marathon debute.” I’ve always assumed they’ve done one, but they’ve been busy excelling at shorter distances. It takes a lot of time and training to do well at any running distance.

    Marathons are still #1 for me, but that’s because I’m much better at them than anything shorter.

  • Jacqui

    @gaurav – by the way you aren’t quite right. 5k/10k elite athletes graduate to the marathon because that’s where the most substantial prize money is (the 10th spot in the top 10 still makes more than the top spot in a 10k race)

  • Laura

    I’m kind of a beginning runner and my goal is to run a half marathon. Right now running a marathon seems impossible, actually a half seems pretty daunting right now too! I do think the marathon is over-hyped but at the same time I really have a lot of respect for those people who can do it. Great job with the NY marathon, Megan! You give inspiration for us newbies! 🙂

  • Heather

    Thank you for this post. 2 years ago I ran my 1st half and 1st full for Goofy’s challenge. I had just gone through a divorce and needed something to look forward to, that would be good for me- mentally and physically. While I loved every minute of it, I don’t have the time to dedicate to training for another marathon. So I will gladly stick with half-marathons for now (though I would never rule out another marathon!).

  • Megan, I remember reading this last year after finishing my 2nd Marathon, and found it insightful. But I don’t think it really sunk in until this past week when I ran the Boston Marathon. I built this race up so much in my mind, thinking I would be on a magical cloud 9 during the race. However, I had no idea how grueling the course would feel on my body! Those downhills tore my quads to shreds, making the last 10k of the race extremely painful! I was happy to walk away with negative splits, but sorely disappointed not to get a PR…Seems like the road to getting PR in the marathon is long, especially when it takes multiple marathons.

    Now that I’ve completed 3 marathons, I want to cut back and focus on my goals in the 5k, mile, and half marathons. You are so right… while you can, you should chase your dreams of breaking your PRs in the shorter distances. I always wanted to break 20 minutes in the 5k, and 6 minutes in the mile. Looking forward to getting some speed in my legs, and bringing this speed into the marathon, and hopefully getting my PR in the 26.2!

    Thanks for your thoughts on the 26.2!


  • Anonymous

    @Jill – thank you for this thoughtful comment. it’s been nearly 6 months
    since my last marathon and i’m still getting back in the running/racing
    groove. 26.2 takes so much out of the legs!

    p.s. nice job with negative splits in Boston – with those hills, it’s no
    easy feat. i’m impressed!