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!