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Yes, a Marathon Really is 26.2 Miles

Why would anyone want to run that far?

Why indeed? It’s a challenge and it’s crazy, but not so crazy as to be impossible.

I’ve done it. Twice. And I trained for two other marathons that I never got to run because I got injured while training (more on that in a future column).

It’s just over 26 miles from Hartford to Springfield. That’s a whole different state. It takes a long time just to drive that distance!

More and more people have decided that a marathon is something they would like to try, and most finish what they start. In the past few decades, “run a marathon” has made it onto the bucket lists of hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. — with statistics for 2010 indicating that over 500,000 people posted finishing times in marathons in this country alone.

Training for, and running a marathon is nothing like training for a 5k or even a half marathon. You can’t just go out and do it, relying on an existing level of fitness. In most marathons you receive a medal for finishing. Completing a marathon is synonymous with winning for most of us.

Running a marathon requires one part athletic ability, one part self-discipline, and at least four parts perseverance.

I watched my husband run the Marine Corps Marathon back in 1991. It was on his list of things to accomplish before turning 30, and he managed to achieve that with a few weeks to spare. When he finished in an amazing time of 3:12, I asked if he would ever do it again. “No, next year I’ll come watch you,” he said.

“Ha! I’ll do it when I’m 40,” I joked.

And that’s exactly what I did. Ten years and two kids later, I started training a few days after my 40th birthday and ran the Hartford Marathon in 2001.

And it required time, determination, and sheer force of will like I could never have imagined. At the peak of training I was running about 50 miles a week, “short” runs of 4-5 miles a few days, “longer” runs of 10 miles mid-week, and a “long” run on the weekend. I also went to the dreaded track and did interval training.

I did most of those long runs with other people, but a family vacation that summer did not count as a vacation from running and I trekked 18 miles through the Nantucket fog by myself.

They say a marathon is really two races — the first 20 miles and the last 6.2 miles — and that is absolutely true. Most bodies run out of fuel at mile 20 and the last 10K can seem to take hours. In my first marathon, several friends jumped into the race and ran those miles with me, supplying very much appreciated motivation.

When I crossed the finish line in 3:58 (my secret goal of finishing in under 4 hours having been fulfilled), it was an incredible feeling. Soon followed by waves of nausea, but an incredible feeling nonetheless.

I learned a lot from the experience. Some things were obvious: wear technical fabrics because cotton chafes in places you never knew even were part of your body, learn to like Gu even if you don’t like to suck frosting out of a foil package, eat the right foods the night before a long run (pizza with extra onions, not so good), use “Body Glide” liberally (see above comment about chafing, which can’t be avoided by wise fabric choices alone), and wear dark polish to cover up blacked toenails.

I also learned that I have the fortitude to run, without stopping, for more than 4 hours (my second marathon was quite a bit slower, thanks to an unseasonable 90 degree February day in Jacksonville — but more about that another time). Willpower is an amazing thing, and in my opinion, the most important element in marathon training.

So why do another marathon after crossing that off your bucket list?

It’s like labor. By the time your toenails grow back, you only remember the exhilaration of crossing the finish line.

David Moran May 29, 2012 at 01:43 PM
I've always found those last .2 miles to be the hardest, Ronni. By that point, it seems like the finish line is actually moving further away from you.
Michael Westfall May 29, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Ronni, thanks for this. Running for hours on end is hard. And the practice of all that training has so many benefits in other areas of our lives.

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