About a month ago I was at a local running store helping register people for a local marathon training program when I overheard an interesting exchange between a newcomer and a coach trying to decide where to place her.
“What’s your pace?” he asked.
“I have no idea.” she responded. This was not unusual; few beginners knew how to accurately answer that one.
He asked the same question a few different ways and her response was a consistent “I have no idea.” Then she asked for recommendations for a running shoe.
“What are you wearing now?” the coach asked.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go into the store to buy a pair after this.”
That’s when it dawned on both the coach and those eavesdropping that this was a woman who had never run before but who nonetheless figured she could tackle a marathon in five months. At the first practice, our assumptions were confirmed when she proudly told people she ran her very first mile that morning. Some others also openly celebrated taking their first run that day.
It seems in this time-compressed era, even running expectations have accelerated. What happened to having a few 5ks or 10ks under your belt before taking on a 26-miler? Or, at the very least, breaking in a pair of running shoes first?
The explosion of marathons with kinder cut-offs now provide many more possibilities and opportunities for both the seasoned and the inexperienced. This is a good thing, in my opinion. But human bodies still must adjust to some serious stress, and they must do it gradually to avoid debilitating, goal-derailing injuries.
I suffered such an injury running my last marathon and have devoted the last four months to becoming a different kind of runner. I now strive for quality workouts, not just time on my feet. And I no longer dismiss the post-run stretching and the strength training and core exercises needed to support my body in these endeavors.
With my sights now set on shorter distances, I’ve discovered that a quicker recovery means I can enter more races more often. When I was all about the marathon, my options were quite limited. The training schedule always came first. And because the long runs eventually took up so much time, the training schedule eventually came at something or someone else’s expense. After 13 years of this, it became a way of life and it wasn’t until I had this huge void that I realized how consuming the endless pursuit of a certain PR had become.
One reason the marathon distance, and those that tackle it, deserve great respect is because that level of training comes with sacrifices. Bodies change. Relationships change. Bad habits, fortunately, change too. Commitment levels differ just as surely as an individual’s gait, but everyone enters race day having already given up something, be it sleep, junk food or a soured friendship.
I’m not sure that woman I mentioned earlier is aware of this. My guess is she’s not. The marathon, someone should tell her, takes a lot more out of you than your Saturday mornings and a new pair of shoes if you really want to go down that road.