Watching a marathon might make you want to run one – but should you?
It’s not a decision to be made lightly. A marathon is a lot more than a glory day
The people who enjoy the marathon are those who put the work in, respect the distance and leave nothing to chance on race day. Photograph: Getty Images
The emotion of marathon day hits more than just those running the 26.2 miles through the spectator-lined streets. Whether you are nervously cheering a loved one or are an accidental observer who happens by the event while out for a morning coffee, it is impossible to avoid being captivated by the spirit of the marathon.
Watching a marathon may even tempt you online to book your place, albeit secretly, for next year.
The lure of the marathon
From the side lines we encourage friends and strangers to keep on going, we feel the pain of the injured runners and become overwhelmed by the dedication of charity runners. One can easily pass a few hours cheering and smiling, cajoling and dreaming on marathon day.
We may even find ourselves envious of the runners as they get carried by the cheering crowds along the last mile to the finish line. That really is the glory moment. But beware spectators, the emotion of it all may spur you into marathon planning, even if your running fitness isn’t anywhere near your level of enthusiasm.
Should I sign up?
The demand for places in big city marathons has soared in recent years and many who cheered from the sides of Dublin’s autumnal streets this weekend have fingers on buttons waiting for the registration to open for 2020.
Before launching into marathon training, it’s important to respect what is actually involved in preparing for the big day and the impact marathon training can have on your body, your lifestyle and your family life. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. A marathon is a lot more than a glory day, high-fiving kids and hobbling along with a smile while wearing a medal and a foil blanket.
What’s behind this scenes
I certainly don’t wish to turn you off running a marathon. I love them. I have run over 40 marathons so I’m certainly not a person to discourage a runner from following their dreams. But what I do believe is that if you are going to sign up, you need to respect the time and the effort involved. There are setbacks and stumbling blocks for most runners along the journey to overcome.
A good coach and training programme prepares you for these ups and downs and makes you mentally as well as physically ready for the distance. The hard work is balanced by so many wonderful training days, weekly achievements, memories and new friends not to mention the race weekend itself. But it is important to have sight of the whole picture before we commit.
One step at a time
I often get inquiries about marathon coaching from people who have never run before and wish to run a marathon within the year of taking up running. If you are new to running, I really encourage runners not to rush your running distance milestones. Spend a few years at shorter distance and enjoy running before dabbling with longer distance.
Let your body build running strength and give yourself the freedom to enjoy each milestone at your pace. You may not even enjoy long distance running. Training for long distance is not for everyone and it’s only with time will you work out if it is for you.
Where to start training
Your marathon training starts from the minute you sign up to the race. I don’t mean running aimless miles this side of the new year. The first step involves planning your year ahead and building a strong fitness foundation. Keep the mileage low in the winter months and instead focus on gaining a solid base of strength and speed.
Improving running technique and building a consistent running routine will pay off when the mileage increases. Once the spring arrives, it is easier to launch into specific endurance training with a successful winter of learning behind you.
Pick the right marathon
If you are choosing a location for your first marathon, I would highly recommend a city marathon and if possibly a reasonably local one. There is nothing as comforting as familiar faces on the side lines as well as the encouraging words from many strangers and a good knowledge of the race location.
Indeed, there is plenty temptation for more exotic adventures and while they are fabulous in their own way, there is something more comforting and less stressful about waking up in your own bed, eating breakfast at home and getting to the start line in your home town than relying on hotel breakfasts and unfamiliar logistics for your first time taking on the distance.
Chasing the marathon buzz
When coaching runners for marathon distance, I stress the importance of not outrunning the love for running by putting too much physical or mental pressure on the body, just to be able to earn the title of becoming a marathoner. There is no point completing a marathon and then retiring from running feeling burnt out, injured or disappointed.
The people who enjoy the marathon are those who put the work in, respect the distance and leave nothing to chance on race day. Training for a marathon in this way is a big time commitment but if you do it right from the start we might be cheering you towards the finish line this time next year. Isn’t that something to dream of.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.