The other day one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa at Running Out of Wine, posted about “Why Everyone Should Run A Marathon” … and since I was apparently feeling rather contrary, I had to disagree – at least in part. Not that I don’t LOVE the marathon and running long distances … just that I think it isn’t for everyone – not even all runners.
Actually one of the motivations for me to write about this and take an opposing view was that I felt like “everyone else is falling over themselves to agree”, and typically that means either an obvious truth or a bad case of ‘hive mind’. And apologies to the commenters, but I think it is the latter. As runners we so often just can’t see outside of our bizarre little cult! More on that later …
Anyway let’s jump right into things!
How I Agree:
Lisa made some really good points about the process – here are just a couple:
3. You will learn to push through when things hurt or get hard.
5. You will overcome self-doubt time and time again.
These are things I agree with, along with much of the basic reasoning she stated, and think that stepping outside your comfort zone is important, as is pushing yourself (basically the same thing) … and also setting and working towards audacious goals.
Where I Become Unsure:
2. The process takes a whole lot of dedication.
I loved this article about marathon running and what happens to you:
In the weeks leading up to the race, you will undoubtedly find yourself in the pub on a Friday night, talking to a friend with intense zeal about how you “really need to work on speeding up your splits”, or you’ve “been experimenting with a combination of electrolytes and gels”. STOP. Take a breath. Go and take a long, hard look in the mirror. And ask yourself why you have turned into a wanker.
That cracks me up, but the reality is that things like putting in a couple of 20 mile runs takes TIME. If you are working full time, are in a relationship, have pets and/or kids … then it is no longer about just YOU. Suddenly there are multiple people involved – and the ‘required dedication’ goes beyond you. Again, more on that in a bit …
How I DISagree: Here are 10 reasons you should NOT run a marathon:
1. You just aren’t THAT into running: if you managed one 5K on a ‘Couch to 5K’ program and thought it was OK, but suddenly have loads of people saying ‘you HAVE to run a marathon now!’ … and all you can think is ‘ugh, I thought I was done!’. Then you get registered and take a look at a training plan and realize ‘this sucks … I HATE running!’
2. You can’t afford to pay your rent: marathons are EXPENSIVE. In general you can plan at least $100 for registration alone. And unless it is local, plan extra money for food and travel and someplace to stay. Also plan to add money to your weekly grocery bill for the added fuel you’ll need … as well as new running shoes, more clothes, higher laundry expenses, and …well, if you get really into it the costs can quickly spiral out of control!
3. You can’t or won’t allocate the training time: maybe you have a job with long hours and a longer commute, maybe you’re in a new relationship, maybe you are addicted to Skyrim or Minecraft or quilting or origami or whatever … regardless the reason, unless you can plan to set aside at least a dozen hours a week strictly for running – as well as added time for stretching, icing, rolling and whatever else you need – you might be training for an injury rather than a race!
4. You have been injured running before: if you know anyone who has been injured in the past, you know that once your body is weakened in a certain spot it is more likely to get re-injured in that same spot. The saying I heard ages ago “bad breath can be cured with a Tic-Tac, bad knees are for life” comes to mind.
Also, unless you have experience or a coach or fitness partners it can be nearly impossible to find that line between GOOD pushing and BAD pushing. Another old saying “turn the screw until it snaps, then back off a half-turn” … translates pretty much into ‘keep pushing until you have a stress fracture … then back off’.
5. Your primary goal for running is weight loss: sure you MIGHT lose weight training for a marathon – but really only if you are very much overweight. The reality is that once you are close to your ‘correct’ weight (whatever THAT is) you are at least as likely to GAIN weight as to lose it. And for many … that is a total cause to freak out!
6. It will deplete your immune system: regular exercise helps keep you healthy. But like a few other things on this list, once you go past the 10 or so mile point and particularly up to the 20+ mile level for marathons, you are depleting your immune system. THIS is why rest and recovery are so important … and why with a busy non-marathon schedule it is so easy to end up sick and subsequently injured.
7. Your REAL goal is to go faster or do shorter distances: we have been sold on believing that races are progressive – a 10K is ‘better’ than 5K, half-marathon is more ‘real’ than 10K … and marathon is the pinnacle (ultras are just for crazy people 🙂 ). News Flash: It is NONSENSE! No race or distance is ‘better’ than the others – they are all different. What you need for each one is different and as we are all different people some of us will excel at shorter, faster races while others can plod along forever.
8. Because everyone else is doing it: good old peer pressure! I’ve known people who have done some running even though it wasn’t their thing, just because someone else was – one even tried to train for a race because they are very competitive with their significant other! Marathon training is a significant commitment that should really be internally motivated.
9. You Just Want to BQ!: this might seem weird, but I have heard and read about people who really weren’t runners but who were motivated to try to push for a marathon based solely on the Boston Marathon … and this goes all the way back to the 80s! The problem is that with THAT as a singular goal, unless you have significant natural running skill, you are likely in for a much longer and harder path than you imagined. And if you tick off any of the OTHER items on the list … maybe you should start with a 5K or 10K and see if you catch the ‘running bug’.
10. Your Heart isn’t healthy enough: we all know that exercise is good for your cardio-vascular system. But we have also learned that distance running such as marathons can damage your heart a little bit, especially if you have not put in the time to build up your fitness level. It is another good reason to know your risk factors and get yourself checked out before embarking on something like marathon training.
OK, so given that I do at least one run longer than a half-marathon most weeks all year long, and this summer seemed to have a 20+ miler at least every other week … I might sound like a hypocrite. But here’s the thing – I LOVE running, and for me running and marathoning have been some of the greatest things in my life. Running has been a constant companion for nearly 26 years, and I hope to still be running in another 26 years!
But perhaps the BIGGEST reason why not everyone should run a marathon is that they haven’t considered the impact that marathon training can have on their lives and relationships.
Understanding The Context of Your Running – It is NOT All About You!
Last May I posted about ‘Helping Your Non-Running Family Understand’ … and the swift, strong and negative reaction from non-runners in my real and virtual life led to me posting ‘The Other Side of the Finish Line’. The bottom line is this – these things are never so simple as they seem, and individual activities really don’t exist for anyone with attachments and responsibilities outside of themselves (which is pretty much everyone to varying degrees … and those with significant others and kids even more so).
There is a term used mostly jokingly called a ‘running widow’, basically talking about the impact of long training seasons on pretty much everything else in life. It wasn’t something I was really aware of for most of my life … until last year. During 2012 I was losing weight, on a great pursuit of getting fit and healthy and eventually running a marathon. Lisa was the most supportive person in the world, but worried about my restricted eating and constantly told me to ‘not do something stupid’. That is because she is smart – I WAS being stupid.
But in 2013 I was traveling a lot for work to Kentucky (pretty Mon-Fri much every week for 6 months), and also ran two marathons and a half marathon. It was a bit much, really – but again, my family was there for me every step of the way. But another thing I did in 2013 was to start taking rest days whenever Lisa and I both had a day off. And into this year Lisa would still feel odd when her schedule changed and we’d be together and it was obvious I had planned a long run – and to be fair it took me some time to let go of all of that – and talking it through with her (surprise – it all comes back to fear of getting fat again!).
Last year I also came across a couple of blog posts about the potential for training (running, triathlon, etc) to ruin your relationship, here and here. There was also an article in the Wall Street Journal back in 2011 on the subject.
I had thought about this more than a few times this year as I was reading about training, and also when I felt pressure that I HAD to go out for a run, or comments from friends or family or the boys. I am definitely fortunate to have moderating forces in my life to ‘keep me real’. Not that I am saying I see too much ‘not real’ on the internet … well, I guess I actually am.
A couple of other links to ‘running widow’ posts I’ve stashed in a couple of drafts over the last year or so (I’ve told you guys I am a ‘draft junkie’!) – The Running Widow, Losing a Spouse to His Hobby, The Non-Running Spouse, Confessions of a Running Widow, It’s Me or the London Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon Leads to Divorce … and OH so many more! Here are a few quotes:
… He was taking this running far more serious than I ever wanted to and at that moment, I remember looking at him and saying “I am done running with you. You just sucked all of the fun out of this.” And that is the day when I became a “running widow”.
It’s a common affliction, being a widow to a spouse’s hobby. My father was a golf fanatic and as a result, my mother was a golf widow, and I grew up a golf orphan. …
… These people, they are driven. You don’t try to shape the experience. You just accept them and support them and get out of their way, because they’re going to run. They’ll find the hour. They’ll work it in however they have to. You can stay in bed.
So if you read on and are nodding in agreement or perhaps sympathy then the chances are, you too are a Running Widow. And a Running Widow knows that the support doesn’t start and end on race day, but somehow (and none of us can exactly pin point when it happened) you turned into a one woman cheer squad/ exercise nutrition expert/cook/chauffeur/masseuse and nurse.
Now don’t get me wrong, you may like running. Indeed I am quite partial to jog along the beach on a sunny morning, and have even been known to take part in City2Surf, voluntarily. But a Running Widow knows another world of running. It isn’t a charity fun run, or just a way of keeping fit, it’s a world with words like Hoka, Garmin, S-Labs, Kilian, Skins and Glide, and where the North Face isn’t just somewhere you shop for a ski jacket. …
… Sporting widowhood spans all disciplines, from golf to football, but marathon running is by far the most all-consuming. It seems that jogging 30 to 55 miles a week is fundamentally incompatible with socialising, dating and basic conversation – unless, of course, it’s to do with the marathon. And I’m not the only one who’s struggling to cope. …
… Marriages across this great nation are being torn asunder due to excessive exercise.
Experts are calling it “exercise divorce.” The out-of-shape partner left on the sidelines calls it irreconcilable differences with someone devoted first and foremost to a great set of calves and the daily endorphine rush. …
Nicole wrote a great post (that referenced a great post from Michele that I couldn’t find anymore) called “Does life get in the way of running? Or running in the way of life?” … and it fully addresses the reality of the challenges of trying to have a full life AND be fully engaged with marathon training. Spoiler alert: it is NOT easy!
And that is OK – and the struggle those ladies express is natural and felt by many people trying to juggle too much and adding yet another demanding activity to the pile. THAT is not the problem … the problem is when you DON’T ask yourself that question … when you start saying “I have a long run, guess missing that dance recital is OK”, and of course your kids will say ‘sure, it is fine’. And then it gets easier … and easier … and suddenly you are easily missing birthdays, anniversaries, school events – and pretty much deserting your life FOR A HOBBY.
Am I making too big a deal of this? Probably – we are all a product of our likes and interests, and in a relationship we have interests that overlap, those that conflict and still others that are separate. But there is a significant difference between a 5K and a marathon in terms of the scope and time and length of training investment. If you are not in it together … then it is something that is between you. That doesn’t mean it is – it is just something you need to deal with, otherwise it can become a serious issue as noted in many places around the internet.
Just as divorce and breakups and other problems can lead someone to pursue a marathon … so too can the pursuit of a marathon lead to problems in relationships that you weren’t expecting.
What are YOUR thoughts on all of this?