The weeks of the Boston and London Marathons are inspiring for many runners. Thousands cross the finish line after having conquered 26.2 miles and you think, I want to do that to! If you’ve never run a marathon (or even if you have), registering and committing to the training can be intimidating. How do you know if you are ready to run your first marathon?
You are Ready to Run Your First Marathon if:
You Have Run a Half Marathon
A marathon is huge increase in physical and mental difficulty from the half marathon. A marathon is not simply two half marathons, as you encounter issues such as glycogen depletion, hours of pounding on your feet, and miles more of jostling to your GI system. However, I firmly believe if you have run a half marathon, then you are more than able to train for a marathon, stay injury-free in training, run the race, and finish with a time you can be proud of.
If you have complete a half marathon, you know what the demands of long runs will feel like on your body. You know what the commitment that training will require over several months. You know the importance of injury prevention, healthy eating, and following a training plan. While the half marathon is most certainly a challenging race itself, how you respond mentally and physically to half marathon training and racing provides a clear indicator of how you will respond to the marathon.
You are Okay with Not Losing Weight
If running burns calories and aids weight loss, then running more surely leads to more weight loss, right? Not in the case of the marathon. Weight loss and athletic performance are often two exclusive goals, since restricting calories during marathon training will only increase your risk of injury or overtraining.
You may reach a racing weight by race day, but racing weight differs significantly from vanity weight. Racing weight comes as a natural result of eating nutritious foods, training hard, and eating enough to support your training (since undereating can actually cause weight gain for endurance athletes). Racing weight is a healthy weight for optimal athletic performance – meaning that you body has the strength and energy to support long distance running.
Vanity weight and marathoning do not go hand-in-hand. You may not weigh your lightest because you need to eat to support performance and you will likely change your body composition to have more muscle mass. Marathon training is not the time to restrict calories and diet; if you track your food at all, it’s to make sure you are eating enough.
You are Injury-Free
Marathon training can pose several injury risks, especially if you do not follow a smart and progressive plan and instead fall into the trap of doing too much, too soon, too fast. While it’s not impossible to run a marathon if you are coming off of injury, new marathoners will certainly want to be injury-free when they begin training to ensure they do not injure themselves more as they increase their mileage.
If you want to run a marathon but are currently overcoming a running-related injury (or recovering from surgery, childbirth, etc.), give yourself a several months to heal, recover, and slowly build your base back up before you begin marathon training. Make it a goal to run a race in a year and create a timeline of recovery, base building, and marathon training. With a smart timeline and a slow and steady build in mileage, you will avoid injuring yourself again while still working towards a long-term goal.
You Can Commit The Time and Energy
I spent so long insistent that I was not going to run a marathon, and it makes sense once you look at what was going on in my life. In 2014 I wrote my master’s thesis, graduated, planned a wedding, married the love of my life, and spent months applying for and interviewing at jobs. While we were still in Indiana, Ryan and I also toyed with the idea of purchasing a house. No wonder I didn’t want to train for a marathon!
Then, in 2015, the time was right for a marathon. We had moved across the country to a place with temperate weather year-round, my decision to work as a running coach created a more flexible schedule, and it was (still is) a stress-free time in our lives – no kids, no house hunting, and any major work projects were completely in my control.
For every reason there is to run a marathon, there are also reasons not to run a marathon, depending on what else you are focusing on in life.
When you debate whether you should run your first (or really any marathon, training never gets easier), look at what you can expect in life over the next 6 months or so. Do you have any major projects at work that will stress you out? Are you expecting a baby or just had one? Will you have a major move in that time?
Family, life, and career are priorities over running, so be sure that you can handle the exciting changes, stress, and/or expectations of those before you add the physical and mental stress of marathon training to your plate. You don’t want to burn the candle at both ends, nor do you want to place extra stress on your family during busy times by adding weekend 20 milers on top of everything.
You Can’t Shake the Idea of Running a Marathon
The best question to ask yourself when signing up for a marathon is why you want to run 26.2 miles. Because you feel like you have to verify yourself as a runner? Because your friends did? Or because you genuinely want to run a marathon and can’t shake the idea of achieving that goal?
Sometimes that inexplicable desire ignites, until there’s a fire burning in our bones that only the accomplishment of pushing our limits and running 26.2 miles will quench. Then why not do it?
Miles change you; marathons transform you. In 26.2 miles (and the months of training leading up) you find strength, resilience, and confidence that may have otherwise been left undiscovered. When the opportunity and desire present themselves, don’t deny yourself the chance to achieve a big goal and run your first marathon.
Ultimately, you should run a marathon for you. Not because you feel you should, but because you want to. Simple as that!
Are you running your first marathon this fall? Then please consider registering for my Fall 2016 Marathon Training Group, which launches on June 6, 2016 (you start when your training begins). You will receive an individualized marathon training plan, strength training and injury prevention workouts, community support from other runners training for marathons, a comprehensive fueling and hydration e-course, monthly webinars, weekly training tips, and more! Pre registration is now open!
And, of course, if you are training for your second, third, tenth, or any marathon, please consider signing up as well! The Marathon Training Group is for both beginner and experienced marathoners.
Use the form below to pre-register for the Fall 2016 Marathon Training Group. By pre-registering, you will receive exclusive pre-training emails and be able to schedule your consultation early! You do not pay until you begin your actually training plan, so there’s no harm in pre-registering if you are considering a late summer or fall marathon!
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
Enjoyed this post? You may also like:
Should You Include 20 Mile Long Runs in Marathon Training?
You’re Not a Cookie Cutter Runner, So Stop Using a Cookie Cutter Training Plan
Mistakes I Made in My First Marathon
How did you know you were ready for your first marathon or half marathon?
If you haven’t run one but want to, what reservations do you have?
No marathon training for me until I finish YTT in July. No time and honestly my body would probably freak out if I tried to do both. haha
Yoga teacher training and marathon training would be a lot of stress on the mind and body – smart of you to only do one at a time! 🙂
I totally agree with these, especially that it’s important to “want to” run a marathon! It’s way too much of a commitment to going into it half-heartedly.
I agree! I’d rather lose the money if I registered super early than to go through that hard of training without wanting to race.
So excited for you and your new initiative! It will be great! I decided to run my first marathon because I had the desire, I was injury free, and I figured I’d never have the same desires or be in the same shape again, lol. LITTLE DID I KNOW. So many people come to me and want to run a marathon and lose weight, and I have to explain to them that that isn’t necessarily how it works…
Marathons rope us in like that! It really isn’t the best way to lose weight, especially since strength training gets pushed to the side during those harder weeks. Better to get at a goal weight BEFORE marathon training, as you know!
This is a great post and you’re really honest- I agree with all of these things. I like that you put it all out there, the good, bad, and ugly- since just because someone CAN run a marathon doesn’t mean they SHOULD. Plus, it’s good to know all of this before people start training as well. It is a big time commitment and also impacts family/spouses because of the time you’re away.
Another thing I would add, from my one night-mare-a-thon (haha) experience, is that before you train for a marathon you should LOVE running. If you do not love it, you won’t love it after the marathon. If you are running 2 workouts a week and a long run, you will NOT always love running after some of those runs, so deep down in your heart you need to really love it.
Thank you! Marathons are good, bad, ugly, inspiring – anyone who runs one needs to take the negative with the positive, but that’s one of the great things about a marathon – they’re hard, demanding, a crucible of sorts. It does take away time and honestly I don’t think I would have signed up for another one if my career did not let me do my long runs while Ryan is at work, since I would not want to take 3 hours of our weekend time together to go run. And yes! A marathon will not make you love running if you don’t already love it. Even for runners who love running, by the end of a marathon you need a week or two break.
I’m not sure if I was technically ready to run a marathon, but it was always a goal of mine to run Pittsburgh during my college graduation. Just one of those milestone things that I wanted to do! Now I’m wanting to wait until I really feel ready (aka the reason why I ended up not running Gettysburg!) so we’ll see when that is 🙂
That is wonderful that you are only running a marathon on your own terms! I applaud you for that and for not doing Gettysburg – it’s right when it’s right! 🙂 Half marathons and other race distances are equally rewarding and just as fun, if not more, than the marathon. 🙂
TOTALLY spot on regarding not losing weight. I think that’s one of the biggest issues people ask me about once they start running and I always tell them that when my mileage goes up (over 80-100 miles/week) that I gain a few pounds.
I ran my first marathon in University because at the time I played varsity soccer and they all took it so seriously that soccer wasn’t fun anymore. And I just wanted to be alone.
“And I just wanted to be alone” —> why we get along so well. There’s something so refreshing about the solo time of long runs, and I imagine it was even more refreshing coming from a team sport. And I’ve learned never to go near a scale when my mileage is high. Even if I look leaner, all that muscle and stored glycogen increases weight!
My biggest hesitation is time. I feel like the time spent on my son’s activities and spending time with my BF (& the three of us) are too important for me to “give up” even more time on the weekends. I do not think I have ever said that I will never run a marathon, but I know my mindset has flipped to “maybe someday”. I think I will know when/if the time is right.
Time with family is always more important than time given to marathon training! You will know when the time is right – all of sudden the marathon becomes an unshakeable idea 🙂
such a great post! each and every point is so very true and holds weight for me as I consider if I really want to train for a marathon! I think I will apply again for NYC and really, had I gotten in for this year, it may have proven too much with my son’s Bar mitzvah only weeks before the marathon.
It worked out for the best then! There will always be other NYC marathons, but only one Bar Mitzvah for your son.
Commitment is KEY. My friend kept saying he wanted to do a marathon so he finally signed up. Almost killed himself getting to the finish line because he didn’t commit to training and barely did a 20k+ lead up run :/
Oh yikes! That would be rough and it’s impressive that he finished with only a 20K as his longest! The commitment of training for a marathon is harder than running the race itself.
Yes to the time and energy it requires- it’s amazing how marathon training begins to take over your life! Great tips, Laura.
Thank you, Laura! It does take over life – especially as you know in those crazy high mileage peak weeks when everything seems to be eating, running, or sleeping!
Great tips. It’s easy to get excited about the idea of running a marathon but it’s equally important to consider the realities of that decision. The training is hard and takes up your life, it’s a decision that should not be taken lightly for sure.
Thank you! I certainly agree it’s not a decision to be taken lightly – it’s a commitment of several months of hard training and a LOT of energy!
Love this post! And I *think* I tick most of the boxes right now…hoping that it proves true 🙂
Thank you! I most certainly believe you do – and you will do great at your first marathon! 🙂
Great post! I had finally made the big decision to run a fall marathon this year, and then I got injured and now I’m not running at all 🙁 It was a hard choice to make but definitely the best one for me. I’m realizing now that I may never run a marathon due to my injury, but hopefully years from now I’ll be ready for it!
Thank you! I’m glad your focused on healing your body rather than pushing for a marathon – marathons will always be there in the future if it’s right, but we each get only one body. 🙂
I am going to stick with the half distance for now but great info for those considering a full. Will share in my running group
Thank you for sharing! I love the half marathon, it’s such a fun and challenging distance – already excited to switch back to it after this full!
Great post. It is so important to want to run a marathon. You can’t really half-a$$ it.
Thank you! You really can’t half-as$ it, and it surprises me when people run one without really wanting to!
Great post, Laura! Your points make a lot of sense. It seems like such a personal decision and one that I have decided to postpone until it made sense for me and my family. My husband and I knew me training for a marathon was not the right decision for us as we were trying to have a baby so now that I am pregnant, I am so glad I didn’t push it when it didn’t feel right. The marathon will be there for me after I have the baby and its the right time. Thanks for sharing your wisdom 🙂
ANGIE!!! Huge congrats on the amazing blessing of pregnancy! I am so excited for you and your husband! Yes, it make so much sense to postpone small things like a marathon when you have such life-changing and exciting things such as a baby on the way! 🙂 Congrats again!
It’s funny that even after 37 marathons, old injuries, arthritis, I still feel that pull to run another marathon. That being said, not sure if I ever will, but I still can’t shake that idea :-). Though, coming back from my fractured patella I realized that I needed more time and will settle with the half at Rock and Roll San Diego this year. Thanks for linking up!
It’s funny how the marathon lures us in like that 🙂 The half at San Diego will be fun and in the meanwhile I hope your patella heals up well. Thanks for hosting!
Do you also do half marathon coaching or is there a place in the Seattle area that you would recommend going to for half marathon training?
I do half marathon coaching as well! Not in the group setting yet (possibly will in the spring), but I do provide individualized coaching for all distances. The half is my favorite distance to work with athletes in – I love the balance of tempo work and endurance! I offer custom static plans and the two levels of one-on-one coaching (monthly plan with weekly feedback and then weekly plan updates with daily feedback). Email me at [email protected] if you want to set up a consultation – I’d love to work with you!
Despite my doubts about my physical preparedness, I decided to run the Pittsburgh Marathon as part of my college graduation celebrations. Just something I wanted to do to mark a significant point in my life. I don’t want to rush things (which is why I didn’t run Gettysburg), so we’ll see when that time comes.
The lack of time is my main reservation. I can’t bring myself to “give up” any more of my weekends since I value the time I spend attending my son’s extracurricular activities and hanging out with my boyfriend (and the three of us). Although I have never explicitly said that I have no desire to run a marathon, I do now consider the possibility that I may do so in the future. In my opinion, I will be able to tell when the moment is appropriate.