Why Everyone Should Run a Marathon

I'm in the middle of training for my first marathon in many years, following a pretty gnarly knee surgery a little over a year ago. As I train I’m reminded again of why I fell in love with this challenge in the first place and why I believe everyone should run at least one in their lifetime.

Disclaimer: That is, everyone should run one unless doing so will cause death or serious bodily harm. Check in with your doctor if you have medical concerns. By the way this is not most people so even if you think you can't physically run one you probably can.

The strength you will gain physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually from running a marathon is worth any sacrifice you may need to make in order to complete it.

Physical Strength

This is defined as the ability to apply energy to lift or move things. In the case of long distance running, your own body. There are seemingly infinite beliefs about the best form of exercise and perhaps some forms are better than others depending upon your goal but overall if you train for and run a marathon you will improve your physical fitness.

If you look at the elite long distance runners they are undoubtedly fit. There are plenty of rumors that long distance running can cause issues to your body but those aren’t entirely based in fact. Of course, if you have a medical condition/injury in which running will worsen it then running will worsen it. Or if you are running improperly you could wind up with an injury. However, overall, running will build strong bones, strengthen muscles, decrease risk of arthritis, improve cardiovascular fitness, and help maintain a healthy weight.

As well, if you want to run at your best and have your body feel its best while doing so you’ll learn to incorporate other forms of exercise such as yoga, weight training, swimming, and biking, which will create more well rounded physical fitness. You will also likely incorporate other forms of running to mix things up such as speed training, stairs, hills, fartleks (the best word in running btw!), etc.

In addition to the direct physical benefits you will automatically find yourself eating healthier. Sure, sometimes after a long run all you want is an enormous amount of carbs and fat  but for the most part you will crave the actual nutrients (including some carbs and fat) your body needs without having to put yourself on a strict diet.

Mental Strength

This is defined as the ability to remain focused, determined, resilient, confident, innovative, and remain poised across all sorts of situations. Mental strength allows you to perform at your highest level. Building physical strength automatically leads to building mental strength and vice versa.

You will run farther than you ever have before. During the first marathon I trained for I ran farther than I ever had every single week. That alone was motivation enough to get out there. Every week for four months I accomplished something I hadn’t before. Something I didn’t even know if I could do. Marathon training gives you a purpose.

You’re going to want to quit. At least once. Probably during every long run. Possibly during every run. But when you don’t, you further master the art of perseverance. You’ll learn that you can somehow live with and move forward through uncomfortable sensations. In a society of instant gratification this has become challenging to develop. You have no choice but to do this if you want to run a marathon as there is little instant gratification.

You will become bored. Really efffing bored. You won’t be able to look at one more blade of grass or cracked sidewalk or displaced piece of pavement. You will memorize every nook and cranny of your neighborhood. You’ll have to play mind games with yourself. You’ll invent ways to keep yourself going when you want to quit. You’ll eventually be forced to be fully present in the moment and automatically understand the elusive concept of mindfulness.

You will experience what seems to be unbearable pain. You won’t be able to take a full breath of air. You’ll develop the biggest blisters you’ve ever seen. You will chafe somewhere, sometime when you least expect it (Vasoline will become your best friend). You’ll be tempted to commit federal crimes out of thirst because you didn’t pack enough water. Your stomach will ache and you may desperately need to use a bathroom that doesn’t exist. The weather will be freezing and Death Valley hot and rainy and snowy and windy, perhaps all in one run. You’ll encounter a hill 18 miles in that seems like Everest. You’ll hit the infamous wall (and it feels like a literal wall). Toe nails may fall off, ankles might roll, bugs may bite (or fly into your mouth). But you’ll somehow power through it all and you’ll wear it all as a badge of honor. Because you did it. You kept going.

You might not win the actual race. Okay, it’s highly unlikely that you will place first in a marathon. Ever. But you still will have won simply for finishing and no matter how competitive you are you will understand how completing something difficult is the only true form of winning.

Emotional Strength

This is the ability to embrace a wide array of feelings and emotions and to respond with full awareness, comfort, and confidence to allow yourself to feel and express them. Just as a warning you may cry as you cross that finish line. And possibly while training. Maybe every day.

Running can be a serious emotional release. Many people move through life with excess energy that when it isn’t dispelled through healthy releases can accumulate as painful emotions, such as anger or anxiety. Running eliminates that energy and allows us to feel more at peace.

Once you get into a groove, running can be meditative and relaxing, which creates even more peace. Maybe not at first when you’re trying to figure out how you can breathe and move your feet fast enough for it to count as a run but you’ll get there if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. There will be a rhythm that develops that allows room for you to simply be.

You will have a lot of time to be with yourself. To think. To process. To grieve. To let go. To laugh. To dream. Even if you run with others there’s still usually a lot of quiet time, which most don’t know how to handle because then we have to handle ourselves. Our demons appear in the quiet. Marathon running often forces us to confront and embrace these demons, which can only strengthen us emotionally.

Spiritual Strength

This is commitment to personal morals and values that are in the best interest of self and others. For some this is more collective, such as religious doctrine. For others it’s more individual. Either way I repeat, in running there is plenty of time. To pray. To meditate. To be mindful. To stop and smell the roses. Whatever it is that you do to connect to yourself and whatever you believe in.

Also, being outdoors connects you to something bigger than yourself. Whatever your beliefs no one can deny that the world and universe it resides in is bigger than us and there’s so much we don’t know. Spending time in that environment is enough to get you thinking. And acting. You will encounter situations throughout your training and competing that will test your morals and values, which allows you to align action to beliefs, further strengthening spiritual connection.

I know much of this has centered around going within but through running you will also connect with others and connection is integral to spiritual strength. You will make at least one new friend during the marathon. There will be someone who wants to give up and you’ll cheer them along. Or perhaps you’re the one struggling and someone will tell you a funny story to distract you. At some point you will run several miles with a total stranger, share intimate life details, and then never see them again. But you’ll never forget them.

And you’ll never forget this experience. I guarantee it will profoundly change you. Even if you decide to never ever run one again. Of all my accomplishments, running my first marathon has always been the accomplishment I’m most proud of. It wasn't my fastest and I've been told that other accomplishments are a bigger deal. But not to me. Perhaps because it was the constant challenge and profound reward throughout. Even though I’m not a newbie to the marathon world, this time around there are new challenges to training. There are always new challenges to training. And to life. All we can do is tackle them head on and grow from them.