Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Long Is Your Marathon?

A couple items to take care of:

1) Team Gab.  Heather is having a virtual race where you contribute to pediatric cancer research, participate in a virtual race, and possibly win cool prizes.  I'm no genius, but this feels like a no-lose situation.  Enter it.

2) Jenny, Tasha, ~K~, Cait, and Alex ALL got the top three at the Olympic Trials right!  Not bad...not bad...
Sadly, there can only be one winner.  Yes, I am mean.  So in order of their entry, Alex, #5 is the winner!  (Alex, I have no idea who you are, so email me within one week to claim the prize)

Main Post:  What's up with the  marathon

I remember during my high school track days how I'd look enviously at the 400 meter runners sprinting around the track.  I wished I was one of them.  I wished I had their foot speed and athletic talent.  But I was someone who ran arguably the most boring athletic event in high school sports:  The Girls 3200 Meter Run.  (I think anyone else who ran the 3200m can relate to the uncoolness of this event)

Ever since then, I've felt like it took more talent to master a shorter race than to slog through a long one.  For me, it's easier to endure than to excel.  A shorter race in the adult world of road racing is a 5k.  And oddly, the 5k has become the "beginners race".

Races all over with multiple events advertise with "Not ready for the half marathon?  Try our 5k!"  

The world is obsessed with marathons.  People want to talk about marathons even if you're not running one.
If anyone ever finds out I'm a runner, inevitably one of the first questions out of their mouth is "Do you like to run marathons?"  "How many marathons have you run?".
Or the best question of all: "How long is that marathon you're running?  Is it a 5k-marathon?"  (oh dear)

And this marathon explosion isn't just hyperbole.  Take a look at these stats.  Half a million marathon finishers!

Sure, other distances of road racing are growing too, but the whole and the half have become the hallmark of road racing.  It's like you're not a serious runner if you aren't running a ridiculously long distance.  

I wonder why this is.
Is it more fun to run 20 miles on a weekend than run speed workouts?  Is it more impressive to finish a slow marathon than to run a short race where you gave it all you had?   Is it the rush of having burned an absurd amount of calories?  Do people love getting overuse injuries?  Is it that a lot of people bucket-list the marathon these days?  (honestly I find no one more annoying than the bucket-listers.).
Or is there a joy to the full marathon that I have still yet to experience?  (I'm planning to run two this year, but I am still not the hugest fan of this distance.)

Maybe I'm missing something, but I have the same respect for anyone who gets out there and gives a race all they have, whether it's a mile or 26.  All the distances are awesome.  And the milers will be able to walk the next day....maybe they are on to something....

(what is your favorite distance?  Do you have a lot of love for the 5k like me?)


  1. I also ran the 3200 meter race. I remember how it used to feel so long... My junior year I decided to try the 300 meter LH. I was not a sprinter and I got my butt handed to me a couple of times. But it made me a faster 1600m runner.
    Speaking of the marathon, I feel like I'm being a jerk when I snub my nose at the bucket listers. I ran my first three marathons overseas. (I was in the military). It was a bunch of smelly men and a some women racing the marathon. There were no walkers or charity runners. I kind of miss that atmosphere

  2. This is a great post. I think everyone has their distances that work for them - I've found out (especially now that I've raced pretty much every distance) that the 10k and the 30k are my too favorite distances to race. I love the 10k because I feel like I can give it my all and "sprint" (my sprints are way slower than yours lol) for 6 miles and I love the 30k because I can run fast but in check for 18.6 miles and still not feel like death the next day. I'm not sure I'm sold on the marathon, I haaaaaaaaaate the half marathon distance, and I do love 5ks I just wish I was better at running really really fast.

  3. I think it's option 2 (more impressive to finish slow marathon than all-out shorter distance) for most people b/c they understand how much training is needed to successfully complete a marathon. Someone can train for a month and run all out as fast as they can in a 5k, and that's great, but I'm honestly more impressed by someone who sticks out 4 months of training to finish a 4 hour marathon -- or even slower. I think it takes more of a commitment than racing a shorter distance. And given how many people run marathons now, lots of people know someone who basically has to give up every Friday night and Saturday morning to train for months on end. You'll see. Not saying you'll like it, but you'll see how much dedication the training takes. And for people running the slower marathons, it takes even more time out of their lives to train. 20 miles at a slow pace takes one heck of a long time! But that's why I think non-runners see the marathon as the defining running event.

  4. ha ha so true about the hype of the marathon. I have to admit the first time I ran 20 miles I was pretty pumped about the fact I burned 2,000 calories. My favorite distance is by far the half I think. But then again I change my mind on this one all of the time. Lately I prefer not racing and just running as slow as I possibly can. So much more enjoyable than this whole racing idea. ;)

  5. I agree with Carina about the training and commitment to even finish a marathon being a character-builder. And it takes a long time to really figure out how to do a marathon right--I really think of the five I've run I've only done two well in terms of execution of a race plan (New York in 2005 and Houston this year--the other three were seat-of-the-pants with the fourth being a real mess). I also like the challenge of there being a race like Boston where, if they qualify, mere mortals can feel they've really accomplished something difficult.

    That said, I like all kinds of distances, and if I do well in a race the satisfaction of that doesn't depend at all on how far I've run. It's hard to execute a great 5K or 10K (and I'm frankly scared to run a mile race!). I'm looking forward to the rest of this winter and spring, when I'll be working on building my speed and running nothing further than a half-marathon.

  6. @ carina

    I guess I want to clarify that I have a ton of respect for "slow runners" at all distances. (And I am sloooowwww compared to many, many girls out there!). Anyone who gives a race their all is pretty awesome in my book. I guess I just wanted to point out that training for, and running an all-out 5k is pretty respectable as well.

    I do, however, think that doing all races ONLY to finish isn't quite as impressive...but coming in a marathon at 5-6 hours completely tanked is awesome.

  7. After a 3200 in high school my mom told me I didn't look like I was going as fast as the girls in the other races. Not sure if it was clear that they were running 1/8 the distance?

  8. I personally like longer distances because I am not a fast runner and I just like the feeling of accomplishment of running distance over running fast. I'm not a "bucket lister" when it comes to running in general - I truly love it, especially the half marathon distance. But I guess I could be considered a marathon bucket lister since I might only run one (hopefully this year). There's only so much time in a day that you can devote to training.

    But I loved your comment about people saying "Are you running a 5k marathon?" I've had people get the distances confused too and had to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn't laugh.

  9. and I end up replying again because I'm so afraid of this post coming off as elitist and not just about love for the other distances !

    @ specialk...I don't think you're a bucketlister! I just don't like the idea of people signing up for a marathon and running it (and then never running again) just to be able to say that you did a marathon. Yeah, it's petty, but it irks me. I want people to love ALL of the sport.

  10. For me 5K is one of the worst distances because of it's intensity. It is less discomfort, for me, to run 13.1 miles at a fast-ish pace (aerobic) than running 3.1 at an uncomfortable pace. In my mind, 20 minutes of significant discomfort will always lose to 1.75 hours of slight discomfort. And maybe the true elites feel major discomfort in a marathon like I feel in a 5K. But, I'm just a recreational runner. I won't be able to finish a half or full if I am feeling straines after just 3-5 miles.

  11. I love this post and definitely agree with you. My favorite distance is the half and/or 15k. I can run it hard but not feel like death afterwards and it doesn't take up as much time to train. They're just fun distances for me. I also wish I understood the mentality of "you're not a 'real' runner unless you're running marathons." I've definitely gotten that before but you know what's funny? When I was training for my 50k in 2010, when people would ask me what distance I was training for, more often than not they said that was I either stupid or crazy or both when I told them, so you just can't win. lol

  12. When I started running I wasn't sure what distance I'd like. The main goal was to do a marathon when I was 30, but I started planning for that a year and a half in advance. It's just turned out that the longer distance I run the happier I am. If you'd asked me when I started if any sort of ultra distance was in my future I would have laughed. Now a 50k+ run seems much more appealing to me than an all out short distance. To each their own, I guess.

  13. I honestly don't understand why bucket-listers bug you and other runners. Everyone runs for their own reason, why is it so frowned upon to run a marathon to fulfill a lifetime goal? If they want to do it, pay the fees and do the training, and maybe get injured along the way, why should it bug another runner?

    I've come to enjoy the half, but I don't race often enough to really be able to pick out a favorite distance. I know I prefer 10Ks and half marathons more than the marathon. I feel I'm more in control then and there's less to foil me in the training and the actual race.

  14. Lovely lovely post. Unfortunately I truly must fall in te category of those that love overuse injuries!

  15. @ cindylu. I's petty. And it's hard for me to explain completely where my annoyance comes from but I think this is it:

    Bucket listing marathons takes away from running feeling like a sport. Instead it's almost like wanting to take part in a really long parade with no real interest in what the parade is about. It's almost a lack of respect?

    And right or's hard not to form strong opinions about something I've done for so long and love so much (running).

  16. Great post! I love that you say you have the "same respect for anyone who gets out there and gives a race all they have, whether it's a mile or 26." I'm slow. Really slow. And, a lot of times I get down on myself for being so slow. But, I love looking at it from a give-it-all-I-have perspective. As long as I can do that, I don't have to worry as much about the speed (which will eventually come if I can give it all I have). And, I love running! :c)

  17. Wow those stats are ridiculous. I never would've thought 1/2 a million. I LOVE 10Ks, it's like my favorite distance (I swam the 200 free most of my life, same principle: not a spring, not distance).

    Also, this whole "5K Marathon" thing is killing me. My fiance still doesn't get that a marathon has to be 26.2 miles, not just a race. uuugh

  18. favorite distance is the marathon, believe it or not. It is long but it's the only one I really train for and thoroughly feel accomplished afterwards. I'm thinking about trying to focus on 1/2s since marathons aren't always ideal. Just found your blog, from healthy happy wife. Look ofrward to reading!

  19. favorite distance? the marathon.

    youre not cool unless you run the 26.2. or unless you pee your pants.

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  20. For me personally, the marathon has been my goal for many years, and I look forward to completing my first one at the end of February. I think that the marathon (at least for me) is more representative of the larger goals I've reached in my life in other areas. Those things required planning, lots of hard work, patience, included sacrifice, and took a while to both do and recover from.

    I've been impressed by milers on the track, and a fast race is amazing. But there is just something about endurance events that draws me in. To each his (or her) own, and it's nothing either for or against other runners themselves giving their all at any distance. I respect anyone who can run fast for short I do anyone who can RUN a marathon.

  21. I wonder how much social media has had an impact on this increased number of marathoners? Without blogs/twitter/fb, etc would that number continue to increase at such a crazy rate?!? Hmmmmm.

    I still don't know what my favorite distance is. I just like to run- and sometimes I like to run really fast :)

  22. Sing it sister!!, i can't pull that off, but u get my gist. i've said the same exact thing...i'm gonna blame it on Oprah for turning everyone into marathon lovers. i'm pretty sure if a 'normal person' walked up to Jenny Simpson and found out she ran, asked if she ran a marathon, heard the answer was 'no', then that 'normal person' would give her the same look of disappoint they give all runners who haven't run one. :P

    i think though, honestly, is that it is 'easier' to just finish a marathon than it would be to run an incredibly fast 5k or 10k...or even a marathon. the thing is that at least covering the distance (even at a walk) is more obtainable by the masses so i think that's why they like it.

    PS- Congrats Alex, but i hope u kno i'm totally gonna steal ur giftcard (i'm just being a sarcastic dork here)

  23. this is a great post "fasterbunny." You made some interesting, valid points. I have had the same thoughts also. Your post helped me to reflect when I decided to run my first marathon in '04. I really didn't know what I was getting into. I just knew I wanted to do it and prove to myself I could. I did and promised after the first one I'd never run one again in my life, EVER. 16 marathons later I think I need an intervention. somebody send me to rehab! :) joking aside, the half is my favorite distance to race. feels just right. I love the challenge of the marathon. everything that goes with it...the training, wanting to improve, giving it all you have, even the lost toenails. I also love the 5k. I love running period and sometimes I just want to run FAST. I was surprised to find out the 64% of the field during the Carlsbad half were women. More women are toeing the line and it's great to see. :D

  24. The 3200 was my thing in high school. Afterwards, I liked to add some misery for dessert by jumping into anchor the B team 4x400. I always thought that was a great mix of pain, the switch from 10 minutes to 1, from individual to relay, and all of the different head games that go on during each.

    I have a friend who runs 100 mile weeks in training but races best at 5k. I find that amusing. He does not seem to race well at the marathon distance but he can dish out crazy hard 2 hour training runs every Sunday.

    I do hope you experience a marathon that "clicks" if you haven't already. Running strong over the final 10k is a singular experience. Unless you've been there you can't understand how truly delicate it is. What appeals to some of us about the marathon is how unpredictable it can be. To have a great day you need proper preparation, the right attitude, decent conditions, and possibly even some outside assistance from a friend, other runner, pace group, aid station, etc. Then, when you get to the 20 mile marker, you have to reconnect with yourself to drive home the final 10k, knowing that you are tearing your body up while doing so. Many times during that journey we crumble along the way for various reasons (doubt, injury, lack of preparation, conditions, fuel, stomach, fatigue, etc).

    With that said, there are a lot who race just to finish and the 5k holds less appeal for that because it is "easier" to just-finish than a longer race.

    For me, personally, the 5k is my achilles heel. My times from 10k to full marathon all line up, but my 5k pr is soft. Ironically, I am a huge fan of speedwork and the track, I just have never had a 5k where it all went well and only 2 where it went close to well. The 5k is a great challenge because of the massive shift I experience, from overconfident to confident to questionable to uncertain to concerned and finally destroyed over those 3 miles. Trying to hold pace in a 5k might be the most difficult task in all of racing for me.

    Ironically, a sub 16 5k has been on my bucket list for years. And it's the one thing I haven't been able to really psyche myself up for. Maybe it's time...

    I do think the popularity of the half marathon is warranted. It's a great middle distance, and one where runners of all ability levels can race at their potential most of the time.

  25. Girl, I am with you on the 3200m run. In my state, it was also the second to last event. I ran the 4x800m relay first thing in the morning, then laid around the track, watching everyone else go home. Still, though, anything to keep from running another 800m - most painful event on the planet.

  26. I too have the same beef with the emphasis on marathons. What gives? I have such a love for speed (though I don't got it myself) and I find the 5k exhilarating. I enjoy training for longer runs to give me stress relief and support my drinking/eating habit but there is definitely a special place in my heart for the 5k. In fact, starting to train this week for a 5k. woot!