For almost three years now, when asked what my favorite distance to race is, my answer has been the marathon. I don’t even have to think about it. I love this distance. I love it because it’s hard. I love it because it not only demands your respect, but it requires your respect. The marathon can and will kick your ass.
The marathon makes you work hard and doesn’t allow for dishonesty. If you don’t do the work, the marathon knows and will punish you for it. Even when you do put in the work, the marathon may still find a reason to send you to the corner to think about what you’ve done (or haven’t done). Anything can happen on marathon day.
The marathon may be the equivalent of your high school English teacher who fails your otherwise amazing paper for use of the passive voice, but on those days when it’s decided to accept your hard work, there is nearly unparalleled glory to be had at the finish line. No matter what level marathoner you are, just the act of stepping across that finish line is a reward greater than any medal around your neck. That particular feeling of accomplishment and knowing you earned that final step at the end of 26.2 miles can’t be obtained any other way.
The uninitiated may easily look at running and see it as just another sport or mindless activity. They may see it simply as nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly, but the marathon is proof alone that this is nonsense. The physical portion of the marathon is just the beginning. You do not become a marathoner without the will to be one. On most days, the marathon requires much more from you mentally than physically. As your body starts to fatigue and your effortless stride gradually transforms into what you swear is the worst pain any human has ever felt, the only thing that will get you to the finish line is the mental strength to keep reassuring yourself that you will make it and to keep on pushing through the pain. Without the mental strength to remind yourself how hard you worked and how it will all be worth it, that finish line is entirely beyond reach.
Running a marathon requires strategy, there is nothing mindless about it. You cannot simply line up at the start and go for it. 26.2 miles is much too far to go without a plan. You must put together at least a loose idea of how you will attack this monster. And this is not a one-plan-fits-all affair, every race is different. What is your overall goal? How will you achieve that? What pace are you able to run? How fast should take those first few miles? How do you approach the uphills? Do you let yourself fly on the downhills? When do you start picking up the pace for a strong finish? How much do you eat in the days leading up to the race? What do you eat? What do you eat race morning? What do you eat during the race? How much water should you take during the race? Should you be taking a sports drink? What’s your backup plan for when everything goes to hell? How about when that plan goes to hell? When you’ve blown through your A, B, and C goals, how will you still motivate yourself to finish? How do you adjust the plan you’ve worked on for months when your race falls on an unseasonably warm day or the winds are gusting at 30mph? Which shoes do you wear on race day? How will you keep your mind focused for three, four, five, or six hours? Will it be worth it to pee your shorts (or runderwear) instead of taking a minute to stop running? The considerations go on and on and anything you overlook is likely to quickly become your undoing.
I love the marathon for all these reasons. I love the marathon because I respect the marathon. And I love the marathon because it kicked my ass this past weekend. I went into a race more prepared than I’ve ever been and came out on the other side with a personal worst. I picked a fight and got embarrassed out on the playground in front of the whole school. This is why I love the marathon. Nothing is a given and you can take nothing for granted.
I may spend a solid third of most of my marathons wanting nothing more than for the pain to be over, but I’m not looking for an easy way out. I didn’t ask for it to be easy. I asked for it to be hard. Through all the heartbreak of a race gone bad, at no point on that Sunday did I ever want to quit, nor was I miserable. I was privileged enough to get to run my sixth marathon and I regret nothing. Even a disaster of a race is 100% worth it when you cross that finish line. The hardest miles were the ones during which I spent the most time thinking ahead to my next race and how I will work even harder to reach my goal.
My race on Sunday was a test of my love for the marathon, I got to put the words “the marathon is my favorite distance” to the test. Not only was my love confirmed, but I love it even more now than ever before. This is my race.
I love the marathon.
What’s your favorite race distance? Why do you love it so much?