For there, the race has gone on to net itself an impressive pedigree: when the first official Olympics competitions came about in 1896, it was one of the original events. Along with Iron Man triathlons, the marathon is one of the benchmark competitions of the running world: completing a marathon is an Achievement, and is absolutely a feather in your cap. It takes determination and hard work.
It’s a long progress to get there; some running instructors recommend training for upwards of a year before tackling the 42 kilometres. For beginning runners, even hitting 5 km can be a struggle, and we’re talking over forty kilometres of consistent, uninterrupted running. That’s tough to do.
Well, not uninterrupted. Most sane marathon events have pit stops, where you can stop for a short break, refresh and use the bathroom. Still, you want to be ready. Marathons are not without their chance of injury. My own father, in the middle of a cross-country triathlon, blacked out halfway through and ended up badly hurting his knee.
So what are the long term benefits?
By increasing the distance of your daily runs, you can intensely boost your running skills on shorter distances. Ed Eyestone of Runner’s World writes, “During my six-week marathon-training period, I averaged closer to 110 miles a week. The additional three to four miles a day of aerobic conditioning lowered my body fat; it also generated extra blood volume and increased capillarization in my muscles, which meant more oxygen was being distributed to the muscles. These changes all contributed to my faster times in the shorter distances.”
And by getting used to longer distances, you can run shorter distances with less soreness, as Eyestone discovered: “Like extended tempo runs, these workouts boosted my anaerobic threshold. When I transitioned back to shorter races, I could run faster without accumulating lactic acid.”
When I said that it can take up to a year to prepare to run a marathon, this is why: most running guides and instructors recommend that you can comfortably run 21 km a week before even thinking about preparing to do a marathon.
If you’re not even close to hitting 20 km a week, then you’ve got a bit more ways to go. Not to worry: the internet has more than a few great programs for beginners, from Sports Fitness Advisor to Runner’s World’s intense 12-week program.
You can also cobble together your own program: basically, you’ll want to be running close to 30 kilometres for the first few weeks, broken up between five days a week, followed by increasing your weekly training to 60 km to 80 km a week towards the end.
Canada Running Series has a good general program for those who feel they can comfortably run 35 kilometres a week. It’s a 14-week training schedule, ready to get you started in July and ready to run by September.
These programs are not for the faint of heart, and aiming for 60-80 kilometres a week is no small commitment. But, with a little effort and discipline, you’ll soon be in the best shape of your life.