The Marathon: The Magic of 26.2!

Coach Casey · August 17, 2020

Over decades, if not centuries, of recorded competition, the marathon has become the preeminent race distance for endurance athletes. How often, as a runner, have you chatted with someone who learns that you run and immediately asks, “Have you run a marathon?” There’s a certain amount of clout and pride that comes with completing 26.2 miles of physical struggle. Every runner has a “first marathon” story that generally contains some horror story of pain but wraps up with in an inspiring and triumphant ending. Whether you’re a runner who picks and chooses 1-2 marathons a year and races hard, or someone who racks up 10+ finisher medals per year, 26.2 holds a special place in your heart. Not only that but it dictates various elements of your life. How you train. What you eat. How much rest you get nightly. Where you vacation. All are choices made within the context of your next race.

So, why the marathon? What’s the magic? Why have we as endurance athletes chosen this race to be our pinnacle of success? There may not be just one answer, it may be different for every marathoner, however, never one to shy away from a challenge, I’m going to take a crack at explaining the magic of the marathon!

Five things have come to define the marathon as THE race, and have created the mystique and magic of the distance:

Marathon races have storied histories!

1) History

The marathon has arguably the oldest and most storied history of any race distance. You can go as far back as Pheidippides legendary journey around 500 BC from Marathon to Athens Greece. In more modern times the marathon has created some of sport’s greatest stories. Emil Zatopek’s Olympic Gold in his very first marathon race (after winning gold at 5k and 10k). Kathrine Switzer’s defiant and iconic Boston Marathon race in 1967. Everything Joan Benoit Samuelson ever did. Eliud Kipchoge’s Men’s World Record and additionally the first sub-2hr marathon. Beyond individual results and successes, the race distance makes up some of the world’s most iconic road races. Boston, London, New York City, Chicago. Each of these marathon race cities, and more, holds its own historic lore that builds year after year. 

2) Distance

26.2 miles of running is not a casual distance. Unless you’re running or training for a marathon (or ultramarathon) you would not find yourself casually covering 26+ miles of work. A non-running athlete or even just a casual athletics observer would never scoff at 26.2 miles of running or racing. Soccer players regularly cover 10k worth of running in their matches. Basketball players aerobically train by running a few miles at a time. Usain Bolt during the height of his success ran 25-30 miles per week. Football field laps of 1+ miles are commonplace for punishment after a loss (trust me, my team lost A LOT). Point being, while most people/athletes wouldn’t flinch at a mile race or even a 5k, a marathon elicits a well-deserved sense of awe and wonder. 26.2 miles is nothing to scoff at!

Marathon races create an incredible community!

3) Community

Marathon starting lines are diverse, energizing, packed spaces. Runners from all over, with all levels of training and ability toe the line together feeling the same sense of excitement and anxiety before the starting gun. Whether you’re starting with 35,000 people or 3,000 people, the same feeling persists. Unlike shorter races where you may view those to your right and left as competitors, there’s a resounding sense of community in a marathon. You know that every runner around you will experience the same struggles and victories mile after mile right along with you. That overwhelming bond and sense of community continues after the race as you stroll the streets in a fatigued daze with a medal around your neck. Every other person you see, covered in sweat soaked running clothes with a medal hanging on their neck is a friend, a comrade, a fellow warrior! 

4) Progression

The quest for a marathon finish never ends. As we as runners get older, maybe even a bit slower at short distances, a fast marathon always seems within reach. It’s a progressive race. A race distance where experience, strength, and accumulated training miles are the keys to success. You don’t have to have the youngest, freshest legs. You don’t need to be the fastest miler or the quickest 5k runner to absolutely crush a marathon! There’s no better proof than the professional running ranks. Look at the progression of Shalane Flanagan or Haile Gebrselassie. Just two examples of incredibly accomplished track athletes that found even more success transitioning to the marathon as they got older. The marathon can be scaled for everyone! Every 26.2 that you run builds on that racing experience. Experience fueling and hydrating mid-race. Experience being patient in the early stages and having the energy to finish fast. No one inherently has those skills..but you can!

Marathon races are for everyone!

5) Access

The marathon is for everyone, at any time. While you may struggle to find the right 5k or 10k for you, there’s always the perfect marathon available. Larger and longer courses mean more opportunity for more entries. You’ll never feel out of place at a given marathon. You have access to races that include dozens, if not hundreds of runners at your same pace and level. What’s more is that marathons historically have incredible relationships with some great charitable organizations. You can access some of the world’s premier marathons by competing for and raising money for charities that you’re passionate about. What better way to celebrate the true positivity of the marathon by supporting a charity in the process?!?!

Want to experience more of the magic of the marathon? Join Charge Running to not only get live, professional training from coaches but to access virtual half and full marathon races at your convenience!  

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