That is the question.
I recently had an epic run, during which I broke through my mileage plateau without suffering any immediate ill effects, I can’t help but wonder if I should just go ahead and do it. I know darn well I can run a half-marathon, albeit maybe slower than I would like, but could I run a marathon this coming February? I have plenty of time between now and then to finish a first-time marathon training program.
I wondered what came into other people’s decision trees when deciding whether to run a marathon or not. Over and over again I see emotion as the top reason. A feeling of strength, beauty, power. There’s a moving article called Why You Should Run a Marathon that epitomizes the emotion of it. But what I really want to know is: how do you know when you’re ready?
How can I be sure my body is ready to endure fourish and a halfish hours of running? And what about my mind? I’ve done so many runs that have been between eight and twelve miles, a couple of 13.1s and one epic 15-mile run. I know I can hang for two hours. But four and a half!?
A bit of searching around on the wonderful world of Google quickly revealed some common themes to figuring out whether or not you should undertake marathon training.
1. Running experience.
Both Runner’s World and a site I’d never heard of before called HillRunner - and probably a hundred more – suggest at least a year’s worth of running experience, with as little as three miles three times per week. Jeff Guadette of Competitor.com goes so far as to say that you should be able to average 40 miles per week for five or six weeks before you even begin training. Personally, I’ve got two out of three of those covered.
2. Training time.
I get that setting a 26.2 mile goal requires dedication. So does anything else that’s worth doing right (think career, relationship, family, education). It’s all of these other things that are also worth doing right that compete for training time. Several Salties have contributed articles about making the time to run, but how many hours per week really need to be set aside for training? Looks like a minimum of about four hours per week, but of course it depends on the training program you follow.
3. Ability to follow a training plan.
This might not be 100% necessary, but you have to wonder if you can’t follow a training plan – even loosely – can you run a marathon? There are sooooo many train-to-finish plans out there for newbies like me! If you follow a Jeff Galloway type program, you only have to do two 30-minute runs per week plus your weekend long run, which will reach 26 miles a few weeks before the race. I don’t think I would feel mentally prepared to run for four hours on race day with a program like this. Hal Higdon’s easiest program requires four days per week, a couple of them typically pretty easy – we’re talking five miles or less, here – with a buildup to 20 miles. Again, I don’t think I could get mentally comfortable with running a marathon with a buildup of only 20 miles per week.
I did 15 miles yesterday, I could probably do 20 in a couple of weeks. Does that mean I can run a marathon? Not yet. The Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (F.I.R.S.T.) has a training program for first timers that only requires three key runs per week, but they’re set up to be a little more challenging and let you decide to do cross training or easy runs on your non-run days. That program also only goes up to 20 miles. That happens to the program I’ve chosen, because I like all of the freedom, but since it’s an 18-week program and I’ve got about a month of wiggle room in there, I’m going to do at least one longer run before my marathon to get my mental game on. Maybe 23 miles.
4. Ask yourself why you want to run a marathon.
Personally, I want to run a marathon for the same reason I wanted to do Army Basic Training: just to see if I can (that’s a crappy reason for joining the military, but at least it’s honest). There’s no one for me to impress, my husband thinks it’s a little nuts. After I told her about my 15 mile breakthrough run my daughter flat out told me, “you know my friends think you’re crazy, right?” My mom is concerned that it’s too much (if you remember from my intro post, she also said it was okay for me to quit cross-country in high school, which is why I didn’t). But she’s the type that worries to worry and has never been a runner and doesn’t understand. Not very many people understand. I’m not sure I understand.
I’d like to know from those of you Salted with experience (see what I did there?)…Did you have a magic moment when you realized, “holy shiz! I could run a marathon if I wanted to?”
When did you know you were ready to train for your very first 26.2?