Ginger With a J: I did a marathon once

I look like I'm running, but I don't remember.

With Boston on our minds today, I can’t help but think about the time I did a marathon. It was back in the fall of 2004, my senior year of college. I had no clue what I was doing. I started training for it in the summer but gave up going further with the training after my longest run of 12 miles in July. I vaguely remember anything after that and quite honestly don’t know what compelled me to toe the line way under trained. If I had to guess, this was right around the time marathon running started showing up more frequently on bucket lists. With graduation approaching, I figured then was the best time to achieve this goal before entering the elusive real world.

I ran the first 6 miles easy and then followed a walk 1 mile and run 2 miles rhythm until about 20 miles. At that point, I started walking more. By mile 25, I just wanted to be done, so I starting jogging limping toward the finish line. As I rounded the last corner and entered the stadium, I began sobbing, but told myself those were tears of joy, for I had accomplished my goal. Or did I?

My original goal, as stated to myself, was to run a marathon. I ran parts of it. In all, about 12 miles, equal to my longest training run. I still finished it though, so I could say that I ran a marathon.

But I won’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly proud of my ability to complete 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 29 minutes, under trained and inexperienced. And as painful as it got, this journey was quite enjoyable. However, I now know a little bit more about what it takes to train for a marathon and what it means to run one. It’s not easy by any means. In fact, the idea of running a marathon and more specifically qualifying for Boston, is less appealing to me now than it was a few years ago because it is such a time consuming and challenging process. If there is anything I learned from my first marathon experience, it is that if I had to run jog/walk 26.2 miles to survive, I probably could do it.

See, I'm crying! It felt like the right thing to do at the time.

Recently, there was a forum on Letsrun that referenced a Wall Street Journal article about 5, 6, and 7+ hour marathoners calling themselves marathon runners. With the marathon’s rise, this has become a hot topic, especially over at Letsrun, where the definition of a hobby jogger is debated crudely and weekly. On one end of the spectrum, you have the runners who are easily offended when a 6 hour marathoner claims to have run a marathon. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the runners who could care less about the technicality of a word and support anyone who is out there trying to better themselves. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am in the middle of this debate.

Whatever your times may be, it’s human nature to want to be validated. This validation can come in many different forms. For the majority of us who don’t get paid to run, the need for validation may become higher. Some of us surround ourselves with fellow runners for camaraderie. Others look to Facebook to share recent workouts and race stats. And the darkest of us love to criticize others. I would also be lying if I didn’t say that I might have felt the need to criticize a 6 hour marathoner in order to validate the 40 miles a week I put in this winter. And 40 isn’t even a lot of miles in the competitive training world! However, these criticisms usually come after a long day filled with aches and pains where by the end of the day, I’m questioning myself why I’m even running at all.

Who would win a marathon? The turtle of course! Chocolate can't run.

When I snap out of my dark place, I swing toward the other side of the spectrum to support anyone who is out there chasing a dream, no matter how long it takes them to complete 26.2 miles. In fact, I hold this view most of the time (thankfully). But one of the greatest challenges in life is learning to live in a both/and kind of world instead of an either/or kind of world. Such black and white thinking not only makes you grumpy and negative but it keeps you in that dark place for good. As such, there’s a place for fast and slow in the marathon. I still won’t say that I ran a marathon because to me, I didn’t. But if you just did one in 6 hours and 30 minutes, I won’t be mad if you tell me you “JUST RAN A MARATHON!” on your Facebook status. I’d probably congratulate you and have a brief moment where I remember the day I lined up to experience my own 26.2 mile adventure.

Where do you stand in this popular debate?



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I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. I just read a comment somewhere that stated anyone not sub 2.45 shouldn’t be able to say they ‘ran’ a marathon, only ‘jogged’ it. Now, THAT’S what I call extreme. 🙂 As someone who is a hobby jogger at best, I would STILL snort at someone who finished a marathon in 5.30 hours. Although jogging is really only something I do occasionally (my home workouts are more intense than my 9.30 minute mile jogs) I find it hilarious to see people barely walking an 18 minute mile with a camel pak strapped on and 40 lbs of bubble-gum pink workout gear on (when it’s 60 degrees out no less!). Of course, I’m naturally snarky so I would. 🙂

    I do think it’s great to see people exercise whatever their speed, but I also think people who get 5000 in donations and 2k of that pays for their ticket to Hawaii so that they can walk 26 miles is pretty silly.

    Of course, I have no plans to run a marathon now or ever and would be happy to simply start running 6 miles at a 8 1/2 pace some day before too long….

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Bianca! I also wonder if marathons have seen increases in fatalities because of under trained participants. Last year alone some of the bigger races had fatalities in the full and even half marathons.

  3. I share your sentiment, I did two half marathons the way you did your marathon. I ran for a while, and then walked for awhile, and ran a bit more. Honestly, I was proud of myself for finishing it, but to this day I still don’t believe that I “ran” a half marathon. When I talk about it I usually tell people that I “did” a half marathon, and elaborate that I moved myself 13.1 miles. It’s certainly an accomplishment, but the desire to run one still lingers. I have my eye on a half marathon this fall, and this time I will run it. I may run it slowly, but I will run it none the less! Track my progress at 🙂

  4. Thanks for the comment Jessica! I look forward to the day I can start some good, hard training for a half and full. I think it’s the training that makes race day that much more fulfilling. Good luck with your training! I’ll be sure to check out your blog.

  5. my first marathon was 5:25 or so. my second, years later, was 4:00. I don’t think i trained any less for the first…though certainly i was in better shape going into training for the second. did i run both? did i walk a little in both? yes and yes. who cares? both were huge accomplishments and i don’t need anyone else to validate them for me.