Rerun: I Did a Marathon Once

Today we’re re-running a debate we had back in April. Ginger wrote about the time she ran a marathon completely unprepared and contemplated what it means to say you “ran a marathon.” Is there really a difference between those who’ve run 100+ mile weeks and those who’ve run 25 or less in prep for their big day? Is there a difference between racing and “just” finishing a marathon? Is the difference a matter of finishing time? Amount of preparation? Attitude? Are you an elitist jerk just for contemplating this issue? A little later I’ll post my own rebuttal to Ginger and then after that Ginger’s rebuttal to my rebuttal. It was the first time we Salties disagreed, but it most certainly wasn’t the last! This post was originally published on April 16, 2012. 

– Salty


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. Interesting I didn’t even know there was such a debate.

    Marathon: A foot race over a course measuring 26 miles 385 yards. That’s according to

    Defining run is a bit tougher but if we get picky on “run” a marathon or “run” a marathon, where do you draw the line? You run if you literally never walk one step? What if you walk the water stops? What if you walk to get your sunglasses from your spouse? What if you walk 1 minute per mile? What if you walk the entire damn thing?

    More importantly, why would someone else care? Let’s say that I ran a 3:41 marathon (I didn’t). And I get to work the next day wearing my medal and people see me getting coffee (I don’t drink coffee but this is hypothetical) and I tell everyone that I ran a 3:41 marathon, beating my goal time by 4 minutes. In walks Joe and he goes “I ran that thing too! It was great, Dude! I never trained and I got a beer every 5 miles from that guy in the orange hat! Sure it took me 5:53 minutes but I’m a marathoner!” Who cares? Does it lessen my marathon? My training? My 3:41 that Joe ran it two hours slower and drank beer? No. I still did my goal. I still rocked it.

    My kids do an awesome program called Marathon Kids ( They run a marathon over the course of 4 months. But do I tell them “well, you didn’t really run a marathon, you know”?

    Heck no.

    My goals, my running, my accomplishments aren’t in relation to anyone else (and I would probably get more joy from running if I repeated that more often) and no one else’s should be either.

    There isn’t a shortage of glory in the world. There is an abundance of glory and joy and accomplishment and everyone can share and be proud of their glory.

    1. Somebody’s going for a COTW threepeat! Haha! Nice, Debra! I totally agree and I gotta say I have a lot more respect for Joe the beer drinking unprepared 5:53 marathoner than someone who lies about their actual time! But that’s beside the point 🙂

      You’re right – when I find myself complaining about someone else’s accomplishment if I really think about it it’s coming out of a place of insecurity about my own accomplishments. I think deep between the lines of this post, Ginger is basically admitting the same is true of herself.

  2. After writing this post and then going through the first round of controversy, I’ve come to realize that what I probably meant to say is that, yes, I have insecurities. And two, there is a difference between someone who puts in work each week (not measured in miles but effort) and someone who runs maybe a few times a month and then does a marathon to say that they ran a marathon. It’s not about finishing time per se but more the effort behind it.

  3. I can see your point. I have those feelings myself. My first half marathon will be in April, & I am training to run the entire thing, no walking at all. I don’t think it would be bad for someone else who did walk it, & from experience I know I’d probably be faster if I did walk some of it, but *my goal* is the run the entire thing. I can already walk a half marathon distance, so the distance alone isn’t a big deal. I also have a time goal, but it isn’t very lofty at this point.

    And as for Debra’s hypothetical about her 3:41 marathon vs the beer drinkers marathon, I doubt I would say anything to him, but I know I’d roll my eyes. I have never claimed to not be at least a little petty though.

  4. A marathon is a marathon! My first marathon wasn’t too far off from our hypothetical beer drinker’s time. Yes, I had to walk some (okay, a lot) and yes, it was ugly, but unless you engaged in ethically questionable behavior, a la Rosie Ruiz, it’s your experience to own. This kind of conversation is what turns me off Letsrun, honestly. I wonder if other sports have debates like this about what makes someone a “real” cyclist, kayaker, bowler, etc.

    1. I think there are certainly debates but they aren’t as much as in the running world because guess what? Unless we have a disability preventing us from running, anyone can do it! But not everyone can bowl an 800 series or throw a baseball 90 miles an hour. So I think some of the competitive runners who come off as elitist are just trying to make their training exclusive, like a baseball player or a bowler’s training. But because anyone with healthy legs and a healthy heart can do “their” activity, they are trying to hold on to every little inch of their talent to try and differentiate hard training and fast running from what Letrun likes to call “hobbyjoggers”. Not that I’m excusing these so-called elitists with this interpretation, though! I just think that’s what’s at the heart of this debate. I, myself, agree with you Sassy– it’s all about your OWN experience….heck, even if you are the beer drinking 5:30 runner. I wonder if he drank a few while running? Now that’s a whole other experience!