7 things nobody tells you about running a marathon

Last Sunday I ran my second marathon. I’m not an athlete. I’m not a runner. I’m a fat guy trying to find a way to not be so fat. Like a lot of people, “lose weight” is a permanent fixture in my New Year’s Resolutions and “Run a Marathon” was on the bucket list. Seems reasonable to attempt to accomplish both goals at the same time, right?

It took me two marathons to figure out that running is more than a bucket list item. I believe its an important part of the human experience. When you decide to run a marathon, you will get a lot of interesting information from a lot of people in your life. Here are a few things nobody is going to tell you:

1 – It won’t change your life.

Life Changing Event Ahead Road Sign
Don’t get me wrong – you learn a lot about yourself when you endure the miles and miles of training, the hours and hours of solitude, and the two or three pairs of shoes you go through in the process. But life changing?

Everyone will tell you it changes you forever. That you will never be the same. I believe these are things marathon runners say to make themselves feel better about having spent this much time dedicated to a single event.

Trust me – Monday morning rolls around and you go to work and you read your email and talk about how short the weekend was and read the text your wife just sent you about something the kids did that was cute or how you’re out of toilet paper and she needs to you pick some up on the way home – just like last week before you finished a marathon.

Life continues.

2 – People aren’t impressed


“I ran a marathon” to the average person sounds like “did you know I hold the world record for eating the most scorpions in a single sitting?”

You are bragging that you did something they think is stupid. They will say they are impressed. But listen to the words, really listen to the tone in their voice. That’s not admiration. Its intrigue.Things like “Wow – I could never do that” are often accompanied by “I’m exhausted just thinking about it”.

Translation: I would never do that because it sounds like a stupid thing to do. But hey, you did so, um go you?

I don’t mean for this to discourage you from running a marathon – just make sure you are doing it for your reasons regardless of what others might or might not find impressive.

3 – People have no clue how far a marathon is


Here’s a real thing that was said to me last week: “My dad ran a 10 mile marathon last year”… um, no, no he didn’t run a 10 mile marathon. A marathon is 26.22 miles.

The fabled Greek run that the marathon is based on, is not a precise distant, but since the 1924 Olympics – the Marathon is 26.22 miles (based on the distance set at the 1908 Olympics). A Half Marathon is 13.1 miles. Which is pretty easy to work out once you know how far a marathon is.

Of course the confusion is easy to understand since Marathon Relays, Quarter Marathons, and Mini-Marathons (all with varying lengths) have popped up everywhere across the US.

4 – You may gain weight the week before the Marathon


This one is difficult to understand at first and I’ve only done two, so maybe my sample data isn’t large enough to draw this conclusion, but I gained ten pound the week before the first marathon and five pounds the week before this one.

I think the reason is the taper down period of training. You run miles and miles during training – each weekend you face a new challenging distance. Then suddenly, three weeks out, you run 20 miles and stop. You don’t stop running entirely, but the runs are shorter – much shorter.

Add that to the constant conversation around “carb’ing up” before a race and you have a recipe for disastrous weight gain.  The first time I was so discouraged by the scale moving in the wrong direction that I lapsed into emotional binge eating and gained another 20 lbs in the weeks following the race.

5 – Fat people, Old people, Fat AND Old people run marathons – faster than you.
I know this may not apply to you if you are working on becoming a Boston Qualifier. But my point is, you can’t judge a persons abilities on their outward appearance.

For almost all of mile 9, I was chasing a lady older than Ronald Reagan. It was a real struggle to pass her. And that might make sense considering I was “running” a 13:38 min/mile pace until you realize she was walking! Seriously – she walked the entire time, never moving in anything that could be considered jogging or running and I barely caught up to her.

Another dude was easily 300lbs+, carrying a backpack FULL of 30+ Gu packs and at least 4 Gatorade bottles. He finished before I did. I caught up to him a couple of times during the course, but he left me in the dust around mile 15 and I never saw him again.

6 – You don’t have to run the whole waywalkingmarathon

I was jogging past a walking participate at mile 3 when a spectator thought the walker was in need of encouragement and yelled out with obvious concern; “don’t quit, you can do this”.

The walker responded with “this is a scheduled walk – I’m fine!” Many people have scheduled walking breaks to get them through the 26.2 miles – and in the end, does it really matter how they get it done?

7 – Its supposed to be FUNhave_fun

Yes, its supposed to be FUN. Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to race for everything? You said things like “last one there is a rotten egg!” and “I’ll race ya!”. My kids see an open field of grass and their first thought is “Can we run?!?!?!”

Running IS playing! Its not just a way to lose weight – although, it seems like a great way to do so. A marathon isn’t something you are likely to “win” unless you happen to be from Kenya. But you can have fun and you can enjoy it and it doesn’t have to be about the pain of it or the early hours of it or the ice bath likely to follow it.

Have fun!

That’s it. I have a lot of little stories from the marathon – I may turn them into posts as well – here are some highlights:

  • An excited runner from out of state named Joel, I met on the train before the race who later remembered me and yelled out my name in encouragement when we passed each other later on the course
  • A lady who asked me to write on her shirt at mile 8 and then talked to me about how her clothes caused her to chaff and her boobs to bleed
  • A conversion between a cute couple over how bad she had to poop
  • An old man that told me I was too happy at mile 18 because running was supposed to hurt
  • A friend showing up in his Sunday church clothes to cheer me on, but decided to run with me for two miles instead
  • hitting “the wall” at mile 24 but running through the pain to reach my goal of finishing in under 6 hours.

They’re all great stories, none of which end with my life being forever changed. But I enjoyed them and I’m proud of my accomplishment. You don’t have to be.

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