Marathon running’s appeal has grown inexorably in the last 20 years. Whereas, in the early 1980s, there were only a handful of massive city races, now you can run a marathon every weekend – providing you are willing to travel a bit!
Why the traditional 26.2-mile distance should have captured people’s imaginations quite as much as it has something of a mystery, particularly to those who have never run one. However for anyone crossing the marathon finish line for the first time, it’s that very action that defines the entire marathon experience. Running a marathon is without doubt an emotional experience: it unites runners in a sense of significant achievement; it’s a true physical test.
Every year, the number of marathon races and runners completing marathons increases. According to official statistics from the London Marathon website, the number of finishers in the 2008 race was 34,420, a far cry from the 6,500 or so who finished the first London Marathon in 1981.
Then, there were very few marathons around the globe: today, there’s a marathon in every major city and some more beside. There are mountain marathons, midnight marathons, desert marathons and arctic marathons. Some of them challenge the realms of human physiology to the extreme: it’s hard enough running 26.2 miles without having to do it in the desert sun or sub-zero temperatures.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’ve entered something slightly more classic – or at least as normal as running 26.2 miles can ever be. You might be running London, Paris, New York, Boston or Chicago, one of the marathons that come steeped in history. You’ll probably be asking yourself why you’ve taken part in.
For some reason, the marathon has attracted you. You might be eager to emulate a friend who took part in one last year; you might want to experience the challenge and push your body to its limits; or you might be one of the hundreds of people running for charity to raise funds for someone you know.
Whatever the reason, you’ll need to understand the basics of what running a marathon means – what a marathon is (and isn’t); what training for a marathon can do for you; what it costs you in time and money; and what goals you’ll be setting yourself from now until you step on the start line.