The Allure And The Nightmare That Is The Marathon

As I toed the line on Sunday for my marathon, I couldn’t help but shake with nerves.  In fact, I woke up at 2:30am on Sunday and couldn’t go back to sleep. Brief thoughts of my upcoming race had my heart fluttering.  When I got up at 4:30am, I could barely stomach my pre-race bagel.  If you know me, I can eat anytime, anywhere.  Only later did I put all of this together and realize I was suffering from a heavy case of pre-race nerves.

I totally believe this is normal.  In fact, I have to believe that even Meb and Shalane experience this.  The marathon is a beast.  Even the most seasoned runners have to think, “Holy crap, 26.2 miles!”  It never gets easier and it always seems daunting as you get ready to start.  Even after a 16 week training cycle, those miles still seem like too much when the reality of the race sets in.

It is meant to make you feel this way.  It is the perfect distance where your body goes beyond the brink of what it is meant to handle.  The race takes your body past the point of how much glycogen it can store.  The distance pushes your body past that amount of lactic acid it would like to handle.  And I do believe the first guy to run this distance later died…..Don’t you just love when non-runners point that out to you?!  


However, I think all of this is what makes the marathon so alluring to runners.  We are certainly a different breed.  We like punishing our bodies and pushing ourselves to the limit.  Everything about 26.2 miles screams going to the brink, and then some!

The marathon is a beast that cannot be tamed.  Regardless of how many times you train and race the distance, it will always own you.  Perhaps you have a perfect training cycle and are on track for a PR.  Weather variations, a bad night’s sleep, an upset stomach, or a random stomach cramp; anything can throw you off on the day of your race.  It creates this realm of the unknown as you toe that start line.  You never know what to expect until you are in the midst of the race.  We crazy runners seem to eat that stuff up!

That mysterious unknown is both alluring and frightening to us runners.  We know we can’t tame the beast, and yet we continue to try and do so.  When we do get that PR, we soon find ourselves wondering what our next best could possibly be.


One of the greatest things about running is the endless options.  From speedy one mile races, 10ks, halfs, relays, and even ultras; there really is something for everyone.  Heck, you can even go crazy and throw a swim and a bike ride in if you need an even bigger challenge.  Each of these distances offers enjoyment and challenges in different ways.

The marathon will always evoke that fire and fear all at once inside of me.  And in the end, nothing will make me cry tears of pain and pride all at once quite like how 26.2 miles does.  At the same time, I still love those 10k’s and half’s and everything else in between.

What are your thoughts on this distance?  Love it?  Hate it?  Still trying to wrap your mind around it?

23 thoughts on “The Allure And The Nightmare That Is The Marathon

  1. I have yet to run a marathon, always said I never would.. then recently the idea starting creeping into my head… maybe I could, when I get my body stronger & where it needs to be to even think about training for the distance. but you’re right, we runners do eat that stuff up. and I love every minute of it!

    • That is wonderful to hear! Once that thought gets in your head, that is just the start. Keep running smart and getting stronger. Someone years ago told me I owed it to myself to do a marathon and I am so grateful he did. As a runner, there is something so incredibly powerful in seeing yourself accomplish that distance.

  2. The marathon is not my distance. I want to run another one because I know I have a faster time in me. Then I want to do Big Sur because it’s been a bucket list item long before I ever began running. That’s about it.

    I don’t enjoy training enough to want to keep marathoning. I do love halves and will do those forever.

  3. When I ran my first half marathon, the first thing my father asked me was: When are you running Comrades (an ultra in South Africa – 89 km’s!!)
    I told him he was nuts.
    I’ve now run about 6 or 7 halves, and countless other distances and I’ve always sworn that I’ll never run a marathon… until one day very recently I let it slip to a friend that I’m thinking of doing a 30km race next year and she said “Hazel, just do the marathon!” – now I can’t stop thinking about the darn marathon!
    I guess I’ll see what happens after summer (it’s way too hot in the desert to do any real running during summer…)

    • That’s how it starts. I will tell you what another runner told me. “You owe it to yourself to do at least one!” Experience the training and all that it is about. It is incredible.

  4. I’ve run 40 marathons and it never gets easier. Every single time, I think exactly what you said – “holy crap, 26.2 miles!” Every single time, I know that no matter how hard I trained, it just might not be my day and it could end in total disaster. It often baffles me – I can go out for a long run feeling like crap, and muscle my way through it. But if I start a marathon feeling like crap, I end up throwing tantrums, crying, walk/running, etc. It blows my mind. It humbles me every damn time!!!

  5. It’s so true – I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to wrap my mind around 26.2 miles either. I still can’t believe I’ve done it four times now when I’m one of those people who said “never again” after the first. Clearly I do kind of have a love for it now 😉 But I think part of what makes it so amazing is the challenge and unpredictability of it come race day.

    • Right?! I love how we say never again and a day or two later we are already thinking about the next one. I don’t think it will ever get easier but you at least know what to expect.

  6. You know I love it. But ironically, it is the races that I’ve been the most nervous for that have been the easiest for me while out there, and the ones that I was the most excited for/at ease with that have have been the most challenging! My favorite part of the whole enterprise, however, is definitely the training. I. Love. Marathon. Training.

  7. I’d LOVE to do a marathon, but I’m waiting until I run a half marathon totally injury free. I messed up my knee and got surgery in November and have now realized I need to do a lot of strength training or else I tend to get muscle imbalances. Hopefully I’ll get to do a marathon sooner rather than later!

  8. Oh, the marathon. I love it so. Even though I’ve had “miserable” and not very good performance-wise marathons, I keep coming back. Partly for those reasons and partly because honestly, I don’t feel fulfilled after a half. I feel like I want/need more. And 26.2 is a little more than I’d need really, lol, but it’s what makes me feel complete.

    Like Suz, I also love the training. I love the structure, the discipline, the growth that I get out of each cycle.

  9. Marathon #16 coming up on Saturday (with an Ironman (loved it!) and a 50k (hated it!)) along the way. I think I have gotten burnt out on the distance. I no longer enjoy the training and the time. But, in 2012, as an avid couch potato, I never thought I could run a 5k…and I lost 50 lbs along the way. I think I have obtained what I needed on this journey…better health, more confidence in myself and what I am capable of. The word “can’t” has all been obliterated from my subconscious vocabulary. Now I want balence, and to maintain health and wellbeing. I’ll do a few sprint triathlons, short runs and the 10 miler at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend as my long race. But this will be my last marathon I believe. It was supposed to be a half. I am nowhere close to being trained for a full. But this is more of a farewell then a race, and I just felt the need to upgrade the distance and experience it one last time. The weather forecast is perfect, the course is a pancake, and I have 7 hours to finish. It will be a bittersweet (and painful) day. And, you are correct, they never get easier…

    • You are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. It is a hard distance. Some get addicted and as you pointed out, others get burnt out. Enjoy your last marathon and then enjoy what you really love about the sport. Congrats!

  10. I get pre-race nerves before every race – the distance doesn’t seem to matter at all. I think it’s totally normal and maybe a little helpful to get your adrenaline pumping plus it has the bonus of making sure you’re not going to sleep in and miss the start.

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