Marathons–why the obsession?

Once again, an article in Running Times has got me thinking. It was all about marathons and how we runners have developed this obsession with the distance. The article argued that we could potentially be better served by  concentrating our efforts on shorter distances. The reasoning is that to run a really good marathon, one to your potential, you need to put in mega-miles–as in 70 to 120/week. For most mere mortals, that’s not possible. But if you were to apply your typical average athlete’s training mileage for a marathon to a 1/2 marathon or shorter distance, you’d stand to really rock those events.

I think the article makes a lot of sense. I’d love to run 70-plus miles/week, but…do I have time or would I have the energy left over for the rest of my life? Probably not. Would my body hold out? Don’t know. So according to the article, I’ll never realize my best potential in the marathon with the mileage I put into it.

In spite of this logic, it is the marathon I love, the distance I care about more than any other. I do other races throughout the year, but it’s my fall marathon that really matters to me. What’s kind of sad is that I dedicate so much thought, time and energy to an event that has so many variables beyond the training. Factors like weather, GI stability, sleep, and life in general can throw all those miles out the window. No other event has the potential to break your heart like the marathon. But…

I’m not going to stop my obsession with the marathon any time soon. I love logging the miles, I love the challenge of the distance, both mentally and physically. Maybe some day I’ll come around, but not right now. What about you?

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  1. Erica says

    I think you should keep on keeping on! You are a wonderful inspiration and runner and who has that much time in a week?

  2. RunnerGirl says

    I am glad you posted about this article! I read it, too, and was not sure what to think of it. As someone who has only done a few half marathons but hopes to do a full in 2011, I felt a bit defeated by her perspective. After a few days, though, I decided, "to each her own" and plan to give it a go in Chicago next year. :)

  3. KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) says

    We, the marathoner's who do not run 70+ miles per week are the majority. The runner's I have met along the way who trained like pro's but were not pro's, burned out in a matter of years. Sure, they ran 3 hour or less marathons for a few years but are they still running now? No! Actually, come to think of it, only 1 still is. After many injuries (from running 70+ miles per week over and over), they had to hang up their running shoes for good. I may never break my 3:30 PR for a marathon with the mere 40-50 mileage week but I think it's a trade off I can accept. Especially if i can continue running marathons for many, many years.

  4. Bethany + Ryan says

    hmm, interesting. I went to a marathon clinic sponsored by the BAA here in Boston and they suggested to run your best marathon you should run 3 days a week. 1 tempo run, 1 speed work and 1 long run. Their theory was quality over quantity. the 70-120 mpw is for people who already have a solid and healthy running base(say running 5+ years with at least 5 marathons under their belt injury free). For me, I've never run more than 50 miles per week. I've also never had an injury and i'm not afraid to say that aloud. I'm a smart runner and sorry if i offend anyone here but i ran for 7 years before i ever ran a marathon. so many people just decide to run a marathon and go from not running to sudden marathon training and they try to run 50+ miles a week and its MAJOR overkill and major over-training. i think people dont take into account experience. i've been running for 13 years and i've run 17 marathons, if i want to *work up* to 70 miles per week yeah i probably could. You've beenr unning for a long time as well, could you handle 70 miles per week if you *carefully built* up to it? i would think so! but someone who has been running 1-3 years should not be running 70 miles, thats never a good idea. i hate when articles make runners think they should be running such high mileage but the article doesn't explain who the target audience is, ya know? elite athletes yes, college athletes sure, people who are closely monitored by a professional coach, sure but def not the average runner! less is more people especailly when you are just starting out, quality over quantity! i love the marathon too, it's a great distance! sounds like a good article for some poeple but i just hope it doesn't discouraged people who are thinking about trianing for their first marathon! you can run a great marathon with 40 miles per week!!!! :-)


    Love this post. Everything I have read suggests the same thing. I am running my third marathon this fall with a much larger base than my last two which I ended up injured after. I know that my 40 mile per week base will serve me well for the Half and 10 mile distance that I prefer. For me, this marathon is to prove that I can get it right for once!

  6. skierz says

    sure if you want to win marathons or be placing, 70+ miles is likely what you need to run. But get real RUnning Times, how many people have the time to run that kind f mileage. It is awesome that 100000's of people have found the joy of running based on a decision to run a marathon, it might actually help save some of the obese world that we are living in. Why would someone publish such a ridiculous article and discourage people from putting on their running shoes and plodding along for the 34-40 miles a week that most of the world has managed to get to the start line! Arrghh!

  7. Marlene says

    Interesting topic. I'm happy to continue doing the best I can with what I have when it comes to marathons, even if I am not necessarily reaching my full potential. You don't need to be breaking records to be successful.

  8. Molly says

    Your last line rang true with me, I love logging all these miles every week, with the ultimate challenge looming in the future. I don't know what's going to happen in September with my first 26.2, but I'm savoring every minute of the journey.

  9. FLATOUT JIM says

    Same reason 70.3 Triathlons (half Ironman Distance) are becoming so popular. You can train for an event, and have a life too!

  10. Running and living says

    I agree with the need for high mileage. I PRed in the half while training for a full. I think one needs to be careful about building the mileage up. Beginners should use the FIRST plan (see Bethany's answer). Tim Noakes in Lore of Running talks about increasing mileage only when one has maximized marathon potential with low mileage. Case in point – I qualified for Boston on my first marathon peaking at 30 miles/week. Now that is no longer enough for me to keep PRing, so I have been increasing mileage while keeping intensity up. I'll get to abut 65 miles for my Fall marathon. For Boston next year I will try 70, if my body holds up. The mileage increase needs to be gradual, over many years, I think!

  11. Matty O says

    Very interesting post. Got me thinking of my last marathon. Approached 70 miles, not sure if I passed that or not (can't remember and don't wanna go back and add miles haha) BUT, I will say hitting that many miles per week allowed me to take over 25 minutes off of my last PR.

    SO, there is something to say there. Also I felt pretty burned out after the race for a week, whereas the last marathons, I did 5ks the next weekend… interesting read.

  12. Jon says

    I am all about the half marathon and half ironman right now. I have a good balance between putting in the time and life and am still surpassing my goals.

  13. Teamarcia says

    To me it's all subjective. What is 'a lot' of miles to one is few to another. Have I reached my marathon potential? No. Am I fulfilled with what I do? Yes. To me it's the journey that gets me to the starting line that counts, however long or short that journey may be.

  14. Alison and Karen says

    I wouldn't say that I am obsessed with the marathon. In fact my first and only so far was a terrible race complete with tears. I told myself I would never do it again. Well, I have signed up for a second one because I know I can do much better than my first. It's all about personal growth right?

  15. Johann says

    Interesting. People will see this in different ways. Luckily we are all different. I love distance, but I’m a very slow runner. I ran all my best times from 1996 to 1999. I’ll never do those times again but it doesn’t matter because I now focus on running ultras. I run marathons for fun and to get in some distance training. For me, after 29 years of running it’s all about distance.

  16. ajh says

    I could never put in those miles. I do one marathon a year which does give it the potential to break your heart as you say. It is a long time before you can redeem yourself. I am very satisfied with the fact that I do run marathons and complete them. I consider myself a marathoner although no one will ever sweat bullets when they see my name on the roster of those who will be running!

  17. La Historiadora de Moda says

    I could never put in those kind of miles and hope to get a tenure-track job (or tenure if I had the tenure-track job), so I'm just going to have to content myself with not living up to my supposed potential. I'm contemplating my second marathon right now, and it's really the mental, emotional, and physical challenge; the time to myself, the time outside, the progress, what I learn that I care about. Oh, and finishing.

  18. JennyMac says

    I would love that obsession. It is such an impressive feat. I run 10K but have not done even a half marathon.

  19. AM-GoalsfortheWeek! says

    i sooo agree. I haven't done a marathon yet, because I know it would require a LOT more mileage to attempt to be 'good' (for me) at that level. So I stick with the 10k and half marathon distances.

  20. KJ says

    Hello! I'm new to your blog and have really enjoyed reading your posts. I'm not a runner…yet…I'm a cyclist by nature but am training to start doing duathlons, so I've been doing a lot of reading about running.

    My goal right now is to be able to do a 5K so the concept of true distance running is not in my line of sight just yet…but I can somewhat relate that to my distance cycling frame of mind.

    Very interesting post today, gives me things to think about as I embark on this new pahes of training. Thank you!

  21. Julie says

    Well, since I just ran my first and already planning my second I think the marathon has grabbed my running heart! 😉 Although, I saw first hand how the marathon can break your heart as my best friend wasn't able to finish… scary to sacrifice so much with the potential for it to not end up how you would like it to. The journey is so sweet though…

  22. Fair Weather Runner says

    that's an excellent point about the miles, i've only run "two" (fell at mile 25 in the last one) and i just can't seem to do marathons well, but then i looked back at mileage and was all "wow, well that's why" so i think i just don't have time, or don't make time. but that's a changing for chicago this fall. looking forward to the challenge!

  23. ShutUpandRun says

    I topped out at 45 miles/week (running only three days per week) with my last marathon. And that was my BQ. I think it has a lot to do with how you train and what your goals are, not necessarily really high mileage.

  24. Viper says

    I read that article too. Thankfully, I've made peace with slowly chipping away at the four-hour mark. However, it made me a little more motivated to kill my half marathon in August.

  25. Kovas Palubinskas says

    Historically the marathon has always captured people's imagination. If you love it, why fight it? Success in the marathon i snot what Running Times says it is, but whether you achieve your goals, running 40 or 100 miles a week.

  26. Angie Bishop says

    I am frankly sick to death of all the theories out there that are stated as being the end all way to do things. I am frustrated because I am looking and thinking and trying to come up with a plan for my fall marathon. So far none of the pre made plans fit me. The theories are great but I am going to have to figure out a plan on my own.
    I am trying to up my mileage to around 40 a week and make sure I get in a day of speed, hill and distance. The rest will be mileage builders and just lovely runs that are mellow and for relaxation.
    I plan to cross train with P90X and play as I can. Lots of visualization and mental work to get through the tough miles.
    So many factors to consider. Potty stops, fuel, weather, what to eat the days before.

    I didn't read the article so I can't be too specifically critical but I just want to convey my own frustration at being a new marathoner.
    I ran a marathon 11 years ago and I finished but it was not pretty. It was pure spite and determination and I hated running for long after. I think a plan is crucial but whose to go with and what components make up that plan.

  27. Pam says

    I guess in theory that makes sense, but SHEESH!

    I'm sure when I'm muddling through my December marathon that my undertrained ass will be wishing I'd logged more mileage, but I think even my longest week in my novice training program calls for 40ish miles. That'll be a lot for me. I can't even fathom 70-120 miles in a week.

  28. J says

    I was just thinking about the whole mileage thing for marathon training thing last night. I always feel weird that I am not obsessed with the distance and marathons. I just met some girls who are training for marathons and running 85+ miles and I am like uhh I only 23 miles a week.

  29. Emz says

    loved this and LOVED this article in RT.

    I'm with you. My heart belongs to the marathon.

    Here's the sick part. I have only ever run one other race in my life. 5k domestic violence run. all other races . . . . all marathons. I might need counseling?!

  30. NY Wolve says

    My favorite distance is a half marathon. I feel like I can pace it and run it, not survive it. I have to train for it, but not dedicate my life to it. I can run it and not be destroyed for a couple of days after. The training is much saner and easier on the body.

    But whenever I meet someone and say I am a runner, they ask "How many marathons?" It is just the standard I suppose. And because it requires that dedication, for me, it has to be the capstone of my training. I can;t do too many and have a real life too.

  31. Big Daddy Diesel says

    I think it has to do somewhat with the average joe preception. You say you run, first thought to non runners is marathon, same as triahlons, first thought is Hawaii, they dont even know the name of the race.

    Also, like tri's, marathon is the "ultimate race" to complete, like an ironman.

  32. Anabela (Bela) Neves says

    I have only ran 10Ks and yes I am obsessed to get to that marathon one day. I think because the word runner goes hand in hand with the word marathon that this obsession has happened in the public.

  33. Candice @ I Have Run says

    I actually am going to focus on the shorter distances after my fall marathon. I don't have the time to devote to marathon training like I want to right now, so it doesn't make sense to me. Yet I love the challenge, so I'm sure it will make its way back onto my running calendar sooner rather than later.

  34. Julie says

    As you know I have signed up for my first full marathon. I am now where near running 70 to 120 miles a week and I never will. I have no time goals for this first one. I just want to finish it and live:)

  35. LMC says

    I read this article too and posted about it on Monday. It gave me alot to think about. I might run more 10Ks and half marathons, but not until next year because I am committed to 2 fall marathons and the required training. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Together We Save says

    I am very impressed with runners although I don't enjoy it myself. When I was a teen at the first job where I worked the older lady (70+) I worked for ran 5 to 10 miles per day. That was impressive.

  37. Kenley says

    I agree with you on that marathon deal. Though we can not truly train like athletes that log mega miles, we can still complete the distance and just go with it. I am loving this half marathon training though. Take care. Cheers.

  38. Anne says

    What a great post! I just want to know that I can run that distance…reaching my best potential is not a concern…I just want to do it :)

  39. Laura says

    Great post, really enjoyed reading it and i could relate a lot of it to the half marathon… I think after doing one I can see myself doing so many more even though it didn't quite go to my master plan haha.. it's addictive!

  40. Lisbet says

    Dude, nice post. It is interesting, how people look at running in different ways. I like running my short(er) distances….love the 1/2 marathon…someday I'll get to the marathon, but for now, my life is hectic. Maybe when then Kid(s) are older.

  41. MCM Mama says

    There seem to be conflicting opinions on what you need for mileage to run a marathon. I don't know if my body could handle the major mileage that serious marathon training calls for.

    I actually prefer the shorter distances. After about 15 miles, I stop enjoying the run. And if I'm not enjoying it, it stops making sense as a part of my life. That's not to say I'll never run another marathon, just saying that running a marathon serves an entirely different purpose for me than running does.

  42. Vibram Chris says

    I am a husband and father of three school age girls. I am also a 53 year old man who has only become passionate about his running this past year. I am realistic that my 4:45 first marathon time will likely not be reduced to a Boston qualifying time anytime soon. But I do not care.

    I chose the marathon specifically because it was an incredible test of my motivation abd ability to train well enough to complete the race. It is also a race where there is respect for finishing irregardless of times.

    I have given alot of thought recently about how I could train to better my times. While I would love to knock off some minutes I am certain that if I obsess on doing so I will likely lose the joy of running in general. I have run three marathons this year. Each one has been a completely different adventure. And with each one I have had a wonderful sense of accomplishment. That is enough for me.

  43. Happy Feet 26.2 says

    No other event has the potential to break your heart like the marathon. But…

    for me no other event can give you a high like the VERY rare marathon day when everything finally goes right, and you have that "magical day" For me it was marathon #15

    I keep saying "I'm gonna concentrate on 5ks to see what I can do there, but I am always drawn to distance. I think I may have to attempt some 70 mile weeks. Yes, I'm obsessed and I chose not to have children, so I can be. :)

  44. Marilyn M. Tycer says

    Run whatever distances, mileage and races work for you. For me, that means training for another marathon. I just finished my first, and I felt great during most of my training, and during the race. I'm not terribly fast, but I like the time I spend on my long runs and I feel healthy and ALIVE! It might not always work for me, but it's really helped me right now.

  45. Cynthia O'H says

    Your mileage is awesome. My biggest fear in taking on the marathon again is finding the time to fit in the 50 to 60 mile weeks.

    Each of us has to do what is best for us. One woman our age may not be willing to take on the distance any more, you're jumping at it and I'm approaching it with some trepidation. It's what makes us unique as runners and as individuals.