The challenge of running a marathon

Marathon Runners(95290)

Running a marathon is a huge challenge for even the fittest person. Because marathon running has become so popular among non-athletes, there is an unrealistic perception that it is easier than it once was. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The distance is the same as it's always been. Nowadays, though there is far less emphasis on the running times; it's more about having fun and raising money for charity than speed and breaking records. However, be under no illusion, running a marathon is hard whether you do it in under four hours or over eight! Which leads us to the big question: are you up to running a marathon?

It's vital, before embarking on the marathon experience, to arm yourself with all the facts. That way, you'll be able to set realistic goals and the sense of achievement you'll feel at the end of it all will be worth all the work.

Time Management

How many months training?

If you are a beginner or someone who only engages in light exercise now and then, you can do it, but you need to leave yourself six to nine months to prepare. If you run a couple of times a week to a total distance of around 10 miles, you should allow four to six months.

What will be the weekly commitment?

No matter how experienced you are already, you'll need to spend a significant amount of time training. If you don't commit the time, you are likely to hate the event and potentially you won't even finish. However, with the right frame of mind and schedule, you will be successful.

Aside from the actual 'running' part of the training, there are other time considerations.

Training SchedulePlanning the training, entering and travelling to events, and fundraising. 

You should ideally set aside four hours a week merely for the administrative side of preparing for the marathon. Fundraising will take up most of this time. If you are running for a particular charity, they will usually expect you to raise a minimum amount and you have an obligation to do this, so have a strategic fundraising plan and put in the time.

The training

In terms of training, a lot will depend on the time you are aiming for on the day of the marathon. It's important to have a well-regimented training plan and stick to it. As a guide, at the beginning of your training you should be running at least three times a week building up to five or six times in the latter stages. The early runs during the week will be very short, but you should set aside time at the week end for longer distances. As you get nearer and nearer to the event, the long runs will often take two or three hours. Add to this the warm-up, getting changed and then stretched and showered after the run, and you are looking at more like a five hour commitment. Most of your runs won't be anything like as long, but even the shorter runs should build up to around an hour and a half.

So, taking everything into consideration, it's sensible to allocate five hours a week for marathon based activities at the beginning of the training period, building to twenty hours a week towards the end.

It's a big ask, and that time has to come from somewhere; are you prepared to miss your favourite TV show for a while?

Having the Mental Strength

As well as being physically fit, you'll need an endless supply of mental determination and focus, as you'll be faced with hurdles at every corner.

The Weather

Depending on the time of year you are running the marathon (and where you live), it is likely that the sun won't always be shining throughout your training. You must be prepared to train in freezing temperatures, rain, wind and snow, and in the dark. Don't let this put you off. 

When you look out of your window at bleak conditions, it is important to grit your teeth, get your running kit on and go anyway. You must blank out thoughts of giving into bad weather; you will fall behind in your training schedule, lose motivation and most likely not achieve your full running potential on race day.

The only reason not to stick to the training schedule through hail stone and snow, is if the conditions are dangerous or you are suffering with a particular injury. This, however, is not an excuse to do absolutely nothing at all; get on the cross-trainer or the running machine at the local gym as an alternative.

Tired man with head under pillowTiredness

As your body adjusts to the demands of a marathon training programme, it will go through some changes. Inevitably you will feel tired, particularly in the early stages of your training. It is very tempting to miss a few of your scheduled runs due to exhaustion. Again, just like braving the freezing cold weather, you must resist and engage a strong positive mental approach. As long as the training plan is sensible and incorporates plenty of recovery and rest days (which most do), you can do it.

The biggest mental challenge often comes after a long working day; the last thing you want to do is change into your shorts, vest and running shoes and do a few dozen laps of the local park. Again you'll need a bucketful of positivity and mental strength. Don't leave it until after you've eaten your main meal as you'll need to wait another hour or so for the food to digest. Grab a quick energy bar or a banana and get out there and run!


The final bit of mental strength is needed to overcome maybe the most powerful problem of all; there always seems to be something better to do. Whether it be catching up on your favourite TV shows, going for a drink with friends or reading the newspaper from cover to cover, anything can seem more attractive than going for a run a lot of the time. 

If you can overcome the initial resistance, the feeling of satisfaction is always worth it. You should take strength from the fact that you won't have to make these sacrifices for long and you can get back to the Playstation once it's all over and done with.

Dig deep and be strong when temptation strikes!

Showing The Commitment

Taking on the challenge of running a marathon should not be under-estimated. The level of commitment required is far higher than you may have initially bargained for. 

Committing to the training

If you construct and follow a well structured and disciplined training plan, you will reach the finish line on race day in your predicted time. Veer from it and the likelihood is that you'll be disappointed. Set goals and stick to them; regard your training plan as your bible.

The commitment to your training is a commitment to yourself. During this period, become a little selfish. The demands of others will have to wait and that is ok. The personal rewards will out-weigh the feelings of guilt. After this experience, other challenges and personal goals won't seem as tough.

Committing to others

For all the talk of being selfish, you must consider those who are closest to you. You'll undoubtedly need their support throughout the training and on the day of the marathon. There may be times when you have to let them down (going for a three hour run on a Sunday instead of having a family lunch), but they'll soon forgive you. Treat them well and they'll provide a wonderful network of support.

Committing to charity

More and more charities rely on marathons and similar events for fundraising; if you are running for a charity, you are playing an important part in this. Most charities will ask you to commit to raising a minimum amount, which you are then obliged to find. You may need to be creative in your fundraising, but nowadays the internet and platforms such as Facebook are a great help. 

Changes in Lifestyle

Finally, in addition to the time, mental strength and commitment required, you'll probably need to make a few changes to your lifestyle to cope with the rigours of training. Here are a couple to keep in mind. 

Good sleep pattern

Getting at least the recommended eight hours sleep a night is even more important than normal. If you usually lead a hectic social life, you may need to curb it a little. Burning the candle at both ends simply won't serve you well and will make the marathon experience far less enjoyable.

Brown Pasta MealDiet

You won't have a choice but to make some changes to your diet. As you run longer distances, you'll need more carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta and potatoes. It may be necessary to reduce your intake of dairy too, as a busy training schedule can lead to developing an intolerance, and you'll certainly need to cut down (if not cut out entirely) alcohol consumption. Sugary and fatty foods are also a big no-no as they'll ultimately sap your energy.

So, considering all the above points, do you have what it takes to run a marathon? If not now, then maybe in the future? But don't put it off forever; there is no greater feeling than crossing the finishing line at your first big event. Good Luck!