26.2 Reasons You Should Run A Marathon
I ran a marathon. It changed my life. Now I think you should run one.
1 — Because you can
I’ve considered writing this article for a long time. I’ve hesitated because I haven’t been sure this first reason is true. 26.2 miles is a long way, and maybe everyone can’t run that far. Then I saw Chris Koch running the Marine Corps Marathon earlier in 2017. Only he wasn’t running it like I can run it. He was using his one partial limb — a portion of a leg that wouldn’t extend to even my knee — to scoot himself along on a skateboard. Chris runs an organization appropriately named If I Can. In his mind, if a man with no limbs can do something — like run a marathon — so can everyone else. I’ve come to agree with him.
Sure. Not everyone can do it. But way more than the .05% of Americans who do run a marathon can run a marathon. Way more than .05% can have their lives changed like mine has been.
2 — You’ll learn to run from excuses
I remember a lot of the excuses I had for not running a marathon:
- I’m not built to be a runner
- Many distance runners have dropped dead while running
- I’m too old to start running
- I’ll probably just hurt myself
Some or all of those excuses have some legitimacy. But as for me, I can admit now I created every one of them to help me avoid tackling something that was going to require me to work harder than I wanted to work. It’s that simple.
The minute you commit to a marathon your excuse creativity gets a boost. You become a running encyclopedia of reasons not to follow through with your training. In the end, though, you come to realize those excuses are the running devils. They are put on this earth to derail you from accomplishing things that will make you an unimaginable better version of you.
You’ll realize this I promise. And you’ll learn to run toward your goals and away from excuses.
3 — Life outside your comfort zone is more beautiful than you think
Those running devils — their biggest weapon is comfort. They sell us on the idea that happiness is found in comfort and life outside comfort is a war zone. It’s a place where our inner fears are lined up waiting to destroy us. The running devils loathe the idea of us discovering we have the strength and power to not only survive in discomfort, but to thrive in it. It’s a discovery they know will bring us to a level of contentment we were one unable to discover inside our comfort zones. Once we discover it, they know we’ll never come back.
Running a marathon will help you discover one of the greatest lessons in life. True contentment is in winning the war against discomfort, not settling for comfort.
4 — Discomfort is not mastered alone
Running a marathon will help you dismiss an unhealthy myth. One perpetuated by the running devils while we’re chilling in our comfort zones. The myth:
“I don’t need anyone’s help.”
When I committed to run a marathon the first thing I discovered was a few dozen friends ready to run with me, suffer with me, pick me up when I was down, drag me out of my comfort zone when it sounded more exciting than my current training run. These are the friends who lifted me up as I struggled through the final miles of my first marathon.
A marathon will teach you strength in numbers is more than an inspirational phrase. It’s real and lifelong friendships.
5 — You’ll learn to love the process
Training for a marathon was an intense and painful struggle for me.
Running 26.2 miles on race day was one of the greatest physical challenge of my life.
So exactly why am I trying to talk you into doing the same thing?
Running a marathon taught me why it’s so important to learn to love the process. The sense of accomplishment I’ve felt since crossing the finish line, the friendships I’ve carried with me well beyond it, the newfound confidence I have and the doors that have opened as a result, they are all gifts born in the process of preparing for a marathon, not gifts handed to me after crossing the finish line.
Take a look at your life right now. My guess is the things you’re doing that you are most proud of, that you find most rewarding, all have a back story rooted in a significant struggle. A marathon might end up being a bigger struggle than all of them. And the biggest reward.
6 — It’s not the perfect plan, it’s about adapting when the plan turns imperfect
Have you ever had what you thought was the perfect plan? Then three minutes into putting the plan in action you discover the plan’s not so perfect after all. Welcome to the world of becoming a marathoner.
When you commit to running a marathon you’ll adopt a training plan. Then, at some point, you’ll struggle with the plan: I only have time for 5 miles today and not the 3 the plan calls for. The weather is horrific today and I can’t hit the road at all. A flu bug has put me out of commission for a week.
When the perfect plan turns imperfect, you have two options. Abandon the plan all together. Or adapt the plan to your current situation and move forward the best you can. A lot of incredible life accomplishments go unaccomplished because perfect plans get invaded by unexpected obstacles.
Getting to the finish line of a marathon will teach you to take obstacles in stride while keeping your stride moving toward the finish line.
7 — Every move we make doesn’t have to be a world changer
Do you know what a marathon teaches you? Some days it’s OK to simply survive, to persevere through the struggles that come your way. I think social media has created a world ripe for comparison. It’s pressured us into believing every step has to be a world changer. Every mile an award winner.
Crossing the finish line of my first marathon was an award winner for me. I got a nice medal and a beautiful blanket. And I walked away with a sense of confidence that’s changed my life. But there were some ugly training runs leading up to the finish line. To be honest, way more than some. Many of those runs required me to accept records weren’t getting broken that day. There was only going to be survival. Perseverance.
You know what I ended up tapping into most on race day? Precisely. Perseverance.
8 — Meaningful gratification isn’t instant. It requires a lot of preparation.
The story told at the finish line of a marathon isn’t as much about how well you raced as it is about how well you prepared. We live in a world that asks us to believe gratification can always be found in an instant. In an instant purchase. In an instant comment to a Facebook post. In an instant bite of a quarter pounder with cheese (and Lord have I believed that one from the world).
But a marathon will teach you a greater truth. Great and enduring gratification is usually tied to great and enduring preparation. The gratification I continue to get from my first marathon, even a year after I completed it, isn’t from the race itself. It’s from recognizing all the time and effort I put into preparing for it. My unwavering willingness to prepare.
A marathon doesn’t come easy to many people. It requires great preparation. A lot of people like to fantasize about being a marathoner, but they don’t like the reality of preparing for it. More than likely these are people who like instant gratification and not great and enduring gratification.
9 — Discipline is a decision, not a gift
Another one of the excuses I used for not running a marathon was “I’m just not very disciplined.” I used that excuse unapologetically believing some people had been gifted with discipline and I wasn’t one of them. I had accepted my handicap and figured I’d find a way to make it through life without discipline.
After deciding to run a marathon the next decision I had to make was to become more disciplined. There was a training plan I had to follow. There were certain amounts of water I had to drink to stay hydrated. There was the rest I had to be committed to getting. Time suddenly became more precious and I had to be more disciplined with how I managed it.
When I look back on the months leading up to my marathon finish line, I see a structure, a set of rules I was more willing to follow than any other set of rules in my life. And I walked away from the finish line determined to be more disciplined in other areas of my life. What a difference it’s made.
10 — A mind is a beautiful thing to waste
When I decided to run a marathon, I think the encouragement the experienced marathoners offered me most often was “running a marathon is more mental than physical.” Maybe they told me that to distract me from the reality that my 5'9", 230 pound physique wasn’t the ideal starting point for a marathoner. Whatever the case, I had a hard time imagining anything but the physical challenge of running 26.2 miles in a single running experience. Then I started running.
My legs screamed I’m tired. My lungs begged — stop, I can’t go any further. But for the first time in my life my mind spoke up and said, they’re lying. Don’t believe them. If you lean on me and trust that you have another 50 yards in you, your legs and lungs will have no choice but to come along with us.
And there I was. 50 yards further than I’d ever run. It was my mind more than my legs that got me there. And my mind began to believe I might actually be able to get through 26.2 miles.
Running a marathon will teach you a positive mind can get you to the beautiful other side of some uncomfortable experiences. And a negative mind will rob you of some incredible ones.
11 — You’ll tap into your spiritual side
You won’t be able to help it. Once your body starts doing things you never thought it could do, and your mind starts ignoring negativity it’s never had the power to ignore, you’ll be more awed by your human vessel than you’ve ever been. And inevitably, you’ll wonder more about where it came from and what it’s here for.
Personally, tapping into my spiritual side meant becoming more grateful for God’s creation and more curious about it’s ultimate purpose. Running a marathon was at the same time a spiritually dark and light experience. Dark in that I had to confess I’d lived my life capable of far more than I’d been offering and therefore I felt great remorse. Light, on the other hand, because I’d been awakened to new possibilities and felt more hopeful about my future and living according to my created purpose than I ever had.
12 — You can be alone without being lonely
The joy in discovering or growing this spiritual connection is you always have someone to run with. I spent most of my marathon training hours running alone. Yet, I’m sure I had more meaningful conversations with God in those 4 months of training and over those 26.2 marathon race day miles than I’d had in the previous 10 years combined. Yes, that says a lot about my spiritual life during that pre-marathon decade, but it also says a lot about the spiritual power behind running a marathon.
How many areas in our lives depress us because we feel like we’re tackling them alone? Running a marathon reminded me we’re never really as alone as we think we are.
13 — You’ll have a space to feel things you haven’t felt elsewhere
When I asked my friend Jenny Baker why she runs, she said, “you find yourself in a situation where you have a space to feel things you haven’t created a space to feel in your normal day.”
I found that space training for my first marathon. I could feel and hear things I’d never felt or heard before. I heard God whisper guidance; then I felt him push me on my way just to let me know he wasn’t kidding.
In training for that marathon the world around me became so quiet God’s voice was the only one I could hear. And when God’s voice becomes the only one you can hear, you suddenly find a boldness to pursue the kind of things only he can lead you to do.
14 — Let’s be clear. You will be humbled.
When I ran my first marathon there were a little over 4,000 runners in the race.
A little over 4,000 of them crossed the finish line before I did.
Here’s the thing. I went into marathon training knowing I wasn’t going to win that race. And to be honest, it was pretty liberating diving into an activity, like running a marathon, without the pressure of being victorious working against me.
How many times does comparing ourselves to the front runner steal our joy in life? Whether it’s in our job, our parenting ability, our social standing in our community — how often do we gauge our own status against our perception of others in those arenas?
Well, unless you’re an elite runner you start off marathon training knowing full well victory isn’t possible. And you quickly become quite OK with that. Then you start to value your own personal effort and progress, achieving your own purpose, over any other indicators.
After completing a marathon I began to wonder how hard I was being on myself in other areas of my life. I discovered a hidden joy when I started giving myself credit for effort and progress, when I recognized my purpose in life wasn’t tied to the front runners.
15 — You’re going to find healing.
I’ve come to believe everyone is hurting and in need of healing. Talk long enough with anyone and you’ll ultimately discover a hurt. Some big. Some small. But when it’s your hurt, size doesn’t matter. You just want it to go away.
We live in a society where folks choose a lot of unhealthy routes to diminish pain. Alcohol and other drugs are a popular choice, eating disorders are common, people sink themselves into unhealthy relationships hoping to find a place to just escape. The list goes on and on of the choices people make in an attempt to heal, choices that often lead to more hurting, not less.
For many reasons, training for and running a marathon is healing. First and foremost, it’s a healthy outlet for many of the stresses and emotions born from hurting. By simply letting them go instead of holding onto them, healing begins. In addition, the spiritual connection previously mentioned often guides us toward a healthier place. We also gain an appreciation for ourselves running a marathon that heals insecurities rooted in our hurting.
Not only does running a marathon help us heal from current pains, it begins to build a resiliency that protects us from future hurts.
16 — You’ll discover the power of purpose
I began my running journey as a tribute to a young mom in our community, Meg Cross Menzies, who was hit and killed by a drunk driver. While training for my marathon I spent a lot of time thinking about her and the hurting family and friends she left behind. I spent a lot of time saying “I run for Meg.”
There’s a certain power that comes with running for something. Something outside ourselves. Something or someone is honored by our running, which provides a little extra drive to do it well. I’m certain I never would have completed a marathon if I hadn’t been running for Meg. In the moments of pain and sheer exhaustion when I would find myself asking why am I doing this, I always had the answer.
Discovering the power behind my purpose in running led me to examine the purpose behind other activities in my life. Why am I doing this? And in many cases, if I couldn’t identify the purpose, I cancelled that activity for good.
17 — Motivation matters
As important as I think discovering purpose in our lives is, and as much as I believe it’s impossible to do anything as good as we’re capable of doing it without a clearly defined purpose in mind, I’ll be the first to admit some days purpose alone is not enough.
Early in my marathon training I read something at just the right time. It said something along the lines of, “there will be times you will hate the idea of getting out there to run, but there will never be a time you will hate having finished a run.”
I’ve found that to be the truth. I’ve run hundreds of miles now, and I can’t look back on a single one of them and say I wish I hadn’t done that. Moreover, I can’t identify a single one of them that hasn’t added to my life in some way.
Motivation often comes from looking at things a little backwards. It’s not how do I feel about doing this activity now, it’s how will I feel when it’s over. If the projected end game feeling is rewarding enough, it will usually be motivating enough.
Marathon training helped me apply this motivation principal to my work life, my writing life, my spending time with my family life. Motivation matters. Sometimes we simply look for it in the wrong place.
18 — You’re going to be the inspiration
More than likely you’re going to run a marathon because you’ve been inspired by someone else to do it. Maybe this article will be your inspiration. Here’s the promise I’ll make you, though. No matter who or what inspires you, the minute you cross that finish line, and possibly well before then, you are the one who’s going to be the inspiration.
You’ll have friends or family reach out to you to tell you they’ve started running themselves. Or maybe they’ve simply started taking long walks after dinner. But they are going to see you making a healthy choice, they’re going to see a discipline in you they long for themselves, a pride they want to feel, and I promise you they are going to want what you’ve got.
More rewarding than my Richmond Marathon medal is the number of people who’ve said my marathon inspired them to be a better version of themselves.
19 — You’re going to be weaved into some incredible stories
There may be no better stories than marathon stories.
Hang out with a bunch of people running their first or their tenth marathon and you’ll hear stories. Stories of the beautiful people they are running for, the heartbreaking causes they are running to raise money for, the adversity they’ve had to overcome to get to the starting line, the beautiful places they’ve come from or to in order to take on their marathon challenge. You’ll get to see family pictures. You may even get invited to be in their next family picture.
Some of the greatest stories I’ve ever heard have been from marathoners. It’s opened my eyes to the beauty of stories, and made me more curious about the stories in the lives all around me. Runners and non-runners alike.
20 — You’ll be filled with gratitude
Discovering gifts and strengths in my life I never knew I had made me more mindful than ever of the things other people don’t have. And as much as comparison has the power to steal joy, it can also provide the perspective that fuels gratitude.
Running 26.2 miles makes you aware of so many things other people are genuinely physically incapable of doing.
Running opens the doors to friendships you never would have had. Friendships open the doors to experiences you never could have imagined.
Running 26.2 miles made me grateful for the gift of discovery. This journey of preparing for and then actually lining up and starting and finishing my first marathon revealed things about myself I could have never discovered anywhere else. In that, a marathon presented me a very unique and personal gift.
Believe me, it’s a gift that overwhelms me with gratitude.
21 — Confidence opens doors you never knew existed
Some people say running a marathon gives them the confidence to try things they never had the courage to try before. I’ve experienced some of that. More than that, though, my marathon journey sent me looking for things to try I never considered trying before.
The reality is, I spent most of my life never knowing what a marathon was. I’d heard of people running them. I just figured they’d run a pretty long way — a lot longer than I’d have any interest in running.
But then one thing led to another and I ran my first marathon. And it changed my life in remarkable ways. It got me to wondering how many other life changing experiences are out there that I’ve never dreamed of experiencing.
Running a marathon has put me on a passionate pursuit of the roads less traveled. And in some cases, never considered.
22 — It’s helpful to know what you’re not capable of
A lot of the reasons for running a marathon have focused on discovering the things you can do. The physical gifts you have. The mental strength you possess. Your potential for healing and discovery. But here’s an equally helpful discovery you’ll make. You’ll discover there are limits to what you can do.
I’m not one of those guys who believes you can do anything you set your mind to. That’s ridiculous. We all have limits. And believe me, training for a marathon will teach you real quick that you can only run so far and so fast.
Here’s the thing. There’s great satisfaction that comes with exploring your limits; there’s a joy that comes with living within them once you’ve discovered them. I think we spend a lot of time unsatisfied with our lives because we don’t know what we’re capable of. We don’t know the floor and ceiling of what we’re capable of.
A marathon sends you on a 26.2 mile journey of discovering both. I’ve found it’s equally rewarding to discover what I can’t do as much as it is to realize what I can do.
23 — Running a marathon will anchor you in the present
Too often in life we get caught up in where we’ve been or where we’re going. We regret past decisions; we get stuck living life through past glories. Or, on the other end, we get lost in the daydreams of what life is going to be like in the future. We get years down the road before we realize we’ve been doing a lot more dreaming than doing.
Marathon training has a way of keeping you centered in the present. The miles behind me and the miles ahead are nothing but distractions. I have one task. Accomplish this next stride. If I don’t find a way to overcome the pain and exhaustion and self doubt of this next step, nothing behind or ahead of me matters. I need all of my energy in the here and now. When it comes to running a marathon, life really is one step at a time.
I’ve found myself living more in the present in other areas of my life since running a marathon. There are a lot of areas in life where it would serve us well to make this present moment count.
24 — You will be a healthier person
Yes, you’ll be able to send me a story of the strongest of endurance runners who’ve keeled over while running a marathon. And I’ll send you a hundred more of marathoners who’ve strengthened their hearts, improved their circulation and made their muscles stronger than they’ve ever been. And in doing so, they’ve drastically decreased their risk of death.
For decades now we’ve been fighting an epidemic of people dying of preventable causes. A vast majority of them preventable through exercise. The reality is, a vast majority of people aren’t interested in running a marathon not because of how far they’ll have to run, but because they’re not interested in getting out and exercising at all.
Less than 600,000 thousand people will run a marathon this year. And over 800,000 will die of cardiovascular disease. I’m no doctor, but I strongly believe if the number on the left went up, the number on the right would go down.
And by the way, before you commit to running a marathon I would encourage you to run it by your doctor.
25 — You’re body will start talking to you
In training for a marathon and trying to talk my body into doing something it had never come close to doing before, I got as in tune as I’ve ever been with what my body was trying to talk me into doing.
- It let me know how hard it was for it to function when I weighed more than I needed to.
- It told me how hard it was to function when I ate certain foods and drinks.
- It told me it wasn’t as big a fan as I was operating on 5 hours of sleep a night.
To be honest, I’ve gone through most of my life dictating the terms of what my body needed without ever stopping to ask — what does my body need from me. It’s when I suddenly had a purpose for my body, when I needed it to work with me and not for me, that I started experimenting with treating it better.
My body was much more willing to go 26.2 miles. It’s been unexpectedly more willing to go way beyond that.
26 — You discover what it truly means to never give up
I was not prepared for the final 6 miles of my marathon. I’d run 19 in my training, but never more than that. Those final 6 miles were unchartered territory. The only way I covered them was by repeatedly telling myself “I will not quit” and believing God would carry me if I committed to keep putting one step in front of the other.
There have been many times in my life since that marathon when I’ve uttered those words. I will not quit. There’s been a big difference in those words after crossing that marathon finish line, though. I have felt the ultimate power of those words; I have experienced what happens when you apply faith to them. Something happens when you start saying I will not quit and you know it’s true.
26.2 — Because you can
Reason number one is worth repeating. You can do it!
Running a marathon will drastically minimize — if not completely eliminate — the number of times you’ll ever say “I can’t” again.
Talk about addition by subtraction. Take the words “I can’t” out of your life and watch the beauty explode. Sometimes inviting a miracle into our life is as simple as weeding the wrong words out of it.
Happy new year my friends. And happy running.
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