A marathon I found out later is 26.2 miles or 42 kilometres, but how far that feels has a huge amount to do with how much you train for the race. As I’d find out to my detriment (more on that later).
Why Is A Marathon 26.2 Miles?
When the planning for the modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896 the organizers wanted to create a link between the modern games and ancient Greece.
The marathon was inspired by the legend of Philippides, the Greek messenger. The legend say that in 490BC he ran from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens (a distance of 25 – 26 miles) to announce that the Athenians had been victorious in the Battle of Marathon.
It is said that Philippides ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, ‘we have won!’ before collapsing and dying.
The winner of the first Olympic marathon, on 10 April 1896 was Greece’s Spyridon Louis in a time of 2 hours 58 minutes and 50 seconds. Out of 25 entrants, only 9 runners hit the finish line.
The following year the first Boston Marathon was held. John J. McDermott of New York ran the 24.5 mile course in a winning time of 2 hours 55 minutes and 10 seconds.
In the years that followed the first Olympic marathon, the course varied in distance. It wasn’t until the London Olympics in 1908 that the distance of 26.2 miles was adopted.
At the 1908 games the course was laid out from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, a distance of around 26 miles. But to finish the race in front of the royal box, an extra 385 yards was added, this made the marathon 26.2 miles.
Preparing For A Marathon
Running a 26.2 miles is a serious business and it is important to train properly. Fitting in long training runs and forcing yourself to go for a run on a cold morning are going to require dedication. But the sense of achievement when you cross the finish line is worth all the hard work.
How to train for a marathon:
Get A Training Plan
Your level of fitness and running experience will determine the kind of training that you need for a marathon. Most marathon training plans require you to be capable of running 10k (around 6 miles) to start their programs.
If you’re completely new to running start with a couch to 5k and get a couple of shorter races under your belt, before moving on to a marathon.
Don’t expect immediate results, you should set aside 12 – 16 weeks to train for a marathon.
Do Those Miles
When I’m training for a marathon I’ll schedule a long run for every Sunday morning at 8am. That starts off at around 10 miles and then I’ll try and add a mile a week as I work towards the marathon.
What really helps me is running with other people, so I would normally run at least some of this longer run with friends. This really makes marathon training more enjoyable and gives me people to hold me accountable if I don’t want to get out of bed.
These long runs really help to prepare your body for the stress of a marathon.
Still Run Shorter Distances
Training for a marathon isn’t all about doing long runs, your training schedule should also include short runs of 3 / 4 miles and medium runs of 8/9 miles.
Try pushing your pace on these shorter runs to improve your cardiovascular strength.
One trick to help this is to run half the distance at a comfortable pace and then challenge yourself to run back to the start in a faster time (out and backs).
Training too much can be detrimental to your marathon training, so build complimentary exercise into your training schedule. This could be swimming, cycling, yoga or weight training.
Cross-training can help your running in a number of ways, from building endurance to strengthening your muscles.
Make Sure You Rest
It’s important to have rest days in your training schedule to allow your body to recover from the longer runs and build muscle. I normally have a rest day the day after my long run and allow myself a second later in the week depending on how I’m feeling.
Building rest into your schedule will leave you feeling stronger and help prevent injuries.
Remember To Stretch
A common mistake is not stretching before and after a run. Start your run with a slow jog to warm up your muscles and then gently stretch your muscles. Don’t just concentrate on your legs, a long run puts pressure on your whole body.
After a run, stretch again. This reduces the build up of lactic acid, improving your recovery.
Fuel Your Running
As you increase the number of miles that you are running, you need to adjust your diet to fuel the additional exercise. Keeping a record of this can be a great idea to make sure that you’re getting enough of the right food and avoiding sugar filled snacks.
60 to 65% of your diet should come from complex carbohydrates which are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Carbs help your body produce the energy that it needs for running.
15 to 20% of your diet should come from protein which is found in foods such as eggs, fish,chicken, peanut butter and dairy. Protein helps you to build and repair muscle.
Get The Right Gear
You want to train in the clothes and trainers that you’re going to run your marathon in for at least some of your training schedule. This will allow you to wear in these items and prevent unpleasant surprises on marathon day.
Think about having a runners waste pack to carry car keys, money or sports gels and do a few long runs with this to make sure that it doesn’t chaff.
My first marathon was a lesson in respect. I had been running well all summer and getting my best times to date in the 10k and Half Marathon distances. I was on fire.
As I lined up on the start of my first marathon I had no doubt that I was going to get a great time. The first six miles were fantastic, the race was a trail run in beautiful countryside and on a warm summers morning I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
I ran past the ten and fifteen mile markers ahead of where I had expected to be, and then it happened. At around seventeen miles I hit ‘the wall’ my body ran out of juice.
The next nine miles were an excruciating marathon in themselves as runner after runner flew past me.
I learnt to respect the marathon distance that day, and in subsequent years tried to pace myself better, fuel myself properly and train seriously.
The next year I returned to this race and took the first half at a steady pace, and in the last nine miles found myself flying past many runners who had made the same mistakes I had the year before.
They had run the first half of the race too fast and were now paying the price.
But even on that painful first marathon, crossing the line and receiving my medal was a special experience. I have countless medals from running 5k, 10k and half marathon races in a shoebox at the back of a cupboard, but my marathon medals are on display.
‘How far is a Marathon?’ – It’s a distance worth pursuing, a special experience and a real challenge.