When Not To Shoot For The Stars… Or The Marathon!

Ahhh… the New Year! The time of year that is synonymous with resolutions and fresh starts.

As a long time, former personal trainer, this was the most dreaded time of the year. While you often were able to pick up a few new clients, it was also the time when gyms become nothing short of a feeding frenzy for treadmills and ellipticals! While I applaud any desire to become more active and physically fit, it was hard to be that enthused with the uptick in club usage, knowing that in a month or two, most of the people would be back on the couch versus the gym.

Most of us know this to be true… but why is it? Having worked with quite a few of these people, one of the biggest culprits is too aggressive of a goal. Meaning, instead of setting realistic goals (ex: I want to lose 5 lbs over a month or two), most were unrealistic (I want to lose 5 lbs in one week). The other main culprit is that to get to one’s overly aggressive goal, requires a lot of work – as does getting to realistic goals.

Oftentimes, there is a disconnect between what someone wants to have happen (lose 5 lbs), and the work required to reach that goal. Therefore, when the goal does not happen in the timeframe they want, or when a person realizes what it will take to reach the goal, they stop entirely.

THE MARATHON

So how does this gym example relate to endurance sports? Finishing a marathon (for good or bad) has become the goal that many runners want to accomplish. That is for good reason as running a marathon is no doubt a very impressive physical feat that requires a ton of training and dedication. The problem is that as the marathon has become the benchmark for being a ‘real runner,’ a lot of new runners make the marathon their first, and often, their only goal.

As the founder of UESCA, I’m often asked about my personal sport history and without fail, the most common question is, “Have you ever run a marathon?” This is akin to the, “How much can you bench (or squat)”  question for fitness professionals. The problem with these statements is that these benchmarks are not benchmarks at all. Additionally, the “Have you ever run a marathon?” question reinforce the false narrative that unless you’ve run a marathon, you’re not a real runner. Before we go any farther, if you run any distance, you’re a real runner!

FROM ADDITION TO CALCULUS

Look at the math curriculum of a grade schooler. It likely goes from addition to subtraction to multiplication to division. As you can see, there is a natural progression from one level of difficulty to the next. However, for many new runners that target a marathon as their first race, the progression is from addition to calculus – hardly the recipe for success!

Now, have quite a few new runners completed a marathon as their first race? Yes. However, we need to understand that completing a race should not be the lone determinant of what a successful race is. More on this below…

STOP THE APPLAUSE

I had friend that signed up for a marathon (their first race) that in addition to being a marathon, was also on a challenging course and in the middle of summer in Tennessee. Not long after they started ‘training,’ they got injured and didn’t really run (or train at all) after that. Before you ask, yes… they still toed the start line. And they finished, barely making the time cut. 

After posting the obligatory post-race medal picture on social media, their feed was filled with congratulatory comments ranging from, “You’re an inspiration,” to “TOTAL BADASS!”

Now, I get that people likely aren’t going to post negative comments on a friends/family members post, but the reality is that comments such as “irresponsible,” “dangerous,” and “foolish” would likely have been more applicable.

THE STATS

If you look at the finishing time stats of marathons over a long period of time, you’ll notice that the average finishing time has decreased quite a bit. This is for good reason – the number of people running marathons has increased substantially over the years and therefore, it’s not just ‘fast’ runners that enter marathons anymore. 

To be clear, I’m thrilled with the increased level of participation in marathons (and all running distances)… just not with the lackadaisical approach to training for them that so many people seem to have.

SUMMARY

If you think that running a marathon is the only way to be a ‘real runner,’ I implore you to change your outlook. Whether it be a run around the block, a 5K, 10K or half marathon… let’s all agree that no matter your speed or distance, if you run – you’re a real runner! 


Rick Prince is the founder of United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy (UESCA), a science/evidence-based endurance sports coaching education company that certifies running and triathlon coaches.

To learn more about our Running Coach Certification and to get a code for $50 off, click here!

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