ON APRIL 17, the 121st running of the Boston Marathon will coincide with the Red Sox--Rays game at Fenway. It will also mark the opening of the summer marathon-training season. Watching runners stream by, urged on by cheering throngs, has been known to kindle a desire to run a marathon—at least one, right? It's a noble impulse, but before buying new running shoes and downing some raw eggs, aspiring marathoners can increase their odds of success by asking themselves a few hard questions.
Do you enjoy a challenge?
This might seem obvious, but while embarking on a training program may seem to offer no downside—weight loss, firm calves, endorphins!—the process can get old quickly. Marathon training takes dedication and discipline, and often the journey to the starting line can be harder than the 26.2-mile race itself. You have to get some satisfaction out of pounding pavement, and be prepared to change your eating habits, increase your water intake and make sleep a priority.
Can you run 20 miles a week? Have you run a 10K or half marathon before?
Distance racing experience isn't a must, but it helps. No training program will take you from a couch to course in a few weeks. A standard plan is 16 weeks, and you should have a substantial base of mileage—an average of five miles four times per week—before starting the program.
Do you have aches, pains?
Some minor knee pain or a hamstring twinge can turn into a full-blown injury when you start running more than 20 miles a week. At some point in training almost everyone has to run through discomfort, but your legs should be sound before you hit the road.
Do you have the time?
During training you spend a lot of time—running. Building up to marathon distance takes six to 10 hours a week for months. The weekly long run—completed at a steady pace designed to build endurance and train the mind for a 26.2-mile race—starts at 10 miles and builds to 20 or more, which can take more than three hours. Add in the other suggested varieties of training (strength, etc.) and the commitment only grows.
Running a marathon is a great experience. Pushing yourself down the stretch past cheering crowds and telling stories in the bar afterward (for years afterward) are great, but you're more likely to achieve your goals if you prepare yourself for early mornings, early bedtimes and many a missed happy hour.
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Run the Gamut
Marathon not for you but still want to do some running? Here's how far athletes in other sports run, on average, during a game or match.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
NFL (WRs, DBs)
For more athlete training profiles and tips, go to SI.com/trainingwith