Can anyone run a marathon?


The truth is that the majority of the population finds the thought of running 26.2 miles impossible, but that’s just not true. If running a marathon is something you want to achieve, you have the ability to make it happen.

Almost any healthy and active person can run a marathon. Though it won’t be easy, given the right training, mindset, and dedication, crossing the finish line of a marathon is possible. Sticking to plan is a must and you also need the will and perseverance to achieve it.

A dream starts with believing in yourself. Once you’ve convinced yourself you can run a marathon, it’s time to stick to a plan and make it happen.

Why Marathons Are for Anyone

“I could never do that,” is probably the number one response I get when I tell people that I’m training for a marathon. I doubt these people mean that it’s completely outside their human limits, but instead, they just can’t picture moving their body for the average 4.5 hours that a marathon requires.

And once people see how much marathon runners have to put into their training, they automatically think it’s an event only for the top tier of athletes.

RELATED: A Guide to How Much Mileage Marathon Runners Run

But that isn’t true.

Runners of all ability levels run marathons. And some people walk if they need. And that’s ok!

Honestly it’s just like any other big goal. Of course it seems unattainable when you haven’t even started, but little by little you chip away at that goal until you start to move toward making it a reality.

Though taking on a marathon is incredible daunting, it’s definitely something anyone can do if they want to. And really that’s where it all starts – with a desire to do it. Then it’s literally one foot in front of the other (and a whole lot of them!)

7 Steps For Anyone Who Wants to Run a Marathon

So we’ve established that running a marathon is within most healthy individuals’ physical limits. Bodies were born to run and the movement is innate. But that doesn’t mean you can just go head to a starting line and take off when the gun goes off expecting to check the marathon off your bucket list.

There are lots of steps to take first to get to the point where you can run a marathon. But with the following 7 steps, I’m confident that almost anyone can run a marathon.

Step 1: Believe That You Can Run a Marathon

The mind is more powerful than we often give it credit for. When we are completing something very physically challenging, we rely heavily on building up our strength or aerobic capacity – whatever physiological component we need to carry out the action. As much as that is vital for you to reach your physical accomplishment, it begins with the will to achieve it.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

Last Christmas I asked for a pull-up bar. At the time I could do 2 unassisted pull-ups…the only time I practiced them was sporadic jaunts to the weight room of the gym or on the monkey bars hanging out with my kids at the park.

Santa came through, so I set the goal of 10 pull-ups. It seemed attainable, but also something I questioned if I would have the strength for. But I would see other women do it on Instagram and think, “Why not me?” If they can do it, well so can I. I believed it was possible, I progressively worked on them, and within 3 months I could do 10 strict, unassisted pull-ups. Do you know how many people have told me they “could never do that”?

But it’s not that they can’t, it’s that they don’t believe they can so they never even try. (Or they just don’t want to – which is totally fine!)

But what I’m saying is that your body has the ability to achieve what you believe that it can. This includes running a marathon. If running a marathon is an accomplishment you dream of, don’t let anything get in the way of stopping you from making it happen.

RELATED: Should I Run a Marathon? It’s Time to Say “Yes!”

Step 2: Set a Realistic Goal for Your Marathon

Consider your current level of fitness. You may not be ready yet to train for a marathon, and that’s ok! Goals don’t have end dates, luckily. Just don’t ever let go of your pursuit to run a marathon.

But if you have already raced 10ks and half marathons, and have been considering taking the leap to the marathon distance but worry that you won’t be able to do it, now is the time.

As your first marathon, a realistic goal can be to cross the finish line. There will be many other opportunities to go for a time goal. Or, you might want to set out to run the entire distance without needing to walk. Those runners who are very experienced in shorter distance races are probably ready to set a more specific time goal. If that’s you, using an online calculator such as this one from McMillan Running can give you a realistic goal time based on your previous race times.

What kind of marathon goal you set for yourself is entirely up to you. This is your dream, not anybody’s else’s.

And what if you feel like you’ll to walk in your marathon…does that count? Of course it does!! There are many, many runners who include walk breaks in their marathon training and for their marathon race. Read about Jeff Galloway’s Run/Walk/Run method in my article: Top Marathon Training Plans: The Basics You Need to Know.

Once you determine your overall goal and have your race date set, it’s time to find a marathon plan that fits your needs.

Not sure which marathon yet you want to run? Check out these articles about great downhill marathons or 10 Best Races for Your First Marathon.

Step 3: Follow a Marathon Training Plan

Though anyone can run a marathon, I don’t recommend just winging it. You’ll want to follow a tried and tested marathon training plan.

This is an area where there are going to be a lot of options. It can be overwhelming. You’ll have to decide if you want to print off a plan you find online, purchase a plan more tailored to your particular pace goals, or even hire a coach.

I’ll highlight pros and cons of each.

Print a General Marathon Training Plan

A Google search will reveal that there are many printable marathon plans to follow. But they aren’t all created equal and aren’t all coming from a trusted source. You’ll want to look for someone who has an excellent track record in coaching athletes who is now creating plans ready for use by the general population. Hal Higdon’s training plans are a great place to start. He breaks down the plans into varying levels of ability such as novice, intermediate, etc. that will match the goal you already made for yourself. It follows a classic approach requiring 4 runs per week including a long run on the weekend as well as a cross-training day.

Pros: These plans can either be found for free or for a small fee to get the download. You can trust in a plan such as Hal Higdon’s or these from the Boston Athletic Association that give you plenty of time to build mileage up safely.

Cons: Remember that anyone can write up a marathon training plan and put it on the Internet. Be sure it was written by someone who knows what they are doing. Following a poorly written plan can get you injured before your race even starts, or leave you feeling as if you’re ready for the 26.2 distance when you actually aren’t. The other downside to a printed plan online is that there aren’t usually paces alongside the mileage you’re to perform. You’ll have to use a calculator such as this one to determine what your easy run pace should be, 800m pace, etc.

Purchase a Plan Tailored to Your Individual Running Ability

After using a basic plan I printed to run my marathon in 2017, I decided I wanted to be a little more aggressive in my training for 2018 as I tried to qualify for Boston. I also wasn’t ready to shell out upwards of $75/month for a coach, either. I went for middle ground and used an app called My Run Plan.

Pros: What’s great about these pay plans or apps is that when you input all of your past race information data, the app utilizes your information and creates a plan based on how many days per week you want to run and gives you paces to run for each workout. I loved that on my speedwork days I didn’t have to guess what my paces should be. And if the app told me I was capable of hitting the paces, I sure as hell was going to make that happen. The great thing is that if you run a great race mid-training, you can update your time in the app and it will adjust the paces accordingly. It’s also not a huge investment at about $10 per month. This plan helped me achieve my Boston goal, so I highly recommend it!

Cons: One con I see here is if you feel like you need to answer to someone to be held accountable. Or, if you get sick or feel an injury coming on, you won’t be able to have your training adjusted to fit those needs like a real coach could. In my app, there were coaches you could email, but that part of it never seemed that user-friendly to me.

Hire a Coach

This year, I am toying with the idea of hiring a coach. I considered it last year, and did reach out to someone, but I didn’t feel like it would be a good fit for my goals. Ultimately, I wasn’t willing to give up my Orange Theory to hire a coach and I didn’t feel like I should be paying for both. But it would be SO NICE to have a coach!

Pros: You can choose whether you want to work with a local coach with some actual face time, or it can be all online/over the phone. There are some great programs out there. One in particular that I’ve heard great things about is McKirdy Trained. The best thing about having a coach is that they work from where you’re at and can adjust to your needs as you go. You’re able to work with someone who is knowledgeable in your distance and has been specifically trained to coach runners towards running a marathon. They also will believe in you and know what you can achieve, even when you doubt yourself.

Cons: A fear I have about hiring a coach is that I would spend all the money to have one and the fit wouldn’t be quite right. I think it’s really important to be discerning in your choice and move on if doesn’t seem like you mesh. Hiring a coach is a big deal and you need to feel like they support your goals and are your biggest cheerleader.

Step 4: Decide How Your Runs Will Look

After you have your plan in hand, it’s time to get to work. Hopefully, by now, you’ve mapped out your 16 – 20 weeks.

You are probably going to look at all that running and all those miles and feel a pit in your stomach. That is normal. Your life is going to look very different than it ever has before. But, you’re going to suck it up and do it. Because once you do, you’ll be able to look back and say, “I did that.” I promise it will be worth it.

Now is a good time to determine where and when you’ll be performing your running. Allowing for a little flexibility will keep you from going crazy, but if you don’t make a game plan, your training could unravel in a hurry.

Anyone who wants to run a marathon should consider these questions:

Where will you run? Treadmill, your neighborhood, on a trail, track, etc.

When will you run? Early in the morning before everyone wakes up, after work, some treadmill work at the gym on your lunch hour, two-a-days…

Who will you run with? A training group in town, with a friend, just you and the open road…

And remember that these won’t always be the same day-to-day. My basic schedule went like this:

SundayRest Day
MondayOrange Theory early, then come home and finish miles on the treadmill
TuesdayTreadmill midday at the Gym
WednesdayMidday Outside
ThursdayEarly outside - Track day
FridayTreadmill midday
SaturdayOutdoor long run bright and early on the trail

It wasn’t always perfect, but for the most part, this was the schedule I kept for my last year’s marathon training. I liked maintaining some variation in where I performed my runs, but consistency is key. You are probably going to need to miss a day here or there, but then you just get back on track without skipping a beat.

Step 5: Honor Your Marathon Training Commitments

Once you’ve committed to running a marathon and have your plan ready, it’s “no excuses” time. Completing your runs as planned is quite possibly tougher than the marathon itself.

Unless you have an extenuating circumstance, your job is to not let anything stand in your way. And by the way, being too busy is not an extenuating circumstance. We are ALL busy. In fact, I guarantee that someone who has enough commitment and drive to run a marathon is not doing so because they just need something else to do.

The training looks like A LOT on paper. And when it is 5-6 days a week, it can certainly be a challenge to fit it in. But honestly, it really only ends up being about 8-10 hours of your week. Consider the amount of screen time you probably have and you’ll realize there’s no reason that you can’t fit it in.

And yes, there will be times where it’s 8 pm and you feel like you can’t do anymore that day, but have promised yourself you’d do your run. There will be times when your friends want you to stay out late and have drinks and you have to turn them down. These are the times you will question why in God’s name you are doing this to yourself, but you do it anyway. Because you are strong and you owe it to yourself to honor this commitment.

This is the perfect time to come up with some of your favorite sayings such as “How bad do you want it?” or “Stay the course.” I like to remember that no matter how hard I think I am working, there will always be someone out there who is doing more. That’s usually all the kick in the pants I need to get the workout done.

Step 6: Visualize Yourself Running Your Marathon

We already talked about how powerful your mind can be. Throughout your training, you are going to question your sanity (and so will everyone else).

When it starts getting close to go time, doubts and fears will try to overcome your thoughts. Even though you’ve followed your training to a T, nailed your paces, and put in all the miles for your long runs, you will likely still be questioning whether you can actually run a marathon. This is normal, but now is the time to believe in yourself more than ever.

Something that I like to do is study my marathon race course in those last couple of weeks. You’ll be tapering anyway, so you’ll have extra time on your hands to do so. When I look at the course, I visualize myself running and finishing each milestone. Breaking it up makes it seem so much more doable. Picture yourself at mile 20, then crossing the mark that will signify the furthest distance you’ve ever run, and finally, crossing that marathon finish line.

Think about how it will feel and what you’ll look like in that moment.

You have come this far and you are ready. You have remained dedicated and committed to the process. Now it’s time to trust and believe that your body has the ability to make it happen.

Step 7: Complete Your Marathon!

This is a terrible picture, but look closely and you’ll see my husband finishing his first marathon in 2015!

This is it. The time where you get to show the world that you have what it takes to run what most find to be an impossible distance.

You get to prove to yourself and all of the other non-believers that you belong in this elite group of people. Elite not because only a very few people can physically do it, but elite because there is only a small percentage of the world who have the desire, will and dedication to complete something that requires so much.

Anyone Can Run a Marathon, But Most Won’t

Grit, heart, physical endurance, strength, and mind over matter…crossing that finish line is indescribable. It takes something that most people have within them, but choose not to (it’s estimated that less than 0.5% of the U.S. population has run a marathon in their lifetime.)

So what about you? Are you ready to show the naysayers that anyone can run a marathon if they’re willing to put in an incredible amount of work? I hope so!

Jane

Hi, I'm Jane! I'm an avid runner who races 5ks to marathons. After a 4:59 first marathon, I came back to the distance years later running a BQ time of 3:36. I did a lot wrong for a long time and finally started doing a lot right. Now I'm an RRCA certified running coach and love sharing what I've learned to help others run their best.

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