I was recently at a non-running event (it does occasionally happen) and the fact that I’m a running coach came up. I got to talking with another attendee and she asked me how to know if she’s ready to run a marathon.
I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was she’s been running for several years and always considered running a marathon, but has never been able to commit to it.
I got the impression she was balancing the very real challenges of marathon training with the exaggerated fears of committing to a really big goal.
Signs You Are Ready To Train For A Marathon
How do you know if you’re ready to run a marathon?
Short answer: you don’t.
There will always be a million reasons why now isn’t the right time, or why ‘tomorrow’ will be better.
But eventually, if it’s something you really want, you won’t be able to get the idea out of your head and you have to go for it, even if it isn’t the ideal time for it (spoiler alert: there will never be a perfect ‘right time’).
A few signs you may be ready:
You Know Why / You Can’t Get It Out Of Your Head
Marathon training is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. You will occasionally doubt your abilities or that it’s a good idea (or even possible).
You need to have a strong ‘why’ to draw on at those moments, to keep you going.
But I also know that many runners I’ve successfully coached through marathon training didn’t have a why they could articulate. Finishing a marathon was just something they couldn’t get out of their head.
Depending on your temperament, either one works, but make sure marathon training is more than a passing fancy.
You Are Willing To Make The Time
Marathon training requires a lot of time.
It requires you run.
I’m not saying you need to have hours of free time just sitting around on your calendar before you start – I’m yet to meet a person who has that.
But you also can’t use ‘I don’t have the time’ as an excuse to put off your training.
You may be ready to train for a marathon when you are ready to find the time to run.
When you are ready to look at your calendar and wrestle time away from other priorities to make the time to run.
You’re Willing To Follow A Plan
You can train little (or not at all) for a 5k.
You can fudge the long run distances and still do pretty well at a half marathon.
But for a marathon, you have to train. You have to train your body, your mind, and your stomach.
There is no shortage of marathon training plans for you to try. You can get off-the-shelf plans online or in books, or work with a coach to get a bespoke plan that’s specifically tailored to you, your preferences and your time goals (ahem, I happen to be such a coach).
Sure, even with a great plan, life happens and you’ll have to make a few changes here and there. I’m a type-A plan follower and even I make a few changes to my training plan to adapt to life.
But if you’ve pretty much ignored training plans for every race you’ve done, consider practicing your plan-following skills with a shorter distance race first.
You Are Willing to Fuel
To do long runs of 16, 18, or 20 miles, you will have to fuel on the run. Gels and pre-made sports drinks are the most common fueling options, but you can make your own electrolyte drink, carry real food or any combination of the above.
But you’ll have to be willing to fuel with something.
I’ve known some runners who are oddly averse to fueling with anything other than water during runs. But your body needs more than water to carry you through 26 miles. Play around the fueling options, flavors, quantities, and timing until you find the right combination that works for you.
You Know Training Will Be A Lot Of Work
Marathons are doable, but they aren’t easy.
Long runs are (not surprisingly) long.
I’ve always been a bit baffled by people who go into marathon training looking for the ‘easiest’ training plan.
I get wanting a lower-mileage plan (for time, logistics, or physical concerns), but based on the lower-mileage plans I’m familiar with, they could hardly be described as ‘easy.’
If you are specifically looking for ‘easy,’ marathon training may not be the best endeavor for you.
You Are Healthy
Never start a run injured and never start a training cycle injured.
Marathon training is physically demanding. If you are injured, or if you’re just coming back from an injury, marathon training (at this moment) may not be a good idea.
Let your body heal totally and completely before you begin.
You Find The Process (at least somewhat) Fulfilling
Training takes months of work.
It’s important you find the process itself at least somewhat fulfilling, and more than just the means to an end.
Here’s what I mean: How would you feel if your race was canceled or you got injured a week or two before race day?
I was recently scheduled to volunteer at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race in November. Due to wildfires and poor air quality in the Bay Area, the race was canceled just days before the event. The runners had been training for months… all for naught (at least from a cross-the-finish-line-and-get-a-medal POV).
After the race was canceled, runners were (of course) disappointed, but, at least in the case of the people I knew, they had enjoyed the process. They were proud of their training and their dedication to it.
Sure, the finish and finisher’s medal would have been nice, but their dedication to training was meaningful too.
Similar things happen all the time for marathon trainees who get injured just before race day.
There’s no guarantee months of training will result in crossing the finish line.
Both the journey AND the destination should hold value for you.
What about you? How did you know you were ready for a marathon?