Showing posts with label half marathon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label half marathon. Show all posts

Monday, April 15, 2013

Where are all these marathon runners coming from?

If you had told me three years ago that I would be running marathon races – 26.2 miles – I would've laughed at you, or at least thought that you were crazy. But it happened. I have become that crazy. In fact, I've now run three marathons, as well as many shorter races.  The craziest part:  it’s all been accomplished since taking up running just three years ago

And now I have to ask; how about you?  Have you ever thought about what it would be like to run a marathon? Can you picture yourself doing the full 26.2 miles of one?

If you are laughing at me right now, thinking that I must be crazy for even asking that question, you may be in for a surprise.  Is such a monumental physical challenge beyond you?  Consider this as we debunk three common reasons people assume that running is not for them.

Woman running on treadmill

Fallacy #1 – Distance running is for freaks of nature, not me.

Is it really so rare a thing to run a marathon?  No.  More people than ever are taking up marathon racing.  There were a total of 76,000 marathoners in 1976, but 299,000 marathon finishers in 2000.  And in 2011, that number had risen to over a half million!  Not so freaky or uncommon after all. 

Fallacy #2 – “I’m not a natural born runner.”

Au contraire, mon frère.  First, scientific evidence suggests that, as the best-selling book implies in its title, we are, as a species, Born to Run

Second, nearly every marathon runner I've known, and most of the many I’ve interviewed, did not consider themselves physically fit just three years before they ran their first marathon or half marathon (13.1 miles). 

Very few of them were high school track stars.  Few were lifelong runners.  So they obviously were not born into a running lifestyle or habit, but they somehow found the courage and stamina to take up distance running late in life.

Sure, the top runners in most races often have unique physical traits that allow them to become winners, but that doesn’t explain the other 99.99 percent of the runners competing in marathons and half marathons. 

Elderly people runningFallacy #3 – I’m too old to be a runner

How old is too old to run?  Apparently at least 102!  The world’s oldest marathon runner waited until he was 101 before hanging up his running shoes. 

While 101 is an anomaly, it’s still not correct to assume that marathon running is a younger person’s game.  To the contrary, statistics show that the average age of a marathoner is 39.  And if you’ve ever turned out to watch a marathon, you know that many marathon runners are in their 70s and 80s.

Even when you look at speed, distance running proves to be a great sport for the middle-aged.   Statistics indicate that the fastest average age group belongs to men between the ages of 40 and 44. 

Why the distance running phenomenon is occurring among average adults

It may seem crazy to consider running in a marathon if you’ve never done it, but there is a surprisingly large number of such “crazies” out there, going from a fairly sedentary lifestyle to doing marathons – and in a surprisingly short amount of time.  It is as though many thousands of people well into their adult years are somehow discovering their inner Olympian. 

In my case, I started running consistently (3 to 6 times weekly) less than four years ago. Since then, I've run one 5K race (about three miles), two 10K races, three half marathons, three marathons, and been a team member on a 200-mile relay race. But, apparently, this pattern is fairly normal.

Consider for example Ijaz Afzal of Los Angeles, who didn't take up running until he was 35, but then ran his first marathon at age 37.  “I started running in September, 2006 after quitting smoking cold turkey.  I ran my first marathon less than two years later, in June of 2008. Then I did two more. Now, I'm doing two more marathons this month alone!”

Or consider Mike Dasalla of Pleasant Hill, California. Not a life-long runner either, Dasalla ran his first marathon just three years after he started running regularly.  “Now," he says, "I have seven marathons under my belt.  I'm addicted!”

Man finishing a marathon

I also interviewed Peach Villacarlos of Northern California, who tells me that this late-in-life distance running phenomenon "matches me perfectly. I did not play sports as a kid. In fact, I was sedentary for over 20 years as an adult. I started running 5k races first, about two years before running my first marathon. And in a couple of weeks, I hope to finish my second one.”

Bill Boehner of Pleasanton, California, says that he “experimented with running briefly in the ‘70s when running started becoming popular, but I stopped when I got sick once, and then got caught up in my career.” Many years later, in his mid-'50s, Boehner took it back up, and with gusto. "I ran my first race, a 5K, in October, 2009, and ran my first marathon just a year later in Dec 2010.” Did he plan on doing a marathon so soon? "No, I thought maybe a half-marathon, but I never planned on doing a full. I didn't run in school at all.”

From couch ‘tater to marathon runner?

Why is this happening? What can explain the whole distance running phenomenon leading so many people to take up marathon and half marathon running later in life?

For answers, I turned inward and outward; what motivated me to start and maintain a habit of distance running later in life (in my 50s)?  And what motivated my distance running friends or business associates to do this? 

The results of this research may surprise you, as you’ll find out in the next article in this running series, "How to Go from Couch ‘tater to Marathon Runner," where you may also find out if there is a hidden marathoner in you.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer