Racing over 42,195km, the standard marathon distance, should not be taken lightly and racing the distance every other week is not going to enhance a running career. Decisions relating to which marathons to run should be serious in nature and not flippant.
There is nothing standard about 42,195km, or the in the old language 26 miles, 385 yards.
The history of the marathon is interlinked between two specific happenings. First there is the folklore of Pheidippides running from the battlefield of Marathon to bring news of a Greek victory to Athens, a distance it was said to be about 25 miles.
There was a desire to have a marathon of that distance, or 40km in metric terms at the 1908 London Marathon. The British being British decided to start at Windsor Castle and to finish in front of the Kings Royal Box. The distance came to 42,195km and somehow that has forever more been the official marathon distance.
So how many marathons should we run in a 12-month period or during a season if you prefer? The answer is somewhat subjective simply because lifestyles impact training, racing and recovery totally differently.
Any coach needs to fully understand the athlete, their strengths, weaknesses and limitations imposed by family, work, travel and even personality traits.
So that said there is quite simply no “one size fits all.”
In South Africa our decision making is further impeded by Comrades, Two Oceans and a host of other ultra marathons.
The best way of “knowing” what a runner can handle is to work closely with them in a pressure situation, as that can be evaluated over races from 10km to the half marathon, without doing too much damage.
Let us for now focus on the standard marathon. First any runner who is lined up at the start and is unsure of him or herself in anyway should best go home. Let’s not equate insecurity of preparedness with race nerves. They are not the same thing.
When any of my runners tell me “I am so nervous.” I reply “great, nerves are the fuel that will get you going and focussed and then the training will take over.”
If, however, a runner does not feel nervous, excited and expectant, then they are simply going to expend energy that they do not have in the type of abundance required to race 42,195km.
The most important criteria prior to all this is the choice of which marathon. Why run a no name brand that means little. Choose one that has history to it, personal or national. One that you cannot wait to tell folk you completed. Or better still one that can provide you with your personal best. In other words, it is fast and offers character.
If you live a full life and are a largely social runner, choose one, maybe two a year and give them your all. If you are a professional runner or semi-retired, well then that is another discussion altogether.