What the marathon means


By Fred Deckert


It’s that time of year again when a lot of local runners are starting their late fall and winter marathon training, the only reasonable time to do so in this area. Perhaps it’s also a good time to discuss what the marathon has meant over the last 30 years or so. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when I started running marathons, the perspective of my peers was considerably different than that of the present. As one friend, who’d been running since high school commented, “You can run a marathon or race it.” He regarded my efforts in the 3:30 range as “running” even though that was a maximum effort for me. That was the consensus in those days, you were expected to train at least 50, preferably 70 or more miles a week before attempting the marathon.

As we well know, things have changed quite a bit. First, from racing to running and now quite often to “doing” a marathon. I’ll try to put some boundaries around this sometimes nebulous set of definitions. Racing would be somewhere above 80% of your maximum effort at short distances. Competitive marathoners often will come close to 85% of their short distance racing speed. An 85% marathon effort would equate to about 10 times your 5K time. In other words, if you run the 5K in 24 minutes, 10 x 24 = 240 minutes or 4 hours. At 80% you would multiply 24 minutes by 10.5. or 252 minutes and 4:12. Slower than that, for this discussion you would be “running” it.

“Doing” the marathon is a wide open definition. It would generally be regarded as doing a lot of walking or jogging, and often with a minimum of training base. Since the popularization of the “run/walk” technique by Jeff Galloway, this has become a popular method of marathon participation, to the point where the average completion time for large marathons has gone over 4 hours. There is a blurring of the line with the Galloway technique, since some practitioners take short walk breaks and consequently achieve close to actual racing times.

My intent is not to define which of these methods of marathoning is the “best”, the same person may at different times use all of them. At this point in my own life the “racing” is out of the question since I could neither physically or psychologically approach the necessary training requirements. These boundaries discussed are arbitrary and undoubtedly open to different opinions.