Just Doing It
  • Image about Athens
Kagan McLeod

Anyway, I’ve begun training. For a marathon. I’ve been fitted for my first pair of proper running shoes instead of my usual method of bargain hunting at Big 5. I’m also paying more attention to things like pace, stride and proper hydration. I’ve adopted a specific training method for the ordeal and have even purchased a cheap timer that tells me when it’s time to stop running and take a walk break (more on that later). Next Saturday, I’ll be logging my first double-digit run. Ten miles. In spite of all inertia, better judgment and a random newspaper article I just read about (new word alert) rhabdomyolysis, a potentially lethal muscle condition caused by overexertion, I plan to run a marathon — or at least try. Why is that?

“The sense of personal empowerment, accomplishment and achievement that comes with it is simply amazing,” says Atlanta-based running coach and former Olympian Jeff Galloway, founder of the popular Galloway Marathon Training Program and completer of more than 150 marathons. “I haven’t found any other experience in life that bestows the blending of mind, body and spirit in as positive and powerful a way as the training for and finishing of a marathon. It changes people’s lives.”

And not just Boston qualifiers. All walks of life these days are rising to the marathon challenge. In 1976, an estimated 25,000 runners in the U.S. finished a marathon. These days, that number tops the half-million mark. It includes moms and dads, neighbors and co-workers, kids and a 92-year-old woman who completed last year’s Honolulu Marathon in just under 10 hours. According to Running USA, marathon attendances and sold-out races have hit new records over the last three years.

Can anyone run a marathon?
  • Image about Athens
Kagan McLeod

What’s fueling the recent marathon spike? A quick Web search reveals a variety of glib explanations: People have more time (uh, no, they don’t). People need stress relief (is this new?). Training and running a marathon is controllable, unlike the stock market (let’s not go there). And from a blog entry: ?“Running a marathon in Chicago is the most fun you can have without breaking the law.”

In other words, people’s reasons for running marathons are as personal and ?theory-proof as the perfectly understandable reasons — including important ones tied to cardiologists, pulmonologists and MRI results — for not running one. But if there is one overarching rationale behind the surge, it’s surely tied to the idea that marathons are no longer just exclusive events for “real” runners looking to win, place, qualify or better their times.

“I was never a huge athlete,” says Cheryl Sigle, an accountant from Manhattan, Kan., who caught the bug to run a marathon after her husband opened a local running store. “I started with 10-minute jogs, and eventually, there I was, running Nebraska’s Lincoln Marathon.”

Donna Deegan, a three-time breast-?cancer survivor and founder of an annual race, 26.2 with Donna: The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., didn’t take up marathon running until she was 34. “I was sort of like Forrest Gump: Once I started running, I just kept wanting to run farther and farther, and ultimately I absolutely fell in love with marathon running,” she says. “Fifteen of them later, it’s really not about bettering times but celebrating life with every step.”

More than ever, marathoning appears to be an all-are-welcome, communal activity for folks who just want to cross it off their bucket list — an outlook I’m beginning to relate to myself. Until my own recent bout of marathon fever, I’d never run more than five miles in a stretch. Now, in early training, pushing past routine five-, six- and seven-mile runs toward double-digit territory, the notion of running more than 26 miles feels equal parts crazy, unfathomable and yet somehow doable — reinforced by the zeitgeist that virtually anyone can pull this off. But is that really true?

“It’s not for everyone, but it is for many people,” says Dr. Diana Twiggs, a Fernandina Beach, Fla.–based physician, marathoner and medical adviser for runners . Of course, she says, “There are those with orthopedic problems, heart conditions and other real reasons not to run.” There are also, she notes, other doctors who say that running a marathon is a terrible idea and an immoderate body killer.

“There are still two schools of thought on that,” says Twiggs, who strongly recommends getting at least basic medical clearance with a family physician who can rule out any reasons not to try. In general, she says, “If you can run a mile, you can probably run a marathon.”