Stop Using the Marathon as a Measure of Your Worth as a Runner

Today marks the two year anniversary of my first and only marathon (so far). On November 8, 2015, I ran the Outer Banks Marathon and, in doing so, made practically every mistake it is possible to make when running a marathon. I finished the race in 4:49 – way past my goal time – and hardly enjoyed a minute of it. In fact, when I look back over the three years that I have been running, my marathon is not even in my “Top 5” races that I am proud of completing, and it’s definitely not anywhere close to being one of the most fun or enjoyable races that I’ve run.

When I decided to sign up for the Outer Banks Marathon, I had just completed my first half marathon at the St. Michaels Running Festival. Still riding the high of that accomplishment and wanting to push myself further, I started scouting various marathon websites and perusing marathon training plans online. I could have signed up for another half marathon to see if I could improve upon my finish time – and that probably would have been the smarter thing to do – but at that point in my running, I was more obsessed with running farther than running faster. And, in hindsight, I also felt like I still had something to prove after the St. Michaels Half. After a few nights of deliberation, I decided on the Outer Banks Marathon for its “flat and fast” course and because I had never been to the Outer Banks before (and what better way to explore a new place than running 26.2 miles through it?).


Five and a half months later, I toed the line of the Outer Banks Marathon. The weather that day was overcast and very windy, with temperatures in the 50s. The “flat and fast” course actually turned out to be quite hilly, particularly through a nature preserve area that was impossible to preview if you attempted to drive the course (like Matt and I did the night before the race). Combined with a number of other rookie errors made by yours truly, the race was really a playbook for what not to do when you run a marathon. I returned home feeling incredibly defeated – eighteen weeks of training down the tubes – and looking for redemption. In a moment of weakness, I signed up for the Rehoboth Beach Marathon three weeks later, but switched to the half shortly before race day after realizing I just didn’t have the desire to attempt another marathon yet. And, to this day, I still don’t.

Since returning to running earlier this year, one thing that has stood out to me is the number of people – both runners and non – who, after finding out that I run, almost immediately ask me if I’ve run a marathon. In fact, at the Wineglass Half Marathon, nearly every runner I spoke to asked me if I’ve run a marathon. When I answered “Yes,” and it turned out that they hadn’t, they almost seemed distraught – or worse, apologetic – and would give me a panicked explanation for why they hadn’t run a marathon yet or when they were planning to start training for one

This needs to stop.

The marathon is not the yardstick against which runners should be measured, or against which they should measure themselves.

In fact, I don’t think any particular race distance or finish time should be considered a litmus test that answers the question “How ‘runner’ are you?”

Am I proud that I finished a marathon? Yes, but not because it moved me to some upper echelon of runner-dom, or made it so that I can call myself a “real” runner (eyeroll). I’m proud in the same way that I’m proud of myself any time I push outside my comfort zone, persevere through something that is hard, and learn from a new experience.

The marathon does not define me or anyone else as a runner. Every minute I spend running – whether it’s an easy two miles for recovery or a PR half marathon – makes up a whole history that defines me as a runner. And this definition applies, and is unique, to every person who runs.

Coming down the home stretch of the OBX Marathon

There are a lot of good reasons to run a marathon, and with Shalane Flanagan’s historic win at the TCS New York City Marathon this month, I’m sure many people will be inspired to attempt this distance. But, if the only reason you want to run a marathon is because you think that by doing so, you’ll “level up” as a runner, or will finally be able to call yourself a “real” runner, let me be the first to tell you this just isn’t the case. Every time you get out the door or hop on treadmill and run, a real runner is born again.


Have you run a marathon? What are your thoughts on this distance?

Happy Running! ~Sara

7 thoughts

  1. My husband and I feel the same way. He did a handful of marathons and realized he simply hated the training and running the distance. He loves halves (and is even fine with 18-milers), so he sticks to the shorter distances. I’m not crazy about marathons, but there are a few that I really want to do (like Big Sur), so once I do those, I’m out.

    Happy running!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a few bucket list marathons, too- Big Sur being one of them- but I’m really enjoying running halves right now and not really planning on tackling any marathons any time soon. It’s good to hear others feel the same! 😊


  2. It’s a personal bugbear of mine that when you say you run, the how far or how fast question inevitably follows. Who gives a f…? My age, height, weight, experience, terrain, time available, lifestyle all make such comparisons pointless. And I’ve noticed that even if you give your ‘best’ time or distance or whatever to the questioners, it’s never good enough. Having reached 10km, I was asked if I was going to do a half marathon!!!! What’s the matter with 10km?
    The question I’d like to hear, but am still waiting for is ‘ you run, how does it make you feel?’
    We are all real runners, whether it’s 100m, a marathon, a 10 minute circuit – distance and time do not equate to value!
    Sorry rant over – you really struck a chord here…. lovely post

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I love the thought of asking “How does running make you feel?”, or even “What do you enjoy most about running/running ____ distance?” By the way, congrats on reaching 10K! I actually find that the hardest race distance to run… 😬


  3. Enjoyed reading this. And I’m not going to lie, I quite like the feeling it gives me when I tell people I run marathons, but not because of the ego boast or self esteem. It’s because I’ve overcome a personal challenge which provides a huge sense of achievement. You are right, people all run for different reasons and the focus should be about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Adam! Glad you enjoyed the read! I agree – marathons do provide a huge sense of achievement. I just don’t think they are the only measure of achievement 🙂 But I will admit that I am glad I’m able to say I at least ran one, once (and hopefully will again, someday!).

      Liked by 1 person

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