Weekly Feature

Steven Senne/AP
The start of the 2002 Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon: Reasons to Run

April 18, 2009
by Liz Colville
Monday, April 20, is the 113th running of the Boston Marathon, where some 35,000 entrants will run a challenging 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston watched by about 500,000 spectactors. It remains one of the most popular and storied marathons in the world.

The first Boston Marathon in 1897 was inspired by the first marathon of the modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in 1896. The Boston Athletic Association mimicked the course as closely as it could: it was "a 25-mile hilly route culminating at a stadium, or the closest thing to a stadium that Boston had at the time, the 220-yard Irvington Street Oval," The Boston Globe writes. Only 18 men ran that first race.

Today, tens of thousands compete, inspired by the U.S. running boom that in many ways was born at the Boston Marathon in the 1970s, as Americans like Bill Rodgers showed others what was possible. With the advent of the Web, even more people can now get access to the inspiring stories, professional insights and training plans needed to run a marathon.

Why Run a Marathon?

The marathon has become one of the fastest-growing types of sporting event in the world, but it’s a daunting event, especially to those who prefer the elliptical or the bike, or simply can’t fathom the distance of 26.2 miles. But the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) argues that the human body is more than capable of completing a marathon. We used to run distances "far greater than a marathon. As a hunter, one of man’s greatest assets was his stamina. He would run his prey ragged."
The marathon is hard, but training for it isn’t as tough as it used to be, and that’s a good thing. John Hanc explains the 21st-century approach: take it easy. Hanc notes that, “During the first running boom three decades ago, aspirants embarked upon a six-day regimen of arduous runs hellbent on crossing the finish line in the fastest time possible … Things have changed.” Now it’s about weight loss, raising money or simply acquiring a new hobby. No world records have to be sought to participate.
The PBS NOVA documentary “Marathon Challenge” follows a novice group’s preparation for last year’s Boston Marathon and demonstrates that the marathon is a reachable goal, even for those who haven’t run since eighth grade gym class.
First-time marathoners might get inspired by this Runner’s World article about three young dads training for their first Boston Marathon. Like many athletes, the runner dads thrived on companionship. They "pushed each other through the winter, using our runs to compare notes on whose baby was eating the best, sleeping the longest, or crying the loudest."

How to Run a Marathon

It takes patience and perseverance to run a marathon. You must treat your body like an expensive car for at least four months: feed it with fuel, take it for frequent drives, let it go fast every once in awhile and maintain upkeep of all its parts. But if you don’t know how to take care of your personal running machine, there are plenty of experts who can clue you in.
Jeff Galloway is a distance running guru. With a regular column in Runner’s World, plus contributions to Active.com and his own site, Galloway makes distance running accessible to runners of all ages and fitness levels. Read his article “How to Run Your First Marathon” on Active.com, where he delivers important wisdom that even veterans will appreciate.
Your age helps determine how you train for and run a marathon, and Runner’s World’s "Running Through the Ages" is a great way to learn about all the perks and pitfalls of running during each decade of your life, from your teens through your 70s.
Active.com offers a set of FAQs from Hal Higdon, veteran marathoner and author. Consult these FAQs in the days and weeks leading up to a marathon, because it mentions small and perhaps esoteric factors of marathon racing that many runners might not think of in the midst of heavy training.

Where to Run a Marathon

To qualify for Boston, you'll have to run another marathon first. Thankfully, there are a ton to choose from, occurring year-round and around the globe. Marathons routes around the world vary from scorching to breezy, fairly flat to mountainous, scenic to urban. Cool Running, now a part of the sports network Active.com, has a calendar of marathons. You can browse races by location and event type using this feature.
Find more races with Running Times, a leading running magazine with ample listings that overlap some with those on Cool Running.

Daily Inspiration

The often solitary and monotonous sport of running needs spiritual as well as nutritional fuel to keep it going, and the Web has ample resources with insight, anecdotes and tips to keep it interesting from the first days of training to race day.
Nike hosts a lot of inspiring multimedia content on its Web site Nike Running, and also has a training log feature, and tools for running and racing with Nike Plus gear—a pace and distance tracking system that works with Nike shoes and time pieces and the iPod Nano.
Flotrack has a simple and free running log that you can personalize and share with other runners on the site, or even the team you run with. You can even add blog entries. The site also has instructional videos, race videos, interviews with pro runners, news pieces and more.
The running regimen can be tough on your stomach, and it's important to feed your "furnace" with the right fuel to keep it going during races and practice. The Diet Channel has a good article about fueling up before a run or race. Discussed here are scheduling and timing, the glycemic index, and other important factors to help marathoners get their bearings before race day.

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