Myth Marathon: How to Reach the Finish Unscathed

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For many running enthusiasts it is omnipresent: the desire to run a marathon at least once in a lifetime. But it takes more than ambition, determination and stamina to go the distance. Often enough, even hardcore runners are thwarted by their own bodies.

Mythos Marathon: So kommst du unbeschadet ans Ziel
Intensive training is required for a marathon.

42.195 kilometres of drudgery: what some people can't cover in a day, others run in a good two hours - in the extreme marathon. Even today, the ancient Greek supreme discipline of long-distance running has lost none of its fascination. On the contrary, more and more running enthusiasts are succumbing to the irresistible attraction of tackling the almost insurmountable distance. According to myth, they are following in the footsteps of the Greek messenger Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens some 2,500 years ago with a message of victory in his luggage.

How Healthy Is a Marathon?

According to tradition, Pheidippides reached his goal, but did not survive. No sooner had he announced the good news than the valiant hero collapsed dead from exhaustion. So he is not a role model for the optimal preparation of the race. The sporting side of the story has more cautionary overtones.

The question arises: Can a run over such a huge distance be healthy at all? After all, even today we hear time and again of athletes collapsing or even dying during a marathon, such as in the 2009 Detroit Marathon, in which three participants lost their lives. So are the magical 42 kilometres perhaps just too much for our organism after all? "In fact, this discipline stresses the body enormously, the health benefits of the race are zero," explains sports physician and former competitive athlete Andreas Hieß in the magazine "Stern". That doesn't really sound like an all-clear. However, Hieß adds in the interview that the hard training for the long run definitely has a positive effect on health, especially for our cardiovascular system.

Patience Is Required

Rule number one is therefore: Before starting marathon training, a detailed health check should be made by a doctor. If the cardiovascular system is healthy and the musculoskeletal system is intact, the preparation can begin. In order to avoid injuries and, above all, overtraining, patience and a sustainable training plan are now required. Depending on the athlete's initial condition, preparation can take up to three years (!) for newcomers. Although a clear increase in fitness is usually noticeable after a few months of training, joints, bones and tendons need much longer to get used to the unknown load.

Marathon training requires a lot of patience.
Image credit:
Andrew Tanglao/

The Be-All and End-All - Well-Planned Training

The individual training condition of the runner is primarily decisive for targeted preparation. In general, however, around 50 kilometres per week should be covered to achieve a stable basic endurance level. Four training days are sufficient at the beginning, about 70 to 80 percent of the units should be composed of classic endurance runs, which mainly boost the fat metabolism. The remaining 20 to 30 percent can consist of interval and strength training, as well as shorter tempo runs. So a weekly training plan for beginners might look like this:

  • Monday: moderate endurance run (approx. 60 min), followed by 15 minutes of interval running with five tempo increases.
  • Tuesday: Strength training, e.g. five sets each of squats, lunges, deadlifts
  • Wednesday: Rest day
  • Thursday: Moderate endurance run (approx. 60 min). Followed by interval training: six sets of 400 metres with a slight incline
  • Friday: Rest day
  • Saturday: Slow endurance run (approx. 90 min)
  • Sunday: Rest day

Often Underestimated - The Mental Strength

Especially for beginners, it is less important at the beginning to run the distance at a certain pace. It is more important to prepare body and mind step by step for longer distances. Because what many underestimate: The psyche plays a huge role in long-distance running. The aching body, the fatal prospect of a seemingly endless number of miles still to go, and finally the worry that you won't make it after all - these are all factors that have to be processed by the mind. This process plays a decisive role in the success of the run, at least as much as the physical constitution.

Besides meditation and motivation techniques, however, there is one effective means of achieving this mental strength: Running and running again.

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