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What Are The Benefits Of Running 13.1 Or 26.2 Miles?

by Karl Gruber
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Sometimes as the old, grizzled veteran runner that I am, it can be easy to get jaded when encountering another runner who has signed up for yet another half or full marathon. I mean, I’ve crossed the finish line of a marathon race 78 times in my life. Fortunately, when it comes to running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, my eyes are as wide as a six-month-old baby’s as she looks upon the world in total wonderment. Even after all this time, each and every one of those marathon finish lines still holds an amazing feeling for me – really!

So, what exactly is the benefit for YOU when you run a half or full marathon? As I mentioned previously, completing a long distance race goes a long way in helping erase any preconceived limitations you’ve held about yourself. Most of us have had our dreams of big accomplishments and goals pounded out of us by people constantly telling us “NO! You can’t do that!” or “You just don’t have the talent and ability.” – yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m here to tell you that YOU CAN DO IT! Running a half or full marathon is a fine way to move past your self-doubts and find the person within who has erased the belief that you can’t do it – because you can.

When considering running and training for a half or full marathon, one would think that the first consideration of its effects would be physical. For me, however, the first consideration is the mental benefits. Granted, running for long periods of time and longer distances will naturally have an overall effect on your body anyway, but the mental benefits of a long run are not the first thing you think about.

 I can tell you with certainty that when you are 24 miles into a marathon, your mind will be in a place it’s never visited before – at least not very often. More than likely, you will feel some raw emotions as all of your exterior motives, thoughts and feelings have just been burned away. Sometimes I’ll get angry. Sometimes I start crying with joy or in agony. Whatever the case, there is something about 13.1 or 26.2 miles that releases these types of emotions. Consider it a form of catharsis.

Then there’s the Runner’s High. Late in a marathon, I had often realized that my brain is on its own and has become an objective observer of the effort my own body is putting out while running. I compare this feeling to being a passenger in a car, and simply observing all of the scenes passing by while someone else does all the driving. Some call this the “runner’s high,” and I would have to say that is a pretty good term for it. 

Once I hit the finish line and realize it’s all over, however, a somewhat vacant feeling comes over me. “Hello? Anyone home?” Well, at least not for a while. The good thing is that this vacancy in your mind gradually falls away, and you then turn to the runner’s vow, “I will never ever do this again!” After two or three weeks have passed, an alternative thought emerges, “Well, maybe I should start training again. I’ve been meaning to run the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon next spring!”

Mentally, the benefits of your half or full marathon experience pay off in the days and weeks after your race. You feel a very real sense of accomplishment, less stress, and healthy and physically fit like you’ve never felt before. I’ve said this to many of my running friends and I’ll say it again. One of the main reasons I run is the great feeling I experience later on after I’ve recovered from the effort. 

According Dr. George Sheehan in his book, Running To Win, “But if the runner does have what it takes, a new self is born. By enduring this 26.2 mile agony, the runner achieves the physical, mental, and spiritual virtues and strengths that make a runner a successful player in life.”

It’s clear the mental benefits of running surpasses just the mental aspects, and it also overflows into the physical and even spiritual elements of your life. One could mistake the sport of running as the remedy for all the difficulties and problems in life, and perhaps it is. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of people in this world that are ready to pay a lot of money for those benefits. They just haven’t found running yet to realize that the only payment required is small amounts of money in the form of race registrations.

Running, especially racing a half or full marathon or even farther, may or may not be a cure-all for the problems in your life, but why not find out for yourself? That race registration is not too far away. Just sign up!  

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