Why Marathons & Half Marathons Are Addicting

by Karl Gruber
If you are one of those runners (and there are many) who have recently completed a half or full marathon, I’m sure the first thought that came into your head after you crossed the finish line was, “I am never doing that again!” But now with some decent recovery time, those thoughts of suffering the last couple miles, staggering around in the finish line area and dealing with muscles that felt like they were on a different planet of hurt, are now a bit hazy. And with a quick glance at your shiny finisher’s medal hanging on your wall, a smile crosses your face and you think to yourself, “I need to start training for that fall marathon I’ve been wanting to run.” 

Ah ha! Caught you! Admit it. You’re addicted to running 13.1 or 26.2 miles! Yes, I said addicted, and I will tell you that there are far worse things that you can be addicted to. 

As a matter of fact, running long distance is an excellent healthy addiction to have! To that point, it can downright be a lifesaver. I have two very good friends who realized their alcoholism was taking them down a very unhealthy path of addiction, and a combination of running and Alcoholics Anonymous saved their lives. After three decades, this combination has continued to work for both of them, and they are both still running. Their new, healthy addiction of running helped them to overcome their unhealthy addiction to alcohol. You could say running saved their lives and continues to help them maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle much longer than others who battled alcoholism.

While it is true that running – especially running marathons – can help people to overcome unhealthy addictions, I’m focusing on how and why distance running can become both a mental and physical addiction in this article.

Here is a list of healthy, addicting attributes that result from running and racing half and full marathons:

Mental Satisfaction
There is nothing like looking back at your successful completion of having run 13.1 or 26.2 miles and saying to yourself, “I did it!” There is nothing like the feeling of having accomplished something that may have seemed impossible to you at one time.

Physical Improvement
After training long and hard and having successfully completed your race, you feel satisfaction when seeing yourself in the mirror. Where once there was a rather large bulge of excess weight around your middle, you now can see your stomach muscles and some incredible muscular legs. Burning anywhere from 2,600 – 3,000 calories in a single 26.2 mile run will do that. Your daily running and full marathon race have built a strong physical foundation for you to stand on, and it allows you to live a quality, healthier life.

One common trait you will find within yourself, and most all of your running buddies who have completed training and raced a half or full marathon, is a new level of confidence. Once you cross that finish line, you now understand that you really do have the ability to accomplish a seemingly gargantuan task! And this new level of confidence then carries over into other areas of your life. 

Because you have already successfully navigated 26.2 miles, it gives you that needed confidence to take on life’s other huge challenges. In his small but power-packed book Unleash the Champion, author Denny Dicke states, “Then when it comes time to actually perform, you will be much more confident because your mind is convinced that this is familiar ground.” Familiar ground indeed, especially for a long distance runner. This new confidence carries over into every aspect in your life when faced with a new challenge. You realize you can do it simply because you’ve been there, done that!

Desire to Improve
This desire to improve on the performance of your last half or full marathon stems from newly found self-confidence in your ability to take on huge efforts successfully. This almost always results in the thought, “I’ll bet I can beat that time in my next marathon.” 

Authors Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas discuss this perfectly in their book Advanced Marathoning. “When you’ve run a marathon and want to move beyond the basics – or if you’re an accomplished runner at shorter distances planning a marathon debut – then it’s time to graduate to advanced marathoning. What do we mean by advanced marathoning? Simply this: that many runners aren’t content with saying, ‘I finished.’ They want to run the marathon as they do shorter races, namely as fast as possible. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to drop everything in their lives and do nothing but train, but it does mean that they’re committed to doing their best.”

It is pretty easy to understand just why a half or full marathon – or even ultra distances – can be considered a “healthy” addiction. If you are a non-runner or a runner who has yet to take on the challenge of 13.1 or 26.2 miles, it may be pretty hard to comprehend how and why running those distances can be addicting. But once you do successfully tackle long distance running and racing, I can guarantee you that the window shades of your mind will open and a brilliant flow of light will hit you. 

It will make you realize, “Yep, I’m addicted. I am addicted to running half and full marathons! Now where is that registration form for the Pittsburgh Marathon?”

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