Professional joy-killer Daniel Engber of Slate recently opined that there is possibly no “greater waste of time and energy than the running of the marathon.” He bemoans the misspent hours, the injury risk and expense of the endeavor, and the lack of tangible reward for all that labor.


If one is only interested in hard statistics, of course he’s right. The time commitment is high, the injury rates are discouraging, and at the end, you hobble home with little more than a cheap medal and blisters to show for your months of preparation.


But there are benefits to training for and completing a marathon that aren’t measured in university studies. Things like self-discovery and discipline, camaraderie and human spirit. Anyone who has completed a marathon will tell you that it’s not about the race itself; it’s about the sum of the experience, from that first Saturday morning training run, to the celebratory dinner with friends after the race.



If you think that sore legs are all you get from running a marathon, you're missing the point. [Photo courtesy of Pixabay]


Training for a marathon also teaches you how to challenge and train yourself physically. A skill which, given our nation’s epidemic of diseases related to sedentarism, is a good bit more useful than, say, speaking Arabic. Granted, marathon training is hardly a holistic fitness program in itself, and many who take up the sport to lose weight will find their increased appetite an added challenge. But it is a far better program than you’ll get with your average $10 a month gym membership, and can light the way to endless future fitness pursuits.


Marathons have also become philanthropic engines driving significant contributions to charity. Every marathon in a major city has at least one charity partner, sometimes several. Runners in the Boston Marathon alone raised more than $15 million in 2015. Marathon runners are particularly motivated and tenacious people, so when thousands of them at a time focus their attention on fundraising, it’s no surprise that they are hugely successful.


And runners are hardly “going against the grain.” Road running is in the midst of a boom not seen since the jogging craze of the 1970s, with competitive road races seeing a 170% increase in participation between 1991 and 2011. Much of that increase has been from the boom of the half marathon, but the number of full marathon finishers has also more than doubled over the same period.


People don’t run marathons, or climb Everest, or take on any other arbitrary and difficult endeavor simply “because they are there,” or for the Facebook likes. They do them to find out what they’re made of. And until you have bent yourself against that which you formerly considered impossible, you can never really know. If improving yourself physically and mentally while supporting medical research and childrens’ health sounds like a waste of time to you, I’m guessing you also hate puppies and rainbows. But if those things appeal to you, then maybe running a marathon this year is the absolute best thing you can do.

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