Wilt's Marathon Question

Our President’s Marathon Question

In The President’s Message for October, Wilt Alston asks the following about the marathon: 

Is it possible to train enough that you can perform at a high level and not feel stressed or hurt or challenged during the exploit?  

From my experiences finishing 60 ultras and 43 marathons, I think the answer is inevitably, “No, it is not!”  At least I don’t believe it is possible if you are really performing at a high level.   

Is it possible to train enough to finish a marathon and not feel stressed or hurt or challenged?  Yes, you could consider those training runs.  When I was in sub 3 hour marathon shape back in the early 1980s, I helped a friend in his attempts to run a 3:10 Boston Qualifier.  It took three tries to get him there.  In his first two tries he dropped out at about 20 miles and I finished the two marathons in under 3:10.  The third time he made it in 3:10, just under the 3:10:59 qualifier limit.  Those marathons were comparatively easy and actually seemed to be good training for 100K I was training for at the time.  I found the difference between not stressed and highly stressed seemed to be about 30 seconds per mile or about 10-15 minutes slower.  Of course, I was averaging 70-80 miles a week at the time and recovered quickly.

Even comfortably finishing a marathon requires a robust training base, something perhaps beyond the tolerance of many runners.  So, let us consider a much shorter distance:  Is it possible to train enough that you can perform at a high level and not feel stressed, etc., during a mile race?

Again, I think that the answer is no.  The better trained you are, the higher your high level performance will be and it will still hurt like hell for at least the last lap, maybe the last two laps.  And, when you finish, if you have run bravely and given it your all down the home stretch, you will feel great once you can breathe normally.