Many a novice runner has viewed the half-marathon and marathon as unattainable distances far beyond their capabilities. Running 13.1/26.6 is the stuff of dreams and individuals accustomed to chasing game across the plains and possessing 1 percent body fat.
That perception often changes, however, as the novice moves up the running ladder and conquers increasingly greater distances.
The 5K is usually the first step in this upward progression. Running 3.1 miles often proves to be less daunting than expected, and many first-timers report they could have run further. With that distance under their belts, runners eye the next "rung" on the ladder - the 10K.
More training is required for the 10K; while many runners can hold a fast pace for 3.1 miles, they find it much more difficult to do the same for 6.2 miles. Thus, a slower pace is encouraged to ensure completion of the race.
With the 10K behind them, runners eye the next challenge - the half-marathon. The word "marathon" has actually crept into their minds and they're not running for the hills in fear and dread. Perhaps the half-marathon/marathon are attainable after all, they think to themselves.
For first-time half-marathoners, they're encouraged to follow a training program that advocates a slow,steady pace and at least one 10-miler. Completing the distance in two hours or less is considered a worthy goal, although it's a race that often focuses on just finishing rather than pursuing a specific time.
Finally, the Mount Everest of running looms ahead - the marathon. The distance many previously said they would only travel by car, bus or train doesn't seem so intimidating when taken in the context of their previous races. All they have to do is run two half-marathons or four 10Ks or eight 5Ks or....
Training is crucial to running a marathon. With the shorter distances, one can get by with little or no training and finish the race. That approach might not result in stellar times, especially in the half-marathon, but it does work if finishing is the goal.
The marathon, on the other hand, is said to consist of two races: the first 20 miles and the last 6.2 miles.
Many runners have zipped through the first 20 miles feeling fresh as a new pair of shoes, only to hit "The Wall" over the remaining 6.2 miles and struggle to cross the finish line. The body, it seems, can deal with 20 miles but rebels against a greater distance by introducing cramps, muscle tightness and other forms of pain.
At this point of the race, barring a serious injury or health issue, runners have to rely on their mental toughness to gut it out. The temptation is to walk or drop out of the race and stop the "madness," but sheer determination and the refusal to quit can silence that inner voice. Often, it's some encouraging words form a fellow runner or bystander that can provide the impetus to finish the race.
Ultimately, however, it's the runner who has to dig deep and move beyond the pain and discomfort so he or she can join that individual chasing game across the plains and the person with 1 percent body fat in that exclusive club of marathoners.
So, after all, the half-marathon/marathon are attainable.