10 Marathon Running Myths

Myth #1: Not everyone is capable of running a marathon


You may not have heard of Fauja Singh but at the age of 93 he broke the world record at the 2000 London Marathon for a runner aged 90+ years.

It’s likely that you haven’t heard of Harriette Thompson either. Harriette became the oldest female runner to run a marathon at age 92 when she completed the 2015 San Diego Rock’n’Roll marathon.

In the 2016 London Marathon a man dressed as a banana ran a 2 hour 47 minute 41 second time, thus becoming the fastest marathon runner dressed as a fruit.

I could go on but I think you get the point, anyone can complete a marathon. No matter how old you are or what object you decide to dress as.

To put marathon running into perspective, the London Marathon has a cut off time of 8 hours, which is the equivalent of travelling at 3.3 miles per hour – about the speed of a steady walk.

As long as runners take their training seriously (and sensibly!) anyone can run a marathon.

Myth #2: Smaller runners are faster

Myth #2: Smaller runners are faster

It can be tempting to watch elite marathon runners and conclude that you need to be small and wiry to compete.

Whilst at the sharp end of competition bodyweight and frame size do come into it, you only have to look slightly further back in the field to see competitors of all shapes and sizes.

Carrying additional unwanted weight will affect a runners overall time but it won’t stop them from completing the race (assuming they have trained accordingly).

Additionally taller runners will have a longer stride length, so if two runners have the same stride rate but one has a stride length ½ inch longer than the other, then that runner will finish 380 yards ahead of the other runner. Size can be an advantage or a burden but as long as someone trains appropriately then this shouldn’t be an issue.

Myth #3: Running marathons makes you age quicker

Myth #3: Running marathons makes you age quicker

It’s understandable that when people think of a marathon runner they often picture a malnourished scrawny individual whose gaunt looks suggest advancing years.

This stereotype however is unfair as regular exercise has potent anti-aging effects.

Plus a recent study found that tour de France competitors (who competed prior to 1960 –predating the use/discovery of performance enhancing drugs) lived longer than sedentary individuals, supporting the idea that endurance exercise even at the extremes is beneficial for the body.

The positive effects of exercise also extend to reduced blood pressure, reduced body fat, and lower cholesterol levels – all things that are associated with premature aging.

It’s impossible to say that marathon runners will live longer than non-marathon runners, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that there are ample benefits to undertaking regular structured exercise.

Myth #4: You can’t drink alcohol when training for a marathon

Myth #4: You can’t drink alcohol when training for a marathon

Alcohol and athleticism aren’t normally two things that go together.

Sure, you can enjoy a beer after a hard race but what about during training?

In short the answer is no, it doesn’t have to be avoided completely during training but there are some things you should be aware of if you do decide to indulge every now and again.

As it with most things alcohol in moderation is fine, however there are a couple of things athletes should be aware of.

First is that alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, so a bottle of wine contains around 700 calories.

It’s important to keep this in mind when training as extra calories can cause weight gain if not accounted for.

The other thing to be aware of is that alcohol can be dehydrating, which can impact sleep and recovery.

A small amount of alcohol every now and again is likely going to do no harm, however it should probably be avoided ahead of long running days and definitely avoided the week of competition.

Myth #5: You need to run 100 mile weeks

Myth #5: You need to run 100 mile weeks

If you ever pick up a running magazine and read the training diary of a pro marathoner you’d be forgiven for thinking that running 100’s of miles per week is necessary for success.

The truth is that everyone is different and whilst high mileage is perfect for some, for others it only leads to overtraining and injury.

So how much training is necessary for a marathon?

As per the above everyone is different so it’s difficult to answer that question, however put another way what is the minimum amount of training needed?

The two considerations when training for a marathon are to prepare the body for the 26.2 miles of race day and to get there in good shape (i.e. not injured).

How to achieve this will vary but the minimum volume someone should aim for is about 30 miles per week.

As long as there is a focus on developing the aerobic base then a minimum of 30 miles should be fine for most people, of course if you want to do more and can tolerate it then go ahead.

Myth #6: You need to put life on hold to train for a marathon

Myth #6: You need to put life on hold to train for a marathon

If you’ve never run a marathon before then the prospect of completing one might loom large and leave you tempted to put everything else in life on hold.

Alternatively if you’ve already completed one or more races and have the taste to go faster and beat your personal best then the same can be true.

The truth is that training for a marathon doesn’t need to dominate your life, and in fact may offer a welcome distraction from the daily grind.

The key to success is managing your training around your lifestyle e.g. planning training sessions for early in the mornings or fitting it in at lunch times etc.

It also depends on your individual goals as simply completing a marathon shouldn’t require more than 3-4 days per week of training.

Myth #7: Marathon running is bad for you

Myth #7: Marathon running is bad for you

Tune into the TV coverage at the start of any major marathon and you will likely see many smiling faces as runners bound along waving to the cameras .. tune in again a couple of hours later and you will likely see those faces have now turned red as people huff, puff and grimace their way around the course.

That’s not to mention the blisters, chafing and risk of dehydration etc.

With all that in mind you might wonder why marathon running is so popular (20,000 people line up on the start line for London).

Marathon running for most people likely fits into the definition of type II fun – it’s not great at the time but after the fact it was enjoyable.

Sadly there are reports of runners experiencing fatal outcomes whilst running marathons.

Unfortunately with such mass participation this type of event isn’t too surprising, and more often than not (when information is provided) the runners actually had an underlying issue that led to death as opposed to it being solely the exertion of running.

As with any exercise program it’s import to discuss with your healthcare professional prior to any new undertaking as they will be able to best advise you.

Regular exercise has a lot of physiological and psychological benefits so as long as you are sensible with your training there’s no reason marathon running can’t contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle.

There’s no denying that marathon running comes with some risks and likely discomfort but talk to anyone who has run one and you’ll quickly see that completing it was worth the agony.

Myth #8: You should not run more than two or three marathons a year


As comedian Eddie Izzard completed his 43rd marathon in 51 days his conclusion was that the body will adapt to the stress it is placed under.

He noted that  whilst painful at first somewhere around marathon 10 he started to feel better, like his body gave up resisting and said ok this is what we’re doing now, let’s get on with it.

The idea that you should only run two or three marathons a year is quite outdated thinking.

There’s probably some truth to it if at the elite level and tapering and peaking at the right race is of high importance, but outside of that there’s no physiological limit to the number of marathons you can run in a year.

Of course that doesn’t mean go out and run 43 consecutive marathons tomorrow but likewise if you have your heart set on certain races and just love the training and competing then don’t be held back by outdated thinking.

Myth #9: Heart rate monitors are essential

Myth #9: Heart rate monitors are essential

At one point in time heart rate training was in vogue.

Every runner, cyclist and triathlete swore by it and a large number of people still do to this day.

The useful thing with heart rate training is that it helps you determine parameters (or zones) to run in, allowing you to measure your effort and reproduce efforts consistently.

That in a nutshell is the purpose of heart rate training.

Some athletes like to work by heart rate zones but unless it is a strong personal preference there is no evidence to support the use of heart rate as superior to other methods.

In fact, a 1987 study in cyclists found that instructions such as “pedal somewhat hard” or “pedal hard” were just as effective as heart rate zones when reproducing the same effort.

Reproducing the right level of effort is really the key point to focus on (that’s the purpose behind heart rate zones).

We recommend using pace as a way to measure intensity as we’ve found this to be more effective for athletes when undertaking a training program.

Myth #10: Go crazy on carbs before race day

Myth #10: Go crazy on carbs before race day

In the mid 80’s a new type of race preparation started to come into practice based on studies that showed athletes could increase their energy stores ahead of race day.

The protocol at the time involved eating a low carbohydrate diet around 10-6 days in order to deplete muscle glycogen (how the body stores carbohydrate), followed by an extremely high carbohydrate diet (8-10g/kg) for three days before a race to replenish muscle glycogen and add a bit more in for good measure.

Subsequent research has found that you don’t need to do the depletion phase and in fact can just eat a larger amount of carbohydrate in the three days before a race but should you?

Whilst there is some evidence that this can be beneficial for endurance athletes it often comes down to personal preference as the extra carbohydrate stores come with extra bodyweight, which some athletes dislike.

So is it essential? No, but it’s worth experimenting with to see how you respond to it.

It’s always best to focus on a diet that emphasises both health and performance.

Make sure you try it in training first though. Never try new things on race day!    

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