There are training plans out there that promise that they’ll make a marathon runner out of a couch potato in just three months.
But can this be true?
Of course you can finish a marathon in the time limit of a regular race within three months after being inactive for years. But would that be a healthy approach?
Not at all!
In this article I wanna make the case for taking things slowly. That doesn’t mean that you can’t dream big. It just means having a health first attitude and be realistic about the time frame of achieving your goals.
Chances are that you didn’t have the childhood that was normal some 10,000 years ago. And that’s for many reasons a good thing.
However when it comes to running, our modern lifestyles often come with a radical change in how we move or not move.
I’ve never seen a healthy, 3-year-old that doesn’t intuitively run on a daily basis. But most 30-year-old I see don’t run at all and even cut walking by as much as possible.
If you are inactive for years and don’t follow the natural path of your body like our ancestors did 10,000+ years ago, you need to start from scratch. You just don’t have an endurance body. Yet!
A body (and mind) that is able to run marathons or other endurance running events without getting overly damaged takes some time. You just can’t build a marathon body from scratch in three months without any health risks.
Endurance is something that increases quite fast if you start training and the progress flattens the better you get. The same is true for your fitness and the pace you can maintain. So you can build up a decent endurance and fitness level quite fast.
But endurance and fitness are not the only things to consider. The burden on your locomotive system is what often causes injuries and preparing your bones and joints for dozens of miles of running each weeks, takes quite a while.
The good news is that you have the time to develop a running body even if you are no longer 20 or 30 years young. Running is an activity that can be done for decades and it’s even possible to start when you’re in your 60s.
Also it’s possible to achieve great running feats when you’re old. Ed Whitlock ran a sub 4h marathon aged 85 and there are runners who finished a marathon in their 90s.
Studies with data from the Boston Marathon showed that the performance potential of a 60 year old is the same than compared to a 19 year old. The peak potential is at 27 years of age. So your ability to run fast times in endurance running events lowers gradually but slowly after your 27th year.
So bottom line there’s no need to rush anything. Building an endurance running body takes quite some time but you have and should take this time.
But why should you take things slowly and take your time to develop your running skills?
There’s a simple reason for that: Health!
Most amateur endurance runners start with running for a health related reason. Be it weight loss, stress relieve or other health reasons, before the first run, most have a health focus.
But that’s not the case for all and the focus also often shifts once a running habit has been established. PBs and achieving ever greater goals and also just following the passion for running and do it as often as possible, get more and more important.
Of course that impacts health. If you wanna become a pro athlete, some health trade offs are inevitable. In order to be at the top 1% of your sport, you need to constantly train on the limit of what your body can do. And sometimes go over that limit.
But as an amateur runner there’s no need to rush anything. Our lives don’t rely on our finishing times. We can put health first and still do great runs and finish awesome races. Also crushing our PBs year after year is possible.
There’s no reason we can’t improve as runners but I suggest we do it in a healthy manner. This might also impact your long-term goals setting. As for me I prefer running a marathon when I’m 80 years old rather than running a 2:30 marathon as soon as possible.
Not rushing anything and going for a healthy improvement can be very difficult especially as a beginning runner. When you’re just starting out, you make big improvements quite fast. And it happens so fast that you get overly ambitious.
And that’s where most injuries happen. In my opinion it’s well worth getting to know your own body first and learn how much training volume and intensity increase you can handle. It’s in these moments where you need to control your motivation and make healthy and sustainable decisions.
Having a lot of motivation is of course a very good thing. But if you do too much too fast an injury or overtraining can break that motivation once and for all. And then you might never achieve any of your goals.
Let’s say in a silly moment sitting in a bar with your friends having a few beers you decided to run a marathon. And so you guys start training for it. Chances are that not all of you improve at the same rate.
So ask yourself what is when you’re not the top performer of your group. Should you just train more and harder to be faster than your friends? You could but you shouldn’t!
A bit of competition helps your motivation but don’t let others improvements and achievements take over control over your decisions. Your health and motivation are quite fragile in the beginning days of training.
So I strongly recommend you to make the right decisions, have a health-first attitude and a long-term mindset. If you do, you can and will celebrate achievements for decades to come while others need to stop running a week before a race due to an injury.
In the entirety of your running life slow and steady improvements always wins over the need to run as fast and as far as soon as possible.