Chances are, you have run a marathon or know someone who has. What might have seemed in the past like a feat only the most elite athletes could accomplish, has become increasingly popular over the past few decades.

Between 2008 and 2018, marathon participation increased by almost 50%. The number of people who completed marathons in 2018 was 1,298,725.

If you are wondering why so many people set out to run a marathon, there are four main reasons given. Psychological motives are the first category, including wanting to improve self-esteem or to deal with an emotional challenge. Secondly are social reasons, which include running as a way to socialize or gain peers’ respect. Physical purposes comprise the third category, meaning wanting to get into shape or lose weight. Finally, the fourth motivator is achievement, such as pushing oneself beyond previous or perceived limits or seeing how one stacks up against others.

Man wearing orange sports shirt running on street, adidas, running, sports, sport, fitness
Running a marathon offers an opportunity to alter our view of what is possible.

In case you are baffled by the decision of so many to run 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers), perhaps the following stories will offer some insight. Beware, though: they might also inspire you to lace up those running shoes and hit the trail.

1. Run a marathon – and break a few barriers while you’re at it

Women weren’t officially allowed to compete in marathons until 1972 when the Boston Marathon created a second category. It took the Olympics another 12 years before the women’s division was added in 1984. This doesn’t mean women were patiently waiting to be invited to the get on their marks, get set and go. Instead, women like Kathrine Switzer were finding their way into races in their own ways and on their own terms.

Woman wearing sports clothes running on road, Kathrine Switzer, runner, running, woman, athlete, inspiration
Over half a century after running her first official marathon, Kathrine Switzer is still an avid runner.

Kathrine registered for the Boston Marathon in 1967 using her initials. Before the race, her coach told her to wipe off her lipstick, arguing it might give away the fact that she was a “girl.” She insisted on running the race with her lipstick, though, and the fact that she was a woman was detected. About four miles into the marathon, a man in leather shoes and an overcoat got out of a car and told Kathrine to get out of the race. He tried to rip her bib number from her chest.

To see more about what motivated Kathrine to run the 1967 Boston Marathon and how she fared, check out our interview with her here.

2. A global shut-down doesn’t need to shut down plans to run a marathon

The coronavirus pandemic has upended countless plans. All kinds of events have been canceled and travel plans severely curtailed. When Adrian Mas realized he would not be able to participate in the Medellin Marathon of 2020, he had to reevaluate his running regimen. Only allowed to travel up to 5 kilometers from his house in Dublin, he decided to train for a half-marathon. Eventually, though, his motivation and aspirations overcame him.

Field of grass in outdoors on a sunny day, Dublin, running, marathon, training, tracking, road
Adrian Mas didn’t run the marathon he‘d planned, but he did get in some gorgeous runs.

To see how Adrian ended up revising his ambitions and the methods of reaching them, read his story here.

3. Run a marathon – or over a hundred of them – to save lives

The marathon has been an effective vehicle for breaking barriers and inspiring ingenuity. It can also be a method of challenging what many consider impossible. Terry Fox chose to run across Canada soon after one of his legs was removed as part of his cancer treatment by running a marathon a day.

Black and white image of man with prosthetic leg running on road, Terry Fox, Canada, athlete, motivation, inspiration
Terry Fox ran 5,373 kilometers of the way across Canada. ©Gail Harvey

For more about Terry’s mission and achievements, see our story about the Marathon of Hope.

What has running brought you or those around you? What motivates you to take on projects of marathon proportion? We’d love to see your thoughts in the comments below.


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