26 Reasons to Run a Marathon

Marathon Start
Getty Images North America

Whether you are a seasoned jogger who wants to work towards a new goal or a novice runner who is inspired by a friend's accomplishment of winning a race, there are many personal reasons as to why you would want to train for and run in a marathon.

Sure, there are plenty of excuses not to run a 26.2-mile race. You may tell yourself it's too hard and too far. You may be scared of getting injured and don’t want to lose toenails, deal with swollen feet, or experience constant soreness, so you talk yourself out of realizing your marathon dreams. But somewhere deep down you always go back to wondering what it would be like to put the effort into training for a marathon.

Although running a marathon can be a scary and painful endeavor, training for and running a race can offer a number of benefits for the body, mind, and soul. In fact, there are many reasons why you should run. Below are 26 reasons, one for every mile you’ll run in a marathon, for why you should start training now.

Benefits for Your Physical Health

Training for a marathon has many physical health benefits for the body.

  • Improved overall health: Running regularly strengthens your heart by increasing your VO2 max (aerobic capacity) and helping keep your blood pressure and high cholesterol at healthy levels. It also improves your immune system and increases muscle strength. In addition, longer runs push your body to strengthen fast-twitch fibers in the muscles to combat fatigue and build strength and power.
  • Better sleep: Marathon training can be exhausting. Your body will crave sleep, since it repairs itself while you’re resting. You’ll find yourself getting to bed earlier and sleeping more soundly.
  • Better fitness: Marathon training challenges even the fittest athletes. If you’re not in good shape (or the best shape of your life) by the time you reach the starting line, your training may have been lacking.
  • Toned legs: Weight loss is often a goal of marathoners-in-training but, as many discover, it doesn’t always happen. Although you may not lose a lot of weight, logging all those miles will absolutely increase your lean muscle mass and tone your legs.
  • Guilt-free massages: Marathoners-in-training tend to get tight muscles, and regular massages can help you feel comfortable and stay injury-free. Treat yourself to a massage or two during your training to help relieve some of that tightness.
  • Room for extra calories: During your very long runs, you’ll be burning thousands of calories, so it’s OK to be a little indulgent after. You will be hungry, after all. You can run hard, and celebrate hard.

It’s important that you don’t assume that marathon training gives you a license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Running and weight loss don't always go hand in hand, so unless you're taking in fewer calories than you expend, you will not see a change on the scale. Pay careful attention to what you eat while training for a marathon to ensure you are eating for optimal performance.

Benefits for Your Mental Health

Long runs play a big role in helping you hone your mental toughness and develop a coping system to deal with running day-after-day, mile-after-mile, in tough conditions. Running a marathon will also help you reap the following benefits.

  • Stress reduction: Research suggests that running in times of stress helps you better handle life's challenges by increasing your mental resilience.
  • A new outlook: This well-known maxim says it all: “The person who starts a marathon is not the same person who finishes a marathon.” You are sure to be a different person at the finish line because you’ll forever know that you have the mental and physical strength to persevere, even during times when you think you can’t and won’t succeed.
  • Inspiration: Whether it’s the double-amputee wheelchair racer, the 73-year-old grandmother running her 35th marathon, or your own kids holding “We love you!” signs, you'll find some inspiration around every turn.
  • Improved motivation: You can’t get away with not training when it comes to a marathon, so having one on your calendar will keep you motivated to stick to your training schedule. On days when your motivation is lacking, you'll think about how you'll feel if you're undertrained, can’t finish, or have to cancel and find the strength train anyway.

Research shows that running may help alleviate symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders. Regular exercise, such as running, was found to be moderately more effective than no therapy for reducing depressive symptoms.

Benefits for Your Soul

Running a marathon isn't just good for your body and mind, it can also help feed your soul.

  • Support for a good cause: Many marathons benefit charities and worthwhile causes, from disaster relief to fighting cancer. Running for something that's bigger than you is a great way to stay motivated to keep training, meet other runners to train with, and make your training and races even more meaningful.
  • New friends: Joining a running group is a great way to meet new, like-minded people. In fact, many runners meet their best friends or even future partners through running groups.
  • Stronger relationships: You can also convince a friend or family member to train for a marathon with you. Training together and traveling to the race is a fun way to bond and spend time together.
  • Being a role model: It’s hard not to respect someone who is dedicated and determined to complete a substantial goal such as running a marathon. You’ll be setting a great example for many people in your life.
  • Gestures of love: It seems like a small thing, but seeing your friends and family on the sidelines, holding a funny or inspiring sign made just for you, is an entirely different and awesome feeling. Running a marathon is definitely a sign-worthy endeavor.

When running for a charity, choose a cause that matters to you. When you choose a cause has personal significance, you are far more likely to be invested in the sometimes exhausting fundraising process. Set small, incremental goals, enlist the help of friends and family, and start early.

Benefits for Your Personal Development

Sign up for a marathon and you will instantly feel a sense of accomplishment. Start training for said marathon and you will find yourself experiencing changing and growing in many ways.

  • Staying busy: Training for a marathon takes up a lot of time. If you’ve gone through a recent life change that gives you some more free time, like retirement, a break-up, a job loss, or a newly empty nest, now might be the perfect time to take on the marathon challenge.
  • A new community: If you’ve been a casual runner up until this point, training for a marathon means that you won’t be able to avoid the runner’s subculture much longer. You’ll find yourself speaking in running acronyms and talking about running a lot.
  • Achieving a life-long goal: Many people have “run a marathon” on their bucket list, but few actually achieve it.
  • Proof you’re an athlete: OK, so proving to naysayers that you can complete an incredible physical achievement shouldn’t be the only reason you decide to train for a marathon, but it is a nice little bonus.
  • Confidence: Once you’ve logged a 20-miler, you’ll feel like you can conquer the world (after a post-run nap, of course). Your running confidence will surely overflow into other areas of your life, such as work and relationships.
  • Accomplishment. Although you’ll experience rough patches during marathon training and during the race, it’s all worth it once you cross that beautiful finish line. You’ll feel proud knowing that you set a goal of finishing a marathon and you followed through with it.

Even a bad run or race can be a teachable moment that forces you to learn something new about yourself. Although a slow or difficult run can be disheartening and frustrating, you can move forward by figuring out what went wrong and then hopping right back into your training. Down the road, it is the struggles, obstacles, and bad runs that help you become a better, more experienced runner.

Fun Benefits

Training for and running a marathon takes so much mental and physical energy that it is sometimes easy to forget how much fun you are having. But there is definitely a lot of fun to be had in the overall experience.

  • Travel: If you love to travel, marathon running is a great excuse to visit a new city or country. You'll get to see a lot of the local area in the race and may even be able to score discounted marathon runner rates on hotel rooms.
  • New running clothes: You’ll be running a lot, so you won’t be able to get away with one or two running outfits unless you want to be doing laundry constantly. Picking up new running gear is a great way to reward yourself for sticking to your training.
  • Local discoveries: If you typically stick to shorter distances for running and racing, training for a marathon will force you to find new places to run, since you'll be running a lot and you’ll get bored with the same routes. Check out MapMyRun.com or ask local runners for suggestions on where to run.
  • Finisher's swag: Whether it's a medal, a shirt, or a great finishing photo, you’ll get something that’s a recognition of your achievement. You may not wear it or look at it all the time, but it'll be there when you need a tangible reminder of your running prowess.
  • Bragging rights: Once you cross that finish line, you’re a marathon finisher and will always be one. No one can ever take that title away from you.

Traveling to a new destination for a marathon can be a special way to experience a city or country that you have never been to before. But packing for a brand new city and a marathon can be a daunting task. Do your homework about the destination, check the weather, pack your favorite gels and race fuels, and most important of all, start considering what you need to pack the moment you sign up for that race.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the physiological and mental health benefits of training for a marathon come as a result of a consistent running schedule that includes long-distance running. If you don't run that marathon you have been considering, you are less likely to include the long runs in your training. As always, be sure to first assess your fitness level before you jump into training for a marathon.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Carandente F, Montaruli A, Angeli A, Sciolia C, Roveda E, Calogiuri G. Effects of endurance and strength acute exercise on night sleep quality. Int Sportsmed J. 2011. 12(3):113-124.

  2. Nielsen RO, Videbaek S, Hansen M, Parner ET, Rasmussen S, Langberg H. Does running with or without diet changes reduce fat mass in novice runners? A 1-year prospective study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2016;56(1-2):105-13.

  3. Puterman E, Weiss J, Beauchamp MR, Mogle J, Almeida DM. Physical activity and negative affective reactivity in daily life. Health Psychol. 2017;36(12):1186-1194. doi:10.1037/hea0000532

  4. Cooney G, Dwan K, Mead G. Exercise for depression. JAMA. 2014;311(23):2432-3. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.4930

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.