Why are we so obsessed with our finish time, when there are so many other things to celebrate when we run a marathon?

Hands up if you’ve run a marathon recently? And keep your hands up if you’re still dwelling on your time and how it wasn’t what you’d wanted? I’m guessing quite a few of you have your hands in the air.

Running a marathon is a tough challenge. If it was your first marathon, then just getting to the start was an achievement, never mind the finish line. Completing a marathon – regardless of the time – should be considered an amazing accomplishment, so be very proud of yourself.

When exactly did we get so obsessed with marathon finish times? And why do we judge ourselves so harshly when we don’t quite achieve the time we wanted? The first question people often ask is what your time was. This drives me crazy. Why does it matter? And what will they do with that information? If they’re a runner, they’re probably comparing you against their own time.

It they’re not a runner, then why do they need to know? How does your average non-runner know the difference between a 4-hour marathon and 5-hour marathon? And frankly who cares?

Watching the Clock

Our obsession with the clock means that regardless of the time we run or how proud we might be of our achievement, it somehow takes the shine off it and places an undue pressure on us to ‘perform’. Then when we don’t quite pull off the time we wanted, we feel demoralised.

Here’s an alternative. Instead of fretting about your time, try to look for other ways to measure your marathon success. There are many alternatives. My own personal story has taken me on a journey of discovery over the last few years.

Now I run for pleasure, companionship, scenery, adventure and exploration. And it’s a revelation. So when you reflect on your marathon, I want you to think about anything other than your time and see if you can clock up other successes.

Stories to Tell

How many amazing sights did you see – the scenery on an amazing trail run or the eclectic sights of big city marathon. Did you hook up with any runners and make new friends? One of the most amazing things are the stories. Chat to people and ask them their story. It’s often very humbling.

How did you feel? Did you get your nutrition and hydration right?

Did you run strong and feel good? There’s nothing like feeling strong and amazing during a race. Time doesn’t matter.

Did you support other runners? Even just a pat on the back can make all the difference to someone and give you a sense of giving back.

Did you travel to a marathon abroad? What was the atmosphere like? I’ll never forget running London one year through Docklands to the tune of ‘Is this the way to Amarillo”. Can I remember my time? Not a chance.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your marathon time (actually, maybe I am), but once you stop obsessing over your time and start focusing on other aspects of the experience, you might find you can start to be more proud of your incredible achievement.

So, the next time someone asks you your time, pretend not to hear them and answer them with something like this: “I had an amazing run, the sun shone and I saw all the sights of London/ Paris/New York. I met new friends and we shared a great experience. I cried at mile 23, dug deep and they gave me a hug. The crowd and the drumming band at mile 18 was really emotional. I crossed the line and my kids were there to cheer me on. Best day of my life… oh my time? I have no idea.”


Sarah Russell has over 20 years experience in the fitness industry as a running coach, trainer, freelance writer and athlete. She also has a Masters degree in Sport Science and is a qualified England Athletics running coach sarah-russell.co.uk