If you're tackling a marathon for the first time, or obsessed with obtaining a personal best, the thought of running on a flat course probably makes you as happy as a kitten in a field of catnip. But not so fast. Although a flat marathon layout is likely to be a faster course, and you won't have to tackle the grueling hills of the Boston Marathon, for example, there are downsides to running 26.2 miles on a flat course.
Sure, it might be easier to run a marathon on the flat, but you might be bored out of your mind. If you anticipate running a marathon in four hours, you'll be putting one foot in front of the other in the same way for a long time. For example, the Houston Marathon, considered to be one of the faster marathon courses, is run on a flat layout has a "nearly undetectable elevation change" of just 25 feet, states Runner's World. If you're a marathon veteran, a flat course can be deadly dull.
Running on a flat terrain requires you to use the same muscles for the entirety of the marathon. Many runners and running experts believe this leads to additional fatigue. So it can be self-defeating to choose a flat course and then discover you're exhausted at the 20-mile mark. Using the same muscles repeatedly also can lead to overuse injuries.
Do you really want to plod around flat streets when you could be running on the oceanside course in Hawaii or through hills dotted with vineyards in France, slurping down wine offered by spectators? Well, maybe the vino should wait until you cross the finish line. But you get the idea. Many marathoners select sites for their scenic beauty and for the chance to soak up the atmosphere and color of an exotic locale.
Lack of a Challenge
If you run marathons, or you're in training to run your first marathon, you've already demonstrated you're up for an adventure that will test you physically and mentally. So you might as well ratchet up the challenge factor and pick out a site with at least moderate peaks and valleys. A course with some ups and downs requires that you use different muscles than a flat course, so be sure to train under similarly hilly conditions to prepare you for race day.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.