When the recreational running scene exploded in the 1970s and through the early 2000s, the marathon was considered the ultimate goal in running. For some it was about just finishing, but for many it was running as fast as possible and continually striving to improve. Things have changed a bit as running has continued to grow and expand.  Now the half marathon is the marquee event and a lot more runners are signing up for 5K races, obstacle races, novelty runs, triathlons and trail running races.

Although marathon participation has tailed off slightly since reaching an all-time high in 2014 with 550,000 finishers, it remains one of the most challenging and authentic goals in endurance sports. Here are five reasons you should put a marathon on your calendar sometime this year.

1. Strike while the iron is hot.

You may never again have the time or the health to train seriously for a marathon. While most of us find ways to sneak in reasonably dedicated 5K or 10K training even after age and injuries have imposed ceilings on our capabilities, this simply isn’t true of the longer distances. If you don’t believe this, look at the times that typically place among the top 10 in masters and seniors divisions in mid-level marathons; the depth here isn’t even close to that of the 40+ crowd in shorter races. Life will always get in the way if you let it. No matter what your goal might be, running a marathon this year will be a rewarding goal to pursue.

The start of a marathon is the culmination of several months of dedicated training in pursuit of a memory that will last a lifetime. Photo: Libero DiZinno

2. Marathon training focuses your running. 

When training seriously for a marathon, while a lot of your training might be considered “just long distance running,” you have to plan sensibly and diligently. You can’t skip the long runs, so you have to schedule other key workouts, cross-training sessions and rest days around these touchstones in a strategic way. The result is usually a runner who’s better organized on the whole, more fit and more energized about training and everything else in life.

READ MORE: 10 Ways Running will Change Your Life

3. Marathon training and racing offers a comprehensive learning experience. 

When you focus on shorter races, the postmortems may not offer many new insights; sometimes you just go out too fast, or don’t push especially hard. Or maybe haven’t done enough interval training to hold the pace you want. With marathons, you develop and hone strategies concerning proper fueling (both during the build-up and in the race itself), rest and recovery cycles, mental tenacity and other issues that are applicable to your overall running lifestyle and race execution. The marathon is one of the ultimate tests in running and, as such, will expose your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Marathon training gets you in shape for everything. 

If you’re closer to the sport or read a lot of running stories, you’re bound to hear elite runners talk about how marathon training gave them the sheer power to perform well in cross-country running or provide them with a reservoir of strength for jumping into track training. In reality, “marathon training” is code for “not ignoring speed, endurance, or variation,” which in turn is simply how people should be training as consistently as possible.

READ MOREHow to Shake Up Your Weekly Long Run

5. Marathons are such a big deal now, they’re not even a big deal.

If you really want to fight the crowds and deal with the qualification processes for races like Boston, L.A., Chicago or New York, that remains an option. However, you can enjoy a well-operated 26.2-mile event within a half-day’s drive of practically anywhere in the U.S. these days, allowing you to do a marathon without spending megabucks on airfare and hotel rooms or taking a long weekend away from work or family obligations. That is, logistically, today’s marathons are more like the 5Ks of the 1980s.

READ MORE: What You Need to Know to Run a Marathon

Little in running compares to the feeling of finishing a marathon. Photo: Libero DiZinno