Can You Be Overweight And Run A Marathon?

Let’s face it, most marathon runners are relatively skinny. The reason is that running long distances burns an incredible amount of calories, and marathon runners, even when not training for marathons, typically run long distances consistently. With that said, is it possible to run a marathon while being overweight?

Although it’s challenging, people can and do run marathons even when very overweight. Additional weight means higher energy expenditure and more impact on joints. Starting with small distances and working up is key to success.

Is It Possible To Be Overweight and Run a Marathon?

It is definitely possible to run a marathon while overweight and even while obese.

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

I would like submit as evidence exhibit A:

Kelly Gneiting: A 400+lb former Sumo wrestler took on the challenge of the L.A. marathon. (see the article and his picture on NPR)

Kelly recalled this experience as “pure hell”, which makes sense–other articles report he had massive blisters which are horrible even when you’re not running a marathon.

Exhibit B:

Ragen Chastain: Ragen was 288lbs when she achieved a world record for the world’s heaviest female to run a marathon. She’s a proponent of healthy body image and is training for an Iron Man (see her website, here)

Charles Bungert: Charles was 427lbs when he achieved the world record for the world’s heaviest man to run a marathon.

Some people discount these folks achievements by saying they weren’t running fast enough to be considered running. In fact, many people believe walking is considered “stopping” during a race. (559 people voted on this one)

But it doesn’t really matter what people think because what these individuals achieved IS INCREDIBLE.

So, it’s definitely possible to run a marathon while overweight and even obese. However, that doesn’t mean you should go out there and run 5 miles without training for it.

Is It Bad To Run While Overweight?

Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any fitness plan. Your health is the most important thing and many people, especially if they haven’t been regularly exercising, have had negative and even fatal experiences running if their bodies aren’t used to high cardio.

It’s not bad to run while overweight, you just need to be cautious and understand you’re at a higher risk of injury.

For the most part, you should be ok if you wear the right shoes and start slow. Failing to do puts you at a higher risk of picking up an injury. These injuries include:

  • Shin splints
  • Knee problems
  • Ankle problems

It is essential to mention that shin splints can come from being too stiff or having weak muscles. It is not only related to being overweight.

Training For A Marathon While Overweight: What To Do

Whatever your motivation for wanting to do a marathon, whether it be improving your heart health, achieving goals that others think are too difficult or whatever, there are some very important things you need to address no matter what:

Wear The Correct Shoes

This is important at every weight, but it’s especially important if you’re overweight. You must wear the correct shoes for running. The proper gear can improve your performance and protect your joints from the constant impact of running.

If you want to train for a marathon, you should seek qualified professionals to give you opinions on what type of shoes work best for you and your gait. I’m the type of person that doesn’t like to ask for help on health stuff, too, but this is something that could save you intense ankle, knee, and hip problems. Talk to a podiatrist, or a doctor that specializes in sports medicine for advice.

As an overweight runner, you want to look for something that has enough cushioning. Also, the gait of your stride becomes more critical the heavier you are, so it is a good idea to have your gait checked by a professional, and they can recommend the right pair of shoes for you.

The gait of your stride means the way your feet hit the ground. Most people have a neutral gait, while others may overpronate or under-pronate. For older runners or heavier runners, understanding your stride is highly important.

Start Slow

Ideally, you will give yourself enough time to train before the marathon. Now, the amount of time necessary depends on how overweight you are. The trick is to start slow even if you have to walk on your first few sessions and slowly build up to a run.

I know of some where their starting point is to run around their block. This is okay! Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you’re going to be doing the equivalent work of building Rome… or at least it will feel like it.

Once you can have the habit of running small distances regularly, then go up to a mile.

After you can do one or two miles per run and slowly build up until you can do a 10-mile run. It is recommended that you not increase your distance by more than 10% per week. I know, it might seem tedious, but you are giving yourself the best chance of safely preparing for a marathon by following that guideline.

Does Stretching Help?

Stretching is actually controversial. Some say that it helps–for example, this article from HealthLine has a bunch of stretch suggestions. I highly recommend at least checking it out.

Stretching could have more benefit for you if you have extreme inflexibility in certain regions making injury more probable.

However, this meta-study analyzes available data and finds that stretching has inconclusive benefits. Some researchers even claim that stretching can cause more harm than good.

Consult your doctor for your own body since they are best equipped to help you understand what will work best for you.

Try To Build Some Muscle

Injuries can occur when your muscles are very stiff or too weak. As an overweight person, one of the best things you can do is to build strength around these areas slowly:

  • Calves
  • Thighs
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

The heavier you are, the harder it is to run. For this reason, I recommend doing lighter weight and lots of reps instead of going heavy. A combination of squats, calf raises, and leg press is perfect for building muscle around the areas listed. Walking lunges is another excellent exercise.

Eat Healthfully

Eating high carb diets might give you energy, but you’re not necessarily going to feel great. Also, if you’re trying to lose weight, then starving yourself isn’t going to have the effect you want. Carefully ensure your body has the energy it needs to run.

You can check out our half-marathon training plan to see more details on what foods to eat.

Best Shoes For Overweight Runners

Buying the right pair of shoes can be tricky because it is hard to know if a specific shoe caters to a heavier runner. Because of the extra weight, you are looking for something that has more cushioning and there are a few shoes that provide this.

Those two brands produce some of the best running shoes available, and when it comes to options for overweight runners, you can’t go wrong.


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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