Top 10 Marathon Fears – And How to Get Over Them

marathon runners

Running a marathon is a huge challenge, but the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction also make it tremendously rewarding. Some runners fear the marathon distance (26.2 miles) for various reasons. While it’s true that running a marathon is not something that runners should take lightly, there’s no reason to let your fears stop you taking on the distance. Here are some common marathon running fears and how to get past them.

Marathon Fear #1:  Not Finishing

Fear:  “I’m not going to finish!”

How to Get Over It:  Yes, it’s possible that you may not finish your marathon. But it’s much more likely that you’ll will finish! So, try not to be consumed with thoughts of not finishing. Focus on the things that you can control – your training, staying injury-free and relaxed before your race, and what you need for race day.

If you’re dealing with an injury and think it may prevent you from finishing the marathon, weigh the pros and cons of doing the race. Talk to your doctor, PT, or running friends about your decision. Keep in mind that having to drop out of the race would be a possibility, and think about how you’d feel if that were the case.  It’s never an easy decision, but try to remember that there will always be other races.

Marathon Fear #2: Deferment

Fear:  “I’m going to have to defer (postpone) my marathon.”

How to Get Over It:  Almost as bad as not making it to the finish line is not even getting to the starting line to give it a chance. There are times when schedule conflicts, injuries, or lack of time to train require you to defer your marathon to the following year. It can be devastating to have to defer a marathon, so be prepared to deal with the emotions. One way to deal with the disappointment is to focus on other aspects of your life outside of running and use the time you would have spent training to do other things you enjoy.

You may also want to to pick another race (a shorter one) that you can safely train for and put it on your calendar. Having another goal to focus on will take the emphasis away from the deferred marathon.

The silver lining of deferring a marathon is that you’ll be more prepared and know what to expect when you train next year. You’ll start your marathon training much stronger physically and mentally. And reaching the finish line will be even more special because of the obstacles you had to overcome to get there.

Marathon Fear #3:  Coming in Last

Fear: “I’m going to come in last.”
How to Get Over It:  Yes, someone has to come in last place at every marathon but, chances are, it’s not going to be you. Unless you’re planning to walk the entire marathon or it’s a very small marathon, you’re probably not going to finish last. If you’re really worried about finishing last, choose a big marathon that you know will have a lot of walkers. You can check out the race results from previous years and use your estimated marathon time to see where you would finish.

But, more importantly, try not to worry about how your performance compares to the other participants. Completely in a marathon is an incredible achievement and how you finished compared to other participants shouldn’t matter. You should be proud of yourself for sticking with the training and having the courage and commitment to finish the race. And, at many marathons, spectators and race volunteers cheer loudly for the back-of-the-packers, so you may actually get more attention if you finish toward the end!

Marathon Fear #4: Getting Injured

Fear: “I’m going to get injured.”

How to Get Over It:  You’re going to log a lot of miles during your marathon training, so there’s a chance that you’ll get a running injury. It’s better to assume that you’ll get injured so you’ll listen to your body and pay attention when there’s a signal that something is wrong. Runners who think they won’t get injured will often ignore injury warning signs, push through pain, and end up making injuries far worse. Try to follow these steps for running injury prevention to keep yourself injury-free during the training.

If you’re worried about dealing with pain during the marathon, that’s a definite possibility. You’re most likely going to feel some discomfort and muscle fatigue, especially towards the end. This is where your mental training will really come into play. Follow these mental tips and suggestions for building resiliency, so you’ll feel more confident and prepared to handle it.

Marathon Fear #5:  Bathroom Emergencies

Fear: “I’m going to have to use the bathroom during the race!”

How to Get Over It:  Most runners have had at least one bathroom emergency during their training runs and they worry that it will happen again during the race.  But there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of an emergency pit-stop.

To avoid runner’s trots (diarrhea) during the race, make sure you’re done with your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the marathon – having food in your stomach could make things worse or contribute to the problem. It helps to avoid high-fiber foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) and coffee/tea before the race, stay hydrated, and consume a sports drink (like Gatorade) during the marathon to maintain electrolyte levels. For your pre-marathon meals, try to stick to food that are more binding, such as white rice or bananas. If you’ve tried many different strategies with no luck, you may want to try an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea product such as Imodium, just for the marathon. It is safe to use for exercise-induced diarrhea, but you shouldn’t make a habit of using it.

If you’re worried about having to pee during the race, make sure you don’t overhydrate before the race. You should drink about 16 oz of (non-caffeinated) fluid 1 hour before the marathon Stop drinking after that, and keep emptying your bladder. Drink another 4 to 8oz of fluid about 10 minutes before you start running, so that you’re hydrated when you begin. To replace fluids while running, you should be drinking about 6 to 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes. If you hydrate properly like this, you shouldn’t have to stop to pee.

If you do have to use the bathroom, it’s not a big deal, since there should be plenty on the course (usually right next to the water stops.)  And most people can be in and out fairly quickly, so it shouldn’t take too much time.

Marathon Fear #6:  Getting Lost

Fear: “I’m going to get lost.”

How to Get Over It:  Getting lost on the course is not a concern for those running big marathons, where there will be lots of participants and spectators and the course will be closed off to traffic and well-marked. But for some smaller marathons, it may be a realistic concern, especially if you’re a back-of-the-packer.

If you’re really worried, get a copy of the course map and carry it in your pocket or running belt. If you have the opportunity before the marathon, drive or run on parts of the course where it’s confusing and you could miss a turn. You could also ask a family member or friend to position themselves on the course where you think you might get lost. If you’re running or walking by yourself on the course, make sure you’re paying close attention to any directional signs.

Marathon Fear #7: Bad Weather Conditions

Fear:  “It’s going to be too cold, rainy, windy, hot, etc.”
How to Get Over It:  Most races are not cancelled due to bad weather, so it’s important to be prepared for any type of weather. And because it’s take a long time to run a marathon, the weather may even change dramatically during the race itself.

The better prepared you are to run in all different conditions, the more confident and relaxed you’ll feel as race day approaches.  Don’t avoid running outside for training when the weather is not ideal. If you experience those conditions during training, you’ll know you can handle it on race day.

You should also make sure you’re planning race outfits (and testing them out) for all different types of weather.

Marathon Fear #8: Hitting the Wall

Fear:  “I’m going to hit the wall.”

How to Get Over It:   The dreaded “wall” that marathoners-in-training hear about and fear immensely is the point in the race when a runner’s glycogen (stored energy) within the muscles is depleted, forcing him or her to slow down his pace considerably, sometimes to a walk. If it happens, it’s usually after the 20-mile mark.

Although some runners think it’s inevitable, it’s possible to avoid hitting the wall. Proper nutrition planning before and during the marathon is key. You need to make sure that you take in calories (300-400 for most runners) about 90 minutes before your race and then consume calories (about 100 every 40-45 minutes) during the marathon itself. During the race, you should eat high-carb, easy-to-digest food such as sports gels or chews, sugary candies, honey packets, pretzels, or other foods that are easy to carry.

Another key strategy is to make sure you don’t start out too fast. This is usually how most marathoners end up running into the wall. They burn through their glycogen by starting out too fast and, even if they are taking in calories during the race, it’s usually not enough.

Marathon Fear #9:  Chafing, Blisters, and Black/Lost Toenails

Fear:  “I’m going to experience chafing, blisters, and lose a toenail!”

How to Get Over It:  Yes, some marathoners get chafed, blistered, and lose toenails, but there are ways to prevent all of those issues. To prevent chafing, spread Body Glide or Vaseline on parts of your body where you would normally chafe — such as your feet, inner thighs, underarms, sports bra lines (women), and nipples (men).

Blisters can be avoided by making sure your shoes fit properly. Your running shoe should be at least 1/2 a size bigger than your street shoe size, since your feet swell when you run. You should have a little room in your toebox.

Buy socks made of synthetic fabrics (not cotton!) such as Teflon or CoolMax, which wick moisture away from your feet, preventing the sock from bunching up and causing blisters. Also, buy socks with no seams and a smooth surface.

You can also spread BodyGlide or Vaseline on problem areas. But go easy: Too much and you’ll be sliding around in your shoes. Some runners also put moleskin or athletic tape over “hot spots” on their feet that are prone to blisters, as a preventive measure. If you do this, just make sure the moleskin or tape is applied smoothly (no wrinkles) and not too tight.

Wearing the correct size shoes will also help prevent black or lost toenails. Make sure your toenails are trimmed before the race.

Marathon Fear #10:  Wardrobe Malfunctions

Fear:  “My shorts are going to fall down, my shirt will be uncomfortable, etc.”

How to Get Over It:  When it comes to marathon race outfits, stick to your tried-and-true favorites that you’ve used during training. Race day is not the time to experiment with a brand-new outfit that you’ve never run in before.  That could lead to many uncomfortable miles of tugging and readjusting.

And, although I’ve seen some fantastic costumes and crazy outfits during marathons, you may just want to save that fun stuff for shorter races. Running 26.2 miles in a full-body leotard or while wearing a wig or some other crazy accessory might make for some funny race photos, but it could also lead to some potentially painful or embarrassing problems.

Photo credit:  Philadelphia Marathon

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