11 Frequently Asked Questions about Running a Marathon - dummies

11 Frequently Asked Questions about Running a Marathon

By Jason Karp

You’d be surprised how often the same questions about running marathons come up (that must be why they’re referred to as “frequently asked”). Here are eleven of those FAQs along with some answers.

  • Should I join a training group?

    Many runners like training by themselves, especially if they’re introverts or if they have busy jobs with constraints on their time. Unless you like running alone, are self-motivated and disciplined, and know what you’re doing, joining a marathon training group is a good idea.

    You’ll have people to run with, a coach to give you a program to follow, and nutritional support on long runs. You’ll feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

  • Do I need to run 26 miles in training?

    One major trait of the marathon that differentiates it from other races is that, unless you’re a speedy runner, you won’t cover the distance in training. That makes the last few miles of the marathon unexplored territory. But, hey, that also makes it exciting, right?

    During training, time spent on your feet matters more than the number of miles you run. Obviously, the longer you run, the more prepared you’ll be. But there’s always a trade-off. The trick is to run as long as you possibly can without getting injured and without tiring yourself out so much that you can’t run for the next week.

  • Is running bad for my knees?

    People assume that, because running requires you to pound the ground with your legs, it must be damaging to your knees. But this is completely false. If you run correctly, you shouldn’t be pounding the ground. The research simply doesn’t support that running is bad for your knees.

    People who run have no greater incidence of joint problems or osteoarthritis than people who don’t run. On the contrary, running can be beneficial for your joints because it strengthens the surrounding musculature and increases bone density.

  • What is this pain in my knee?


    Training for a marathon is not without its fair share of aches and pains. The key is to be able to differentiate what’s just an ache that will go away on its own and what’s a real injury. If you feel something in your knee, don’t freak out right away. It could just be sore after a long run and will be fine tomorrow.

    The most common source of knee pain is patellofemoral pain syndrome, with pain behind, below, or around your patella. It can be caused by a number of factors and can be treated a number of ways, depending on the pain’s cause.

    If you feel pain below your kneecap, it could be patellar tendonitis, an inflammation of the patellar tendon (the tendon that your doctor hits with a rubber mallet to check your knee jerk reflex).

  • What do I do if I get a cramp?

    Despite the common occurrence of muscle cramps, why they happen is still something of a mystery. A common misconception is that cramps are caused by dehydration or an imbalance in electrolytes. Drinking a sports drink on your long runs, although important to maintain hydration, won’t prevent you from cramping.

    Muscle cramps are more likely caused by an increase in your running pace and premature muscle fatigue, which affects your nervous system’s ability to relax a muscle after it contracts. Cramping is also associated with a family history of muscle cramps and a personal history of cramping and tendon or ligament injuries.

  • Should I run if I have a cold?

    Exercise and your immune system have an interesting relationship. Moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis strengthen your immune system and give you resistance against colds and other upper respiratory tract infections.

    However, this is one case in which more is definitely not better. Long and intense training can actually weaken your immune system and increase the chance of getting sick. Catching a cold or getting the flu immediately after finishing the marathon is very common because your immune system takes a big hit.

  • What should I wear in the marathon?

    On race day, wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you’ve already worn for your long runs. Don’t wear anything new that you haven’t already tried out or anything that can cause friction. Most people get by with shorts or spandex, a T-shirt or singlet, socks, and shoes.

  • What should I consume during the marathon?

    Exactly what you should consume in the marathon depends on what your stomach can handle, but you definitely want to make sure you consume enough carbohydrate to delay glycogen depletion and hypoglycemia and enough fluid to delay dehydration. Both conditions cause you to slow your pace. Taking carbs and fluid at regular intervals throughout the race can make a huge difference in how you feel and perform.

  • Is stopping to walk okay?

    If you’re a purist, the answer is no. If you’re a realist and your goal is to finish the race no matter how long it takes, then the answer is yes — walking is okay if that’s what enables you to get to the finish line. Some runners walk as they go through the aid stations to make sure they grab a drink and are able to ingest it.

    Walking is also okay under certain conditions that would make running dangerous, such as hot and humid weather or if you’re injured (or about to become injured if you keep running). Some people in the sport, who shall remain nameless, advocate walking breaks within each mile.

  • What is the marathon wall?

    The marathon wall is the point in the marathon when your muscles have run out of glycogen, your stored form of carbohydrate, and you’ve become hypoglycemic because you’ve used up all the glucose in your blood. Because carbohydrate is muscles’ preferred fuel, when you run out, you start to feel very fatigued and your pace slows down.

  • How do I meet my family after the race?

    Of course you want to share the accomplishment of your marathon with your family and friends. But how do you find them at the finish?

    Big marathons usually have a designated area beyond the finish line with lettered signs for families to meet you. When you cross the finish line, you walk through a chute specifically made for the race to the designated open area, where you can also pick up your gear bag. Check the marathon’s website for specific instructions on where to meet your family after the race.