10 Things You Should Be Afraid of as a New Marathon Runner

This week Randall and I swapped blogs. On his blog you can find a post I wrote all about what I am afraid of as a newbie marathoner. On my blog below, you can find his experienced view on what I, and any other new marathoner, should be afraid of.  You can find Randall at his blog RandRuns, on his twitter account, or on his facebook page.

There are lots of blogs, websites, and even books, written by ‘experts’ that will tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, before, during, and after your first marathon. Most of them are repetitive, and many of them are written by people that are running sub-3 hour marathons, and have long forgotten the struggles of mere mortals like you and me. I’m not an expert, but I am a marathon addict – in the past 3 years, since I took up running for the first time as a fat, unfit 39 year old, I have completed 14 marathons and 5 ultra marathons, along with dozens of shorter races. Fortunately for you (but not for my ego), I am still slow, so I haven’t forgotten what the struggle of running that first marathon was like.

Here are some things I think you should be afraid of as a new runner:

Injuries: EVERYONE gets injured when they start training for long distances. Okay, not everyone, but everyone normal.  Achilles Tendonitis, Shin splints, Plantar fasciitis, ITBS, Stress fractures – the list goes on. Get to know a good physio, because you’ll need one.

Credit Card Debt: Fancy new runners (that you’ll wear out in short order), race entries, weird go-faster foods, more runners, a GPS watch that cost more than your car, flights to that must-do race, more runners, and, of course, medical bills – once you get into marathons, you’ll need things you never heard of before in the never-ending quest for that perfect run. Did I mention runners?

Losing Friends and Alienating People: The one thing that holds true of all marathon runners is that we just love to talk about it. Constantly. You’ll soon be posting your Strava workouts to Facebook, starting conversations with “I’m just back from a 22 mile training run, let me tell you all about it”, and generally being a complete pain in the ass to anyone who doesn’t run. The good thing is that your new running friends will be waaaaay more interesting than your old ones.

"Let me tell you all about my most recent run. Again".

Hills: The marathon runner’s nemeses, that must be faced, but can never be defeated. Hills become the subject of intense debate and speculation. In training, hills must become a regular part of your training, in order to build up your leg muscles, and improve your technique, but in races they can break your spirit.

On a related note, beware the dreaded ‘flat course’ – the more people talk about a flat course, the more you can be guaranteed it is one hill after another. Runners and race directors routinely lie about courses, as it is amusing to watch over-confident newbies crawl up hills while crying.

"Flat Course, Suitable for Beginners".
The Fast Start: Ah, the fast start, the rock upon which so many new (and not so new) marathon runners perish. When you hear someone talk about “banking time early on” avoid them at all costs. A marathon is a 10k with a 20-mile warmup – NEVER go out fast. You are going to ignore this and go out fast in your first marathon, no matter what I or anyone else says, so good luck with that.

The Wall: Not the Pink Floyd album (that is to be revered, not feared), but the wall that so many runners hit at a late point in the race. Technically, the wall is caused either by low blood glucose, or a build up of glycogen in the leg muscles. What you will experience is either a soul-destroying slump, where you just feel you cannot go on (usually with tears and recriminations), or an almost equally unpleasant weakening and lack of muscle function. There are lots of theories about how to prevent hitting the wall, the most popular being the good old carb loading, but it seems to strike at random, and takes no prisoners.

Blisters: The bane of many a runners life, blisters can bring an otherwise great run to a crashing halt. The sight of a runner peeling off a large part of their foot along with their sock is a sight to behold. Blisters can be agonizing, and going out training on blisters that haven’t yet healed takes a lot of willpower. Or so I’m told – I never have gotten one.

The Fast Friend: The only thing worse than blisters and the wall combined, is that friend who took up running with you, but turned out to be faster than you. Shun them; you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

The Runs: I don’t mean training, or even races; I mean the sudden, violent, betrayal that your stomach and small intestine can visit upon you. Shitting yourself on a quiet country road while out training on your own is bad – shitting yourself in front of thousands of fascinated spectators during a marathon is probably a lot worse. It also doesn’t do your finish time any good. And you are unlikely to get many hugs at the finish line either.

Addiction Issues: Hi, I’m Randall, and I’m a Runner. Despite all the above, marathon running is incredibly addictive. After a horrible first marathon, I swore I would never run again. I signed up for my second that very day. There is something life affirming about running silly distances that just becomes impossible to resist. The friends you train and race with become true friends indeed, as they see you at your best, and at your worst – sometimes in the course of a single mile. Running marathons is tough, difficult, sometimes painful, but ultimately bloody amazing.

Why it's all worthwhile - crossing the line at the 2015 Tralee 100K with my sons.

Post written by Randall Wharton and published on Scallywag Sprints on 18/01/16


  1. I absolutely loved this.
    If everyone running marathon's took this kind of view I could be tempted...but for now I'll stick with my happy half mara's..
    If I'm going to take one thing from this post with me? Fast runners - 'Shun them; you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life' YESSSSSS!!!! :D

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! Haha, yes, lets stick with us slowpokes!

  2. This was such a great article! I cant wait to read more!

    1. Thanks for commenting Michaela! Glad you liked the article.

  3. Great points, of which I agree with all of!! The one I most agree with and I always always try to adhere to is starting a marathon off SLOWLY. I think this is why I love the marathon distance, because for the majority of it you're running (or at least I am!) at a speed that is comfortable, because you need to maintain it (or speed up later) for a good number of miles. In a 10k you are literally on the edge of dying, it's 99% painful. Marathons are of course painful but it in a manageable way. You have absolute control, most of the time, over that pain.

    1. That's actually a really good thing to think- if you're sensible you can manage the pain a marathon will cause you!

      Thanks Anna :)

  4. Glad to hear people are enjoying it! Check out Scallywag Sprints post "10 Things I'm Afraid of as a New Marathon Runner" here: https://rigbag.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/10-things-im-afraid-of-as-a-new-marathon-runner/