Boogeymen exposed! Runners’ 3 fears

There are three boogeymen that make most marathoners cringe.

Now, I was terrified of the boogeyman when I was little.  I often woke in a panic, thinking that I spotted the boogeyman. Dad would dutifully help me hunt around and there was usually a reasonable explanation – like my escape artist hamster, Houdini.  It was always less scary with the lights on.

So you can imagine how dismayed I was to find out about the marathon boogeymen.  But as with all boogeymen, they’re a lot less scary when you see them in the daylight and know what they’re about.  Let me introduce you.

Boogeyman #1: The wall

Meet the wall.  He usually lurks between mile 16 and mile 22, but he’s unpredictable.  Sometimes he stays in hiding altogether or just lets you see his shadow. He specializes in mind games.  He loves to toy with runners who are alone or unprepared.  Not nice!


Luckily, we have an understanding of what causes the wall:

  • Lack of fuel
  • Dehydration
  • Exceeding aerobic capacity
  • Excessive speed

With the proper resources and preparation, research suggests that we should be able to avoid the wall.  At a minimum, you can train to endure and break through the wall.  Check out this Endurance Calculator to get a better sense for the dynamics of preventing the wall.


Boogeyman #2:  Chafe (and his cousin, blister)


Chafed under arms from a long run

My husband and I use to play a game after long runs.  The “lucky” one got to shower first.  The other one waited for the screams and cackled at the “lucky” one’s misfortune.  Harsh, right?  Why the screams?  Let me introduce you to Boogeyman #2, chafing.  I pray that you’ll never have to see this on yourself (apologies for the graphic image).  Unfortunately, I’m certain you will.  Chafing is caused by a combination of moisture and rubbing of materials against the skin.  Blisters result from similar conditions (typically on the feet).  Common chafed areas include between the legs, around the armpits, under the chest and in the nether regions (sounds fun, right?).  Imagine running 10 more miles with burning inner thighs.  You get the picture.

This boogeyman is somewhat unpredictable, too.  You might not chafe at all, and then the same clothing could literally rub you the wrong way on another day.

Mitigate chafing with a two pronged approach:

  • Wear appropriate gear
  • Pre-treat areas prone to chafing or blisters

Mercifully, although chafing is uncomfortable for a few days, it disappears fairly quickly.  Check out the gear page for more details on preventing and treating chafed skin.

Boogeyman #3 – Injury


Blister from running


Ah, the most elusive and scary boogeyman of all…injury.  Injury is the worst nightmare of every marathoner.  It could mean the end of your training or at least a temporary halt.  The good news:  most marathoning injuries are minor.  The scary news:  some marathoners experience repetitive use-related injuries that are chronic and difficult to detect.  We’re not talking triple bi-pass, but I’ve known a runner or two that has ended up on crutches for a few weeks.

Reduce likelihood of injury by:

  • Properly warming up
  • Not pushing it (if it hurts, STOP!)
  • Taking time off (when you’re hurt/feel off)
  • Stretching post run
  • Cross training
  • Strength training 


I’m still afraid of the dark, but I am no longer afraid of the marathon boogeymen.  Now that you’ve been introduced, I hope that you won’t be afraid of them either.  Do what you can to prevent them, and when they appear, you’ll recognize them for what they are!  If you’d like more information about the marathon boogeymen, sign up for the newsletter where I share additional tips.


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One Response to “Boogeymen exposed! Runners’ 3 fears”

  1. Sherina June 16, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Thank you for diagnosing me. I feel like this huge weight has been lifted and I’m not going crazy. I ran my first marathon (STL Rock N Roll) on Oct. 23 and had the same high for a day or two afterwards, but have been feeling depressed and unmotivated since then. I tried to run a 6 miler recently and struggled mentally. I miss having a purpose the training gave me, and miss the camaraderie of my fellow runners also training for their big races. This article also made me realize that I’ve been selling myself short. When people ask me how the race was my answer is always HILLY. And I say it with this emphasis like it will be be a footnote to the finish time that comes next out of my mouth 5:01:48 just peeking past my dream goal of wanting to finish in under 5 hours. Like I need to have this explanation in there. I couldn’t believe all of those hills, one right after another. Yes the weather was perfect, no I didn’t have any major pains or injuries, yes my fueling plan worked oh but those hills! But the fact was that I was really awesome. And I did learn a lot in my first marathon, and met great people, and won’t look at my second marathon or any other race the same way again. New season, new goals, new purpose.

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