10 Things Not to Say to Marathon Runners

Tips for What Runners DO Want to Hear

If you're not a runner, you may find yourself confused about how to talk to marathon runners. They seem to speak their own language and they sometimes get upset or annoyed by comments or questions that you consider harmless. To help improve communication, here are some questions and comments that marathon runners just don't want to hear, with suggestions for some better comments to make.

Don't say: "Running is so boring!"

Someone who loves to run doesn't want to hear that their favorite hobby is boring. And even those runners who don't always like to run don't want to be reminded that it can be mundane.

Instead, try this: If you really think running is boring, ask your favorite runner how she keeps it interesting. You never know, you may pick up a few boredom-busting tips that change the way you view running.

Don't say: "Why aren't you losing weight?"

Man Weighing Himself on Scale
Photo by James Darell

It's actually fairly common for runners to not lose weight, especially if they're training for a long-distance event like a marathon. While a runner may be aware that their running isn't leading to weight loss, they certainly don't want to be reminded of that fact.

Instead, try this: Ask them what benefits they've experienced now that they're running regularly. Some runners find that they don't lose weight, but they feel more energetic and less stressed. Find out the reasons they run, and don't assume that one of them is to lose weight.

Don't say: "Why are you so upset about an injury?"

Runners knee injury
Comstock Images

It's difficult for non-runners to understand the emotional side of having a running injury but, trust me, it can be devastating for a runner to be told by a doctor that she can't run.

Instead, try this: No matter how much you think your friend is overreacting about a running injury, try to be sympathetic. Tell her how you know that she's trained really hard up until this point and you can understand why she would be disappointed. Make plans to do something fun, like see a show, to help get her mind off of her injury.

Don't say: "Are you sure it's safe for you to do a marathon?"

Two women running
Photo by Chase Jarvis

Whatever your reason (which may be well-intentioned) for this question, it's really none of your business. His or her doctor should be the one to say whether or not it's safe to be doing a marathon.

Instead, try this: Ask her how the training is going -- marathon trainees are always looking for an excuse to talk about her training!
Also see: Should I Run a Marathon?

Don't say: "Your feet look disgusting!"

Foot blisters
Getty Images

Yes, it's true that marathon runners usually don't have the prettiest feet. And I know lots of runners who are too embarrassed about their black toenails, blistered feet, and callused toes. So they certainly don't want someone making them feel more self-conscious about their ugly feet.

Instead, try this: Hearing something like, "Wow, those are the feet of a well-trained runner!" may help your friend change her mind and realize she has brag-worthy feet. Then ask her if she wants to get a pedicure together!

Don't say: "You're almost there!"

Race spectators cheering
Dream Pictures/Ostrow

Race spectators are very well-intentioned when they tell runners they're close to the finish line. But, in reality, race participants don't want to be told they're "almost there" because even if there's just a half mile left, it feels like it will take forever to get there.

Instead, try this: If you're spectating at a marathon or other race, pick an encouraging phrase that doesn't have a reference to the distance. Something like, "Way to go!", "Keep it up" or "Looking strong!" are always phrases that racers want to hear.
Also see: Tips for Marathon Spectators

Don't say: "I can't believe YOU are running a marathon!"

Treadmill Runner
Treadmill Runner. Getty Images
While this comment may be meant as a compliment (sort of a back-handed one), there's a good chance it could be taken the wrong way. The recipient might assume that you mean he or she is too fat/out of shape/old/etc. to be a marathon runner.

Instead, try this: Tell your friend how impressed you are with his or her commitment to the training and the decision to take on such a huge mental and physical challenge.

Don't say: "So, how far is this marathon?"

Marathon 26.2 finish sign
Getty Images
While some marathoners may be amused by this question, others might get annoyed. The person might assume your interest in their endeavor is disingenuous since you haven't bothered to learn the basic facts about a marathon. And they really don't want to make you feel dumb by saying, "By definition, a marathon is always the same distance: 26.2 miles."

Instead, try this: Asking "So, what's the course like for this marathon?" tells the person that you're interested in her marathon goal enough to know that the course, not the distance, is different for every marathon and it can have a huge effect on performance. The runner will be happy to share pros and cons about the course, since she's most likely already studied it.

Don't say: "Do you feel guilty spending all that time away from your family?"

Runner outside in fall weather
Chase Jarvis/Getty Images

Yes, training for a marathon is a big time commitment, and most runners feel some level of guilt about the time away from their families and friends. But they certainly don't want someone to remind them about the guilt.

Instead, try this: Say something like, "I'm so impressed that you're able to manage the training with all your other responsibilities. What's your secret to success?" Your friend might admit that she feels guilty about missing time with family and friends. But she'll probably also tell you the training is beneficial for her physical, emotional, and mental health, and that makes her a better person. Personally, I'm much easier to live with when I'm running regularly!

Don't say: "So, did you beat Oprah's time?"

Oprah Winfrey marathon runner
Albert Ortega/Getty Images

Someone who just finished a marathon is extremely proud of his or her accomplishment. But if you start asking questions about how his or her time compares to Oprah's or other celebrities' marathon times or how he or she finished compared to others in the race, he or she just might start feeling a little deflated.

Instead, try this: Congratulate your friend on his or her incredible accomplishment! Instead of really putting her on the spot, ask her a general, "How did it go?" That will give her a chance to brag about which celebrities she beat or how she beat her PR, if she wants to talk about it.

Also see: More "What Not to Say" articles
How to Deal With the Naysayers