What do marathoners think about while running?

What do marathoners think about while running?

If you have ever wondered what marathon runners think about while spending hours pounding the pavement, researchers may have found the answer.

In the first study of its kind, runners training for a half marathon or marathon were asked to think aloud while they were running a distance of at least 7 miles. The thoughts were captured by a recording device.

Twenty-eight percent of thoughts were related to the outward environment such as hills, heat, traffic, admiration for the environment and thoughts about wildlife. The majority of the time (40 percent) was spent thinking about pace and distance as runners tried to keep a steady pace and good form.

Another 32 percent of the time was spent thinking about the pain and discomfort the runners were feeling.

“My hips are a little tight. I’m stiff and my feet, my ankles, are just killing me this morning,” was just one of the thoughts of runners participating in the study.

Although runners complain of discomfort when running, they shouldn’t feel anything sharp or painful while moving.

“Runners should not be feeling pain,” says Megan Olson, exercise specialist with Advocate Weight Management in Libertyville, Ill. “If they do feel pain, they should stop immediately and address the issue, but there is usually a feeling of discomfort which accompanies the challenge of high intensity exercise.”

Long runs can be tough and mentally challenging.

Shara Swager, an exercise specialist with Advocate Weight Management, offers runners these tips to help pass the time:

  • Put together a playlist of their favorite upbeat songs or songs which match your running cadence.
  • Make a to-do list.
  • Think about upcoming plans.
  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast that lasts as long as your run.

“To keep your mind off discomfort, run through a scenic area so there is a lot to look at, run with a group or friend to converse with, sign up for organized races or participate in obstacle course runs,” says Swager.

Olson offers these four tips to help runners prepare for a run:

  • Hydrate. Drink 12 ounces of water 30 minutes prior to the run, and if possible bring water along and drink 6 ounces every 20 minutes.
  • Shoes. Go to a specialized running shoe store for a gait analysis and shoe fitting to make sure you have the proper footwear.
  • Eat right. Every person is different, but most find that eating a high carbohydrate/moderate protein/moderate fat meal approximately one hour beforehand will provide enough energy for a run. Marathoners also may need an “energy gel” pack to consume during the run.
  • Proper training. Gradually increase the distance over a few weeks rather than trying to make significant increases all at once.

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  1. The study is nonsense because by asking people to verbalize what they’re thinking about, you’re directing their attention to what they’re thinking which changes what they’re thinking about.

    One of the reasons running is called “the thinking man’s [woman’s] sport” is that after you get into your cadence, you stop thinking about the distance, the pain, your speed or anything about what you’re doing and it frees your brain to roam and synthesize stuff going on in your head. When I was in school I would go for a run every time I had a paper to write, then come back and sit down and the paper would practically write itself. Running (once you get used to it) has some of the same effects as sleep in terms of organizing all the mental junk floating around into some sort of coherence. But no one is going to verbalize all that especially knowing they’re being recorded.

  2. Lisa Parro

    Even on my short distance runs, I think, “Why am I torturing myself?” But when I’m done, I always think, “That was awesome! I rock! Why don’t I do this every day?” That’s the dichotomy of running, at least for me.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.