What do black toenails, Body Glide, “the wall,” negative splits and taper tantrums all have in common? They represent a language that only runners understand. At best, our behaviors are labeled weird. More likely, non-runner family and friends describe us as crazy.

Here are 10 common problems only runners understand…

1. Chafing

Have you ever stepped into the shower after a sweaty or rainy run and cringed as the water hit your skin? Did you then step out of the shower and look in the mirror, only to discover that you were covered in red rashes in some pretty weird places? Like forgetting to put on sunblock before running on a sunny day, forgetting to apply a lubricant (such as Body Glide) before a long run can lead to major regrets.

My worst experience with chafing was during my first road race at the 2005 Riverbank Run 25k. No one gave me the “don’t wear cotton” memo. An already bad situation made worse by the fact that it was pouring rain the entire race. I didn’t discover the red rashes on my chest and thighs until I hit the shower. What did I learn? Wear wicking fabrics and/or apply some type of body lubricant liberally to potential chafe zones before a long run. Better safe than sorry.

2. The Unflattering Race Photo

You’ve all seen those ridiculously photogenic runners who, at mile 20 of a marathon, look like they’re out for a leisurely stroll through the park with their dog — their hair is flowing in the breeze, their eyes are wide and bright, their arms and quads are perfectly flexed, and somehow, they’re still smiling.

Meanwhile, you’re sucking wind and feeling like you actually might die. You’re grimacing like you just dropped a ton of bricks on your toe, the sun is shining directly in your face so your eyes are glued shut, salty sweat is crusted to your face and down the front of your shirt, and your stride would suggest that you’re no longer capable of an aerial phase. Still, you’re feeling proud of your race accomplishment and are already picturing how good your finisher photo will look mounted on your living room wall.

But when you see the proofs, you’re appalled and think to yourself, “Is that what I really look like?!” And then you sift through 20 more photos and realize they all basically look the same. Maybe someday the photographer will be stationed at mile 1.

3. Hitting “The Wall”

The 2014 Redwoods Marathon is a painful flashback. “I went out too fast and hit the wall,” you’ll hear many runners say. Confused non-runners ask, “What wall?” For most of us, the dreaded “wall” is bound to happen to us at least once in our running career. Also referred to as “bonking,” hitting the wall can include fueling or hydration issues, which may lead to dehydration, hyponatremia, stomach problems or muscle cramping. This is often accompanied by a sudden decline of mental grit needed to finish a race. Sometimes, under- or over-training are also culprits.

Whatever the reason, your legs are filled with bags of bricks, every breath and step is about ten times harder than before. The mile markers seem farther and farther apart, and it feels like someone moved the finish line. You literally wonder if there is an invisible force pulling you backward. You think to yourself, “Next time I won’t go out so hard.” Famous last words.

4. Feet That No Pedicure Will Ever Save

Let’s talk about feet. Not because it’s glamorous or sexy, but because it’s necessary. If you’re like most people, you haven’t always been a runner, so you can probably remember a time when your feet weren’t so disgusting. But now you’ve given up trying to take care of them because you know that nothing will save their sad state. Onlookers are dumbfounded and grossed out as you explain the normalcy of your blisters, callouses and black — or missing — toenails. Say goodbye to looking good barefoot or in sandals; the writing is on the wall. But hey, if you’re going to put yourself through the pain and agony of pounding pavement or trail multiple times a week, at least your feet are a reminder that you’re earning your badge of honor.

5. All Those Motivational Quotes That Hit So Close to Home

If you google “motivational running quotes,” it’s possible your browser will explode. That’s because runners need all the mantras, quotes and inspiration they can get to work through tough training periods and reach their goals. I always convince myself that I’m going to go into a race with my mental A-game, but the truth is that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s one stupid little phrase that gets you to the finish line. Without it, you feel powerless. And quite often, you don’t even know how the phrase popped into your head. I’m currently in the process of training for my first 50-miler, the Colossal Vail 50/50, and recently, I found myself repeating, “I am stronger than yesterdaaaaaay!”, a line from an old Britney Spears song. I don’t think that’s how she meant it, but I finished my run, so I’ll take it.

6. Taper Tantrums and Phantom Taper Pains

For runners, the word “taper” might as well be a four-letter word. We love tapers because we get to rest, and after weeks of hard work, a break seems welcomed — until about two days later. We can’t eat whatever we want, and we start to go a little crazy because we don’t have a way to blow off steam or wind down. This is promptly when we start turning into monsters and become cranky and cry about little things. People who usually enjoy our company steer clear of us because they don’t know when we’re going to blow.

To make matters worse, this is also about the time we experience “phantom taper pains,” or pain that we’re imagining is going to jeopardize our race success. My IT band is sore. My hamstring is tight. I’m sure I have a stress fracture in my metatarsal. OMG I’m getting sick! We’ve all had these doubts creep in, but most of the time it’s literally all in our heads and we survive on race day. But any runner will tell you that’s not how it feels when it’s taper time.

7. Everyone Thinks You’re Crazy

Back in 2011, I embarked on a solo trip from Eugene to San Francisco and ran the New Year’s One Day six-hour race. After completing 38 miles and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours in downtown San Francisco after the race ended at midnight, I arrived at my hotel and finally passed out around 3am. The next morning, I woke up and drove back to Eugene.

People will call runners crazy for a lot of reasons. How many of these can you relate to?

  • Waking up at 4am.
  • Going to bed at 8pm.
  • Running on lunch breaks.
  • Running while pushing a double-wide stroller.
  • Running in snow storms.
  • Running when it’s 100 degrees.
  • Running really far.
  • Running back-to-back races.
  • Running up mountains.
  • Eating five meals a day.
  • Owning 12 pairs of running shoes.
  • Wearing ridiculously short shorts.

If you know what I’m talking about, congratulations — you’re definitely a runner.

Inevitably, you’ll also come across a few different types of non-runners who fall into one of these categories:

The Jokester: These are the people who ask you how far you ran this weekend and when you tell them, they say, “I once drove that far!” or “I would only run that far if someone were chasing me!” Oh, brother.

The Exaggerator: This person embellishes everything you tell them that is running-related. For example, if you tell them you ran 20 miles as part of your marathon training cycle, they’ll introduce you to someone else by saying, “This is Sally. She runs 30 miles EVERY weekend!” That’s not quite what I said. But talk about pressure!

The Naysayer: This type includes anyone who is constantly worried that you are going to get hurt or tells you all the reasons why running is a terrible idea. They tell you running will ruin your knees. Perhaps they remind you that runners are attacked by bears and die. They tell you not to run in the snow, heat, or rain. What they don’t know is that nothing they can say will dissuade you from running.

8. You Need a Bathroom… RIGHT NOW

It is the middle of a run (or a race) when nature abruptly calls. Uh oh. You’re three miles from the nearest bathroom but you really can’t wait that long. You start looking around for the nearest tree, or maybe the biggest shrub. Or a ditch. Or literally anything. You start to panic and scan the area to see who’s around. Is it smarter to run faster or start doing a weird speed walk? You silently curse yourself for not taking advantage of the last bathroom opportunity or for your last food and/or beverage choice. Most of you probably figured something out. It’s more than likely that we’ve all been there and have a weird story we could tell. How did your worst bathroom dilemma turn out?

9. Race Day Rage/Panic in Bad Weather Conditions

Curses to snow, hail, rain, wind, heat, humidity… all of it feels like the end of the world on race day. All throughout your training cycle, you enjoyed perfect weather (or at least that’s how it feels now that you’ve been dealt this hand of bad fortune). You whine and complain to your friend or significant other, even though you know that focusing on something you can’t control is a waste of energy. You begrudgingly tell yourself you’re going to adjust your goal, but then mile 1 flies by and you’re stubbornly powering through the goal pace you had your heart set on.

I distinctly remember standing on the starting line of the 2015 Ventura Marathon on a warm, muggy September morning and hearing the race director specifically tell us to adjust our pace accordingly. Of course, being hell-bent on MY goal time, I foolishly ignored the RD’s advice and charged forward, refusing to let a good BQ opportunity pass by. At the end of the day, Mother Nature won. Talk about runner problems.

10. Realizing That Non-Runners Don’t Want to Hear About Every Split and Missed PR

You’re rambling on and on to your coworkers about how you would have PR’d, but the weather was bad, you had stomach issues, you went out too fast, and the course was 0.08 long… and then you finally realize you either lost them or they just don’t want to hear about it. As much as we want it to, the question “How was your weekend?” doesn’t give us free rein to talk about every trial, tribulation and detail of our running lives. Sorry. Know your audience and stick to something short and sweet.


Emily BushouseEmily Bushouse is a recreational runner who has competed in more than 100 races ranging from 5K to ultramarathon. Her running journey started over a decade ago and continues to bring new challenges and adventures. Emily is dedicated to her progress as a runner and is currently training for her first 50-miler. She loves mile repeats, post-run pizza, and blogging about the trials and tribulations that come with identifying as a runner.


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