Running in marathons has become so popular in recent years that race organizers in some cities are being forced to limit participants through lottery systems. We look at what it takes physically and mentally to run a marathon, and why the sport is growing.

Dean Karnazes, ultra-marathon runner and author of "RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters & Bliss"
Anthony C. Luke, associate professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the UCSF School of Medicine, director of the UCSF Human Performance Center (HPC) at the Orthopaedic Institute and founder of the RunSafe injury prevention clinic

  • UncleTomObama

    What does Mitch think of the US PTO’s giving awards to patent examiners based on the number of patents they issue, and not based on the research they do to determine whether patents even deserve to be issued in the first place?
    Or the situation with patent trolls run amok?
    Everybody should listen to This American Life’s show When Patents Attack! for an overview of the situation.

  • Adam in Berkeley

    Mr. Karnazes: how about everyday running? I live in a city and I find myself having to weave between oblivious crowds and having to dodge cars with drivers who don’t understand what “limited use” means. What advice do you have to people who live in an area where the geography makes it tough to run safely?

  • Archie

    My dad completed his first marathon in SF at age 65 in 3 hours, 43 mins. It was exciting for the whole family to get involved in training, nutrition, etc. and remains an inspiration to us all.

    • Ronda

      WOW. Your dad is fast.

  • Rkromani

    What are your comments on barefoot running and barefoot running technique? I’m a past cross country runner who really fell in love with running again after using a barefoot technique.

  • Adam in Berkeley

    Dr. Luke: Settle this once and for all (if possible), Is running bad for the knees? I constantly hear conflicting reports on this issue.

  • Deepak

    I want to try marathon. I have concern about knee injury. Would you comment on it. 

  • Francine

    Anyone considering training for a marathon should talk at length with thier partner/family about what is involved, especially if they work full time.  Training is very time consuming and a mostly solo activity.  That, along with the need for special food, special recovery needs, etc.  can be very isolating for the rest of the family cutting into social time in general. 

  • none

    Could it be that running’s power over us comes from the notion that it’s a primal physical activity?  Our ancestors ran to get places and to survive, it could be that we are built to run and support those who are good at it…

  • Barbara

    I am a new runner (started at end of July) and will be doing my first half marathon on Sunday in Big Sur. Running a full marathon has been on my bucket list for quite some time and I hadn’t done anything towards checking it off my list. Turning 50 in April this year made me realize that I needed to do something about this. I decided to train with Team In Training to help me get proper training and motivation and support. This journey has been great so far. Planning on doing a full marathon in 2012.  

  • Menaka

    I just ran the NYC Marathon and it was by far the best marathon and running experience I’ve ever had, but I live in a community where I can run easily and have access to healthy food.   I have access to sidewalks, parks, and trails that made my training easy. This is not the same in every community, poor low-income communities tend to have poor access to healthy food, recreational opportunities and can have higher rates of community violence which can make running, walking and eating healthy a challenge. 

  • Helena

    A lot of new runners push themselves too hard, I was one.  I always thought “I should be going faster” … and after a few months I’d lose my enthusiasm – because it was too hard.  Now I am using a heart monitor which lets me know the appropriate zone for the work out I am doing, So now I dont care if I am going slow, it is what is and there is nothing wrong with my will!  Now I ALWAYS enjoy my runs (jogs), whether its 2 miles or 7 miles.  I’m thinking about training for a half Marathon.

  • H. Kreutzberg

    what about fueling during marathon training and during the marathon itself? Is there any consensus on this subject?


  • Sabina

    I’d like to comment on running and injuries, and I believe that shoes, and our physical mechanics, form, and training methods contribute to whether or not we become injured.  I was a life long runner, who was moving from marathons to ultra-distance and had a cycling accident that changed my alignment a tiny bit, and was then unable to continue distance training and racing.  I now, walk/run, and hike, but do miss my running ritual. I do know that most of my former injuries were from shoes that didn’t work for my feet and running on asphalt.  

  • Gcspp

    I had the pleasure of running with Dean at the 2010 Napa valley marathon. I wanted to mention that when a person undertakes a huge task of training for a marathon it begins to effect every choice they make through out the day. What you eat, drink and any decision that may effect your training. This kind of  mindset can really do wonders for a person’s health even after the marathon.

  • peggi

    I have been running for 34 years. I do not consider myself an “elite” runner. I run about 16  miles a week. When I was younger I ran a 9 minute mile. Now I run a 12 minute mile.   I have run half-marathons and hope to run a marathon someday.

    I would agree with the caller that running is “an act of joy.”  I have run in many countries. My best run was in the hills of Scotland with the sheep. Running has enriched my life physically and spiritually.

  • Mary

    I have been a part of a San Francisco women’s running team for over 20 years and have run numerous marathon’s with my teammates.  The best part is always the months of training together toward a common goal, filled with early morning long runs and shared time together.  Completing the race together is the icing on the cake.

  • Chris in Campbell

    I’m 45. I ran my first marathon at age 10 (but to make you feel better Dave, my time was 5:09:48), and my most recent at age 13 (where I broke 4 hours).

    I’ve gotten back into running after a couple decades off, and I’m trying to understand what the limitations to my potential as I age. What advice can Dr. Luke offer to runners building up when they’re past their peak potential?

  • Isabelle

    I am doing my first marathon this year at CIM. I struggle sometimes with the thought that doing that much running is too much of a good thing? Waht about free radicals, heart damage and sport addiction? Can you comment.

  • Aaron in San Francisco

    I may be one of few dissenters here, but I am of the opinion that an extreme endurance goal such as a marathon could be a bad idea for the majority of people who embark upon it for the goal of getting in shape.  Unfortunately, it seems that many folks will train for a few months, run the race, and revert to their old habits.  I would argue that with a longer term fitness view, for most people, a marathon is a really sprint, so to speak. 

    I’m all for setting goals, but can you comment on whether the popularity of marathons could be disguising some other beneficial goals and behavior.

  • Jimmy_Oakland

    I ran the Oakland Marathon last year, it was my first. I loved the enthusiasm of the neighborhoods. What I found most difficult about the marathon was after the run. I didn’t plan on what to do and did not get massages, so I fell in a physical and emotional slump for a month. My next marathon, I’m going to focus on the month after just as much as the month before.

  • Jeff from Big Bear

    I ran my first marathon at 6,800 ft. elevation in 4:40, with considerable pain in the ankles and feet.  I did 90% of my training on dirt, which was nicer on the joints.  I question whether I will ever run distance again because of my phenotype; I’m built more like a weight lifter at 5′ 9″ and 190 lbs.  I’ll probably stick to running <10 miles.  Is distance running more suited to the long and lean?

  • Adam in Berkeley

    What are the physiological and/or neurological benefits of running? I’ve heard that running boosts the growth of neurons in the adult brain, true?

  • Diane

    I’ve always wanted to run but was told at a young age..19 that I had chondromalasia of the knees and it wouldn’t be good for me.  Ive always wanted to run and really need a good exercise now that I’m 54.  Is there any hope for me?

  • Aaron

    Im mildly probated and my knees and feet point outward. I do a lot of sprinting. What are the long term dangers for my body if I don’t fix my pronation?

  • gordon

    I was about 12 years old when I started running and believe it really effected the way my body developed in a good way. Has it been found to change the way the body develops or does it not effect muscle development in youth?

  • M.

    I hate running, but last year when I was in the throes of a very intense Master’s program I became good friends with two devoted runners who recruited me to their weekly runs (they were training for a half-marathon). I was proud of myself for making it to five miles, but I could (would) never have done it on my own. Although running is an intensely solo activity for some, I can only do it with people around me, specifically, talking to me. My chant was (when I could get it out), “You stop talking, I start walking.” The gossip got me through.

  • Adam in Berkeley

    Dean, have you ever run the Bay to Breakers? What do you think of that race as opposed to a regular marathon?

  • Husam

    I used to run around 3 miles every other day and now I stopped because ruining is really boring even with music on.  And when I am running I am thinking when it’s going to be over?  Anyway yesterday I decided to jog for few hundred yards and stop and then walk.  I really enjoyed it much better than running alone I enjoyed my music and the fresh air too.  My question was, is walking equally beneficial like running?   

  • Rebecca

    There is a group called “Running For a Better Oakland” that takes schoolkids on training runs in preparation for the Oakland. Their mission statement: “Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) is a non-profit organization that encourages 5th – 12th grade Oakland students to develop healthy lifestyles through running. By building confidence, setting goals, providing training and encouragement, RBO will give students the values for achievement and hard work that they can draw on for all areas of their lives.” 

    • Rebecca

      ^^ for the Oakland Marathon.

  • Bill

    Running definitely affects the brain.  You have to be crazy to put yourself through 26.2 miles of running.  Then again, most brilliant people are a little crazy.

  • Kevlb

    As for students running—Alphonzo Jackson has run a very successful program in underprivileged Oakland high schools, called Students Run Oakland (SRO).  Kids who have never done anything like this train to run the L.A. Marathon, and over 90 per cent of them go on to college, even though the odds are against them.  The achievement of running a marathon seems to lead them to achieve in education as well.—from Dolores in Albany

  • Wako

    I am a new runner and just finished my first marathon in Chicago last month. Yay! I loved how the author Haruki Murakami described training for marathons and what he thinks about when he runs in his book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

  • Shellbell017

    Shelli Main, Race Director, Girls on the Run Sonoma County.
    A non-profit after school program that encourages  young girls aged 8-14 to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running. The cirriculum  addresses all aspects of girls development; their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well being. Girls on the Run is nationwide. Their mission statement; We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun experience based cirriculum which creatively integrates running. Upcoming 5K Sat Dec 3rd at 9am Rohnert Park Community Center in Rohnert Park Ca. Proceeds benefit Girls on the Run Sonoma County. We have 275 girls participating this fall season throughout Sonoma County. Programs are across the country.

  • Emilyeifler

    I am disabled and use a cane to walk for balance, so street running is out of the question. I do however run on the treadmill where I can hold on. I have always wanted to try wheelchair running. Does your guest know of any organization that support new comers to chair running?

  • Ronda

    Great interview. I love running, it is cheaper than psychotherapy.

    • Pete

      It’s a start to knowing ones’ self. But not a substitute for therapy – which people who desire to run marathons could probably use. It’s a great excuse to continue to look inward.

  • Eat2perform

    I also ran this years NYC- an amazing experience. Congratulations on finishing and a great program.

  • Pete

    I ran NYC in 1977 – my one and only marathon, but it changed my life. I was inspired by an article by George Sheehan in the NYT, and George Willig, who climbed up the side of the World Trade Center. The marathon was one goal where the only limitations were those you created for yourself. Discovered I was an endorphin junkie, moved to California to work for Runners World, switched to triathlons and got creative here in Silicon Valley. Running changed my life. I wanted to run 8min/mi and ran 3:30. Later, the combination of intense aerobic/endurance excercise and therapy opened up all kinds of doors to self knowledge. Neuroscience today helps to explain it all!

  • Sorry to nit-pick, but Dean Karnazes, lists, among other things, sex, as something that divides us, concluding that running is the great unifying thing between people, but I really think that sex is the great commonality in being human.

  • Pete

    To Dave Iverson: I was astounded to hear that you are 63. By your voice I had always thought you were in your early thirties. One heck of a time to run your first marathon!  You had to go deep!  My “moment” came somewhere around 20 miles, in Marcus Garvey Park – I was beginning to feeling the wall coming on, and a fellow handed me a 7oz. bottle of beer. I stopped and chugged it down. I’ll never forget the look on the guys face.The rollers in Central Park still felt like mountains.

    Congrats.  The marathon definitely has a spiritual dimension for those who are inclined to tap into it.

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