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How To Talk To Non-Runner Friends About Running

Illustration by Hugo Herrera.

My friend Natalie is my personal cheerleader. Some people in your life just naturally slide into that role and are often the ones who don’t know much about what you actually do. There’s beauty in those relationships because they fill you with encouragement based on you, a uniquely designed individual, rather than on your performance. As an elite runner, that kind of friendship is so refreshing. It negates the need to perform or prove your worth…much of what I work for daily on the road and trail. Whether you are a rookie or seasoned runner, you need a Natalie in your corner. She is your number one fan–regardless of how fantastically or poorly you perform.

When I first told Natalie I’ve run two Olympic Marathon Trials and hold a marathon PR of 2:41:00, I’m pretty sure all she heard were the buzzwords “Olympics,” “marathon” and “two hours.” Those three words cemented in her mind that I was an Olympian who could run a marathon in two-ish hours (ha!). While flattered, my Type-A, justice-loving personality kicked into high gear, and I felt obligated to backtrack and explain who I really am as a runner and no, you would not find me in a pack with Shalane Flanagan.

Beyond the syntax of accurately labeling my running stature, I realized Natalie’s intentions were to impart confidence and respect. I needed to appreciate the underlying intention of her words; I am a source of inspiration to her, and she wanted me to know it. Often, family and friends don’t understand our knee-high compression socks, concentrated electrolyte sprays and foam rollers—and that’s okay! While the blister-ridden, chafed details of running might not be obvious (or even appealing) to them, these people are our forever fans.

Knowing your fans’ intentions is helpful when they ask you farcical questions about running. Be gracious in your answers—these are your people! Recognize that at the core of their uninformed questions about running, they are merely engaging with you because they are in awe of you (and running for extended periods of time is—quite frankly—seemingly ridiculous to them). Below are some of my favorite questions I’ve been asked, and how I’ve attempted to respond graciously.

Q: What’s your mile time?

What I’m thinking: Mile?! I’m not a miler! My mile time is not impressive if you know much about the mile. 

A: “I actually don’t race the 1 mile. My preferred event is the marathon. I don’t have sprinter-speedy legs, but they can go all day!”

Q: How far is your marathon?

Remember: Be gracious when chatting with those who don’t lace up! (And to be fair, many trail races are plus or minus a few miles from what’s advertised, depending on the landscape.)

A: “A full marathon is 26.2 miles, but I run other distances too.”

Q: When you run during pregnancy, aren’t you scared your baby will fall out?

It’s parenting that scares me!

A: “The pelvic floor is supported by muscles and ligaments that all work together to keep baby healthy and snug in the right place.

Q: Do your nipples bleed when you run?

Noooo…that’s one of the reasons you wear a sports bra. My nipples are more likely to bleed from my nursing son’s razor-sharp teeth!

A: “A good sports bra prevents that, and usually this is an issue men battle more so than women since they are more susceptible to shirt-on-skin friction.”

Q: I bet you eat super healthy! Do you eat a special diet?

I’m a marathoner; I’m on the “see food” diet: I see food and I eat it. 

A: “I eat according to my training needs, which means lots of veggies, fruit, grains, lean proteins and good fats. Food is fuel, but it’s also a connecting part of our culture. I allow plenty of room for celebratory eating/drinking! If I’m at a birthday party, you better believe I’m having a piece of cake.

Pro runner and running coach Megan Lizotte is a two-time USA Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and five-time IAAF World Mountain Running Championships qualifier. She is mom to Maven and Bodie and lives in San Diego, Calif., with her husband Andrew.

Related:

Things A Mother Runner Would Go Back To Tell Her Non-Running Self

What It’s Really Like Dating All Types Of Runners

The Important Running Lesson I Learned From A Non-Runner