Whether you’re new to running or a seasoned veteran, it is easy to fall pray to making these common running mistakes putting yourself at risk for injury, burnout and declining or stagnant performance. The great news is more can be learned by our mistakes than our successes. Do any of these ring true for you?
1) Too much too soon. Excitement of a new goal or carrot can lead you down a path of jumping into too many miles at first. Because running is a high impact, repetitive activity, the demands and risks are high. A good rule of thumb is to start from where you are fitness wise – if you are coming off the couch start with a run-walk program for 20 minutes and build up slowly. If you are exercising regularly the cardiovascular fitness will help, but your body still needs to learn to adapt to the impact forces on the body. Start off with easy paced running (where you can talk) for 20-30 minutes every other day and hold it there for 2-3 weeks and then build slowly from there.
2) Too fast too soon. You will naturally grow faster as your body adapts, however hard, fast workouts are best saved for the future when you have a solid base of regular running miles under your belt (6-8 months 3-4x per week). It is like building a house, you want to start with the foundation and make it strong (concrete) and build up from there. You’ll improve more quickly, recover efficiently and have a heck of a lot more fun!
3) Not your buddy’s running plan. What works for one runner doesn’t necessarily work for another. When you train like your boyfriend, running buddy or even an elite athlete, you’re not tuning in to what is going on in your body. Plus, you may be a faster or slower runner by nature. Follow your own game plan and meet them for coffee post run. Everyone will run happier.
4) Lack of runway space. Goals are a fantastic motivational tool to keep you focused, but when you choose one that is well outside your training runway, it quickly leads to stress, frustration and increased risk of injuries. Yes, you can do any race distance – and you can achieve it with optimal performance and low risk – high pleasure when you give yourself enough time to prepare. There are no shortcuts to race day. When you cut corners on prep time, something will give and it usually in the form of fatigue, aches and pains and a not so pretty finish line photo.
5) Following too many training plans at once. Training with several different training plans is a little like piecing together a cooking recipe. It doesn’t work because it messes with the flow and progression of the plan. Find a plan that works for you and stick with it – tweak it to fit your lifestyle and keep good notes. Soon, you’ll create your own personal running recipe.
6) Running like a plain Jane. All running and no play, can make you a very dull runner, especially when you’re getting started. Variety is the spice of a running life as it can balance your muscles, keep your program fresh and help in speedy recovery. Alternate running workouts with cross-training activity (cycling, elliptical, Zumba, swimming, inline skating…) every other day to speed recovery and go into your next run fresh as a daisy and motivated to run.
7) Running by a pace rather than the body. When you follow a pace on your watch or GPS you may be running too quickly or too slowly on the day. That is because every day is different for a runner. Some days we feel like Wonder Woman, others we’re feel lucky to even finish the workout. There are a host of variables that go into what kind of run you’re going to have (sleep, cycle, nutrition, stress, weather, terrain, travel, training progression). The key is to let your body be your guide and the pace and watch be the outcome of that the training run. When the training plan reads “easy” run at an effort where you can still talk and hold a conversation. If you can hear your breathing, you’re going too fast. Even if it’s the pace you normally run, it just means today’s workout easy is slower. No harm – no foul. When it reads to run at a moderate effort – run where you can start to hear your breath but you’re not reaching for air. And when it calls for a hard effort (5K, intervals) run where you’re outside your comfort zone but still in control and you can’t talk in sentences. Run by feel, it will change your life.
8) Ignoring strength and flexibility. Muscle and joint tightness and weakness turn into poor running efficiency and form and eventually lead to aches and pains down the road. Investing regular flexibility and strengthening work will develop a sound and strong foundation from which you can continue to run farther and stronger. Weave in stretching and foam rolling post run and strength work (yoga, Pilates, body resistance, weights…) 2-3 times per week. Bonus > it will also aid in boosting your metabolism and lead to easier weight loss and maintenance.
9) Ignoring your body’s inner tweet. Our body has a faster communication system than Twitter. When you start to feel a niggling pain, listen. In most cases, it means you’ve pushed too hard, haven’t recovered enough, or have transitioned to something new too quickly (roads from the treadmill, hills, new shoes, even everyday shoes/sandals). Take a few days to cross-train and focus on flexibility. In most cases, a niggling pain will subside with a few active recovery days. If you get to the point where you can’t run without altering your stride, it’s time to take a break from running and let it heal. But it won’t get this far if you listen and modify first!
10) Matching your shoes with your outfit. It’s easy to buy those cute pair of running shoes that match your outfit, but they may not be the right ones for you. Get fitted for your first pair of running shoes. Outside of a sports bra, it’s the number one gear investment and it is vital they fit your foot type and size. Head to your local running specialty store and talk to a shoe fit expert.
11) Impatience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a runner. When you’re getting started on any new running goal patience will help you improve faster. Becoming a new or improved runner happens when you ebb and flow through a consistent series of workouts. For newbies – that should be easy paced runs with rest or cross-training days in between. For seasoned runners, it means running a hard day followed by easy runs or cross-training and rest. When you run with patience and with the hard – easy pattern, your body has time to recover – and that is when we grow stronger. Running breaks the body down (good stress) and recovery (active and passive) allows us to get stronger. Allow enough time to adapt and grow before you progress to more running. For example, if you’re new to running, start with three runs every other day for 20 minutes (or run-walk). Stick with this program for 2-3 weeks and then progress from there.
12) Setting your hopes and dreams on a time goal. Mortal runners (everyone that runs to finish and not to pay the bills) – tend to focus on a specific race finish time. For example, a 2-hour half marathon or a 4-hour marathon. Why this specific time? Because it’s a nice round number. However, what does that mean really? An elite runner toes the line with the goal to win, and to run their best performance on the day. They can win the race, and run their slowest time. They can also lose the race and get a personal record. It’s not about the finish time, it’s about the win and about toeing the line with the goal to run your strongest on the day. When you let go of racing by pace, you open yourself up to running your best race. First-timers – set your sights on finishing upright, smiling and on the same day you start. From there, you can improve your time. Seasoned runners, race by feel and let the pace be the outcome rather than the guide. It will allow you to run faster than you’ve ever imagined – promise.