Running is a journey. Becoming the runner we want to be doesn’t happen overnight. For most of us, it takes many years, many mistakes and many lessons to improve, grow and realize our full potential. It’s a never-ending journey. No matter how many running accomplishments we conquer, we are still always learning. Whether you’re a new runner looking to tackle your first half marathon or marathon this year or are a seasoned runner, these 15 reminders will help you become the best runner you can be by avoiding common running mistakes.
1. Doing too much, too fast
The number-one cause of running injuries and setbacks is trying to do too much too fast. While that “go-get-em” attitude is something to admire, upping your mileage and/or building speed too quickly is the fastest way to end up on the sidelines. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to avoid doing too much, too quickly:
- When building weekly mileage, don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent week over week. For example, if you run 20 miles this week, you should run no more than 22 miles next week (20 miles x 10 percent = 2 mile increase).
- When adding weekly mileage, add to your long training day first, but don’t increase that distance by more than 10 percent from the previous week. The balance of your mileage can be added to your weekday runs.
- Every three weeks, drop your weekly mileage back, including your long training run, by about 20 percent to give your body some time to recover.
- Only begin building speed work into your training once a solid base and training foundation has been established. If you’re a beginner at speed work, start at a lower intensity.
- Do not increase speed and distance simultaneously. Hold one constant while you gradually increase the other.
- Do not run your speed work paces faster than your current fitness will allow. To help you determine your speed work paces, know your current 5K time and calculate your speed paces here.
2. Not properly warming-up
We all struggle with the same challenge: limited time. The easiest way to save some time is to cut your warm-up and jump straight into our workout, right? Wrong! Not properly warming up can lead to injury, especially for those incorporating speed work into their training. Warming up properly before races will also help you feel better and avoid spending the first part of the race getting into the grove. You can learn a proper running warm-up protocol here.
3. Not alternating hard days with easy days
Another strategy to help prevent injury is to ensure you are alternating easy days with hard days during your training week. This allows you some recovery before and after hard and/or intense workouts. For instance, an easy day of running (one to two minutes slower per mile than race pace) might precede and follow a day of intense speed work intervals. If you do have back-to-back intense days, they should focus on different elements of training and muscle groups.
4. Running every run fast (or feeling bad if you don’t)
As runners, we’re often our greatest critics. We’re all guilty of allowing our Garmins to dictate our value and confidence as a runner. A common mistake I see runners make, particularly newer runners, is wanting to run every run at a pace they consider to be fast for them—and feeling like a failure if the number on their watch isn’t above a certain pace.
Throw that thinking out the window.
Easy running is important to your success for a few reasons: 1) It helps you develop your slow twitch muscle fibers to build endurance and aerobic capacity. 2) It helps teach your body to burn fats over carbs, delaying the onset of “hitting the wall.” 3) It allows you to more safely increase your weekly mileage while strengthening your heart, capillary development and more efficiently delivering oxygen to your blood.
So what does running easy mean? The Hanson’s Marathon Method is a big proponent of the easy run. They describe easy runs as lasting between 20 minutes and 2.5 hours at an intensity of 55 to 75 percent of VO2 max, or one to two minutes slower than goal marathon pace. You don’t want to run slower than that, as that can lead to breaking down tendon and bone without any aerobic benefits. More advanced runners can alternate between fast and slow easy runs within that range.
5. Racing too much (if your goal is to get faster)
We all run for different reasons. If you are simply trying to run a half marathon in every state or tackle some big physical goal where your only focus is finishing, racing is fine. But if your running goals include running a personal best race time, then racing too frequently can be a barrier to your success. Your body typically needs the same number of days to recover from a race as the number of miles you ran. If you are constantly racing, your body may not be able to fully recover and work to its potential. Additionally, training plans are set so that you have a gradual progression from your base and build periods, to peak training to a taper period. Interrupting that with constant racing may diminish your ability to be at your peak fitness level on race day. While it’s easy to say that we will treat races as simple training runs, it’s often hard to do that when the adrenaline is flowing and the crowds are inspiring. If your goal is to crush a personal best, limit your races (or truly treat mid-season races as training runs or shorter races as your tempo run for the week) and focus on your big goal at hand.
6. Forgetting to train your brain
Mental strength and believing in your abilities is just as important as your physical preparedness. Try these techniques to sharpen your mind as much as your focus on strengthening your legs and lungs.
7. Starting too fast
The crowd is electric. The excitement is palpable. The gun goes off, and you blast across the start line in a blaze of glory. The only problem is that there are miles and miles to go. Try to avoid the temptation to go out too fast in a race (or long training run) so you can have the energy to finish strong—and preferably finish the second half of the run or race faster than the first. By starting a bit conservatively for the first two to three miles, you can prevent hitting the wall later in the run/race and have more consistent mile splits throughout the race.
8. Trying something new on race day
You have all heard this one. Race day is not the time to try new things, whether it’s new clothes, fuel/hydration or race strategies. Stick with your plan. Stick with what has worked during training. Trust that training. You can experiment during your next training cycle with new strategies. Race day is not the day you want to explore stomach cramps, serious chafing or depleted energy.
9. Not properly hydrating and fueling
If you’re hitting the wall or finding yourself without energy, you may not be eating or drinking enough—or eating it at the right time. Here are all the basics you need to know to master your nutrition and hydration strategy.
10. Not being your own cheerleader
Negative thoughts lead to negative results. If you are so focused on all the things that you wished you were doing differently or better, you may not be able to see all the great things and small victories you are achieving. When you experience a bad run or one that feels really tough (which you absolutely will, unless you are a superhuman alien), don’t let it define you. You may experience a string of bad runs. Focus on the positive aspects of your training. Be proud you woke up early to run or that you finished a workout when you really felt like quitting. Give yourself a break, and seek positive motivators when your self-talk is lacking megaphones and pom-poms.
11. Thinking you can do it alone
Running is an individual sport. No one else can push you up a hill or force you to complete your weekly miles. But having a group of supportive runners can certainly help keep you motivated and inspired. If you’re just starting out, finding a local training group through your specialty running store or running club can be invaluable. More experienced runners can help show you the ropes and share what they’ve learned along their journey. I truly found my love of long-distance running when I started training with a group back in 2009. The extraordinary friendships I’ve made and the relationships I’ve built is one of the things that make running so meaningful. Additionally, hiring a coach can help both new runners and experienced runners reach their goals and take their training to the next level.
12. Not making time for strength training
Running injuries commonly stem from doing too much too fast and from having muscle imbalances where weakness in one area causes an injury in another. Making time to strength train twice a week can help prevent muscle imbalances, particularly in our glutes and hips which many running injuries stem from. Additionally, increasing upper body and core strength can help with running posture and breathing, particularly in the latter stages of races. When we’re pressed for time and only able to fit so many things into a day, strength training is one of the things runners often cast aside. Committing to just 30 minutes of strength training twice per week can help us become stronger runners.
13. Running through pain
No one wants to face the reality that they might have to take several weeks off from running to recover from an injury, be it IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis or another common running ailment. Most of us runners are in denial—if I just do this or if I just do that I can keep running. In some cases, with proper care like sports massage, physical therapy, stretching/foam rolling, etc., we can nip injuries in the bud and keep running. But often times, runners’ desire to keep running can put them at greater risk of doing longer-term damage. I find this is especially true of newer runners who don’t want to give up a race they’ve signed up for or their workout regimen to take time off to heal. If you are experiencing any pain that is beyond the common discomfort that can come from running, stop. Go see a sports medicine doctor to determine if you can safely run or if you need to take time off or follow a specific recovery protocol. As runners, our main goal should be to train for life. Don’t jeopardize your long-term running happiness to push through pain.
14. Being impatient
Running is a journey. If you expect results overnight, you have chosen the wrong sport. Be patient with yourself. Don’t judge yourself if you aren’t getting faster as quickly as you’d like. I know many runners who at one point in their life couldn’t even run for 60 seconds without stopping. Today, they are running half marathons and marathons. But that didn’t happen in a month or a few weeks. Know that having bad runs is a normal part of the running and learning process. Know that every run will not feel good. Don’t let the bad days or weeks define you. Be patient, and know that with the right training and the right attitude, you will reach your goals.
15. Comparing yourself to others
Last, but certainly not least, don’t place the value of yourself as a runner based on anyone but yourself. The only person you should be competing with is yourself. It’s easy to compare your distances and paces to friends and/or people on social media. Don’t. What’s slow for you may be fast for someone else and vice versa. Every person is different. Celebrate your pace and your training. There are always going to be people who can run faster and farther than you. Celebrate them and celebrate your abilities. The cool thing about running is that no matter if you’re an elite or a casual jogger, we can all get to the same start line and cross the same finish line. You are awesome for what you can do today and what you will do tomorrow.