You’ve signed up for your next (or maybe your first!) race and are itching to hit the pavement but before you lace up your shoes and start ticking off the miles, it’s important to correct any bad habits before they begin. After all, the name of the game is to train smarter (not harder). That means avoiding common race training mistakes that could hold you back from achieving your best results come race day. Follow the rules of the road and you’ll be crossing the finish line with a well-earned PR — or for the first time ever.
LOGGING JUNK MILES
Your leisurely 12-mile training run has its time and place, but if you’re looking for a PR on race day, it’s beneficial to spend some time outside your comfort zone. Throw in a few tempo workouts to complement your long runs and, if you feel so inclined, some hill repeats as well (see what we did there?). It’s unrealistic to think you’ll perform a certain way on race day without training with intent in the months leading up to your big day. Don’t just go through the motions to say you logged the miles — volume isn’t always the answer.
PRACTICING IMPROPER NUTRITION
Nutrition is one of the trickiest aspects of running and can take a lifetime to hone. Dedicate time to map out your fueling plan for each training run and try different products to see what works and what doesn’t. When experimenting, only change one variable to see if it makes a positive (or negative) impact on your training effort. Digestion and hydration issues can derail a race faster than expected, so make sure you have your plan down before you toe the start line.
LACK OF RECOVERY
Just like your car, it’s impractical (and irresponsible) to think you can continue running without some sort of maintenance. Everybody responds to certain recovery techniques differently, but a 15-minute cooldown, foam-rolling session, stretching session and/or ice bath are all effective tools to use after a hard run. In addition, the need for adequate sleep can’t be overstated. The body releases hormones to aid tissue repair and recovery when sleeping, so shoot for a consistent 8–10 hours of sleep every night to help prevent overuse injuries.
IGNORING YOUR BODY’S CUES
Listening to your body is especially important as you enter the thick of your training plan. If you have a lack of energy, throbbing pain or a heart rate that doesn’t respond as usual, this may be your body telling you to back off the pace or take the day off. It’s completely normal to have both “on” and “off” days — sometimes pushing through pain or fatigue can cause more harm than good. It’s always better to miss one training day as a precaution than be sidelined for a week (or more) by a preventable injury.
The idea of tapering goes against all common sense, and many runners fall into the trap of feeling like they should train until the night before the race. While it’s true you still need to run in the weeks prior to your race, it’s important to reduce your training load by about 30–40 percent depending on the distance. Stick with familiar workouts and throw in the occasional tempo run to keep your legs feeling fresh, explosive and recovered on race day.
MAKING UP MISSED RUNS
If you miss a run due to injury or some other life event, chalk it up to a loss. Your training plan should be flexible and allow for a certain amount of error and fluidity. Adding a missed run back into an already stacked training plan adds excess load that will do more harm than good.
LACK OF WARMUPS
While it’s certainly easier to lace up your shoes and immediately head out the door for your post-work training run, a proper warmup habit has many essential benefits. When done correctly, a warmup helps reduce injury, improve flexibility and fosters a better mind-body connection. Set a timer for 10 minutes of high knees, jumping jacks and karaokes to get properly prepped for any training run.
TOO MUCH, TOO QUICKLY
Even if your nerves are kicking in after clicking “register” for your upcoming marathon, don’t get too excited and injure yourself with too many miles too quickly. Remember the 10 percent rule when ramping up your training efforts, which means only increase your weekly mileage by 10 percent over your previous week’s total. If you’re training for a half or full marathon, use this formula and count back from race day to give yourself the proper time to train.
SKIPPING STRENGTH DAY
No, we’re not suggesting you join your local CrossFit box, but it’s critical to add a strength day to your training routine. Core, glutes and back exercises can specifically help strengthen underdeveloped muscles and combat injuries associated with common running muscular imbalances. Upper body strength can help with better posture and running form, making each stride easier and more efficient.
TRYING SOMETHING NEW
This one is simple: Don’t experiment the week, and especially the day, of your race. By this point you should already have your nutrition down, gear selected and training completed. There’s no reason to throw in a Hail Mary long run on the Friday before the race or decide to use the fancy new pair of shoes you bought at the race expo. Training is for experimentation, not race weekend.