In running there are a number of training methodologies to choose from and what works for one runner won’t always work for another. However, there are a few key mistakes every runner should avoid to maximize performance and avoid injury.
When it comes to receiving and following running advice, it’s important to listen to reputable sources. Though some experimentation is recommended as you find what works for you, there are some trends — even in the sport of running — that shouldn’t be followed.
“Be informed and understand the science behind your decisions,” urges coach, trainer and corporate speaker Lisa Menninger. “Do not just follow a fad or what is popular at a given time; fads shift and change and rarely have hard science behind them. Know what is actually true and provable before implementing it.”
To help you avoid any pre-, mid- and post-run blunders, we rounded up some of the most common mistakes runners make. Avoid these and you’ll keep performing at your best no matter what training plan you follow.
PRE-RUN MISTAKES TO AVOID
NOT EATING BREAKFAST
Menninger explains that you should eat the same thing before your long runs as you do before other morning runs. Once you find what works for your stomach, sticking to that helps you avoid any mid-run GI issues or bathroom emergencies. “Also, don’t eat a gel at the start of your run if you haven’t eaten breakfast,” she adds. “It upticks your blood sugar, creating an insulin response in the body resulting in a crash. The muscles have not begun to work so if you flood your system with sugar you will have a crash.”
NOT WARMING UP
If you are one of those runners who feels like they don’t really hit their stride until a few miles into their run, not warming up could absolutely be the reason why. “An effective warmup will raise heart rate and prime your muscles, joints and tendons for the rigors of running,” shares Seth Kopf, owner and running coach at Kopf Running. “Warming up beforehand will allow you to perform at your best from the very start of your run and maximize time spent training.” Kopf highlights exercises like lunges, squats, jumping rope, leg swings and arm circles as the perfect warmup for your next run.
MID-RUN MISTAKES TO AVOID
NOT FUELING EARLY ENOUGH
After you’ve eaten breakfast, knowing how to fuel during your run is just as important so you don’t give your body too much sugar. “You should always follow gels or nutritional supplement with water,” notes Menninger. “The osmolality of the stomach is fragile and downing too much sugar at once can upset this. Take water after gels; you can take sports drinks on the miles you are not taking a gel or similar.” Whether you’re simply doing a long run or are racing, Menninger cautions that you should not start your nutrition any earlier than 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes into your run.
NOT PACING CORRECTLY
In a race, particularly, it’s easy to start too fast due to the excitement of the day, however, it is easy to do this during a training run as well. Kopf found most runners don’t know when to push or when to hold back. “Training one’s aerobic engine is absolutely key to performance and you do that by training at a pace that is comfortable and conversational,” he explains. “I have my clients use the ‘talk test’ — meaning you should be able to talk while running without getting winded — and, if you can’t, then you are most likely running too fast.”
READ MORE > 5 PRO RUNNERS SHARE THEIR MORNING ROUTINES
POST-RUN MISTAKES TO AVOID
NOT REFUELING FAST ENOUGH
It can be easy to make this mistake as runners often want to either take a shower or a nap after a tough workout. However, making sure you get a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 35 minutes of a workout is important. “You restock valuable glycogen at twice the normal rate if you hit this window,” notes Menninger. “This aids in recovery.”
NOT COOLING DOWN PROPERLY
Even with this important refuel window, you should be cooling down after a run, as well, to help your body properly transition. “An effective cool down will jump start the recovery process by bringing your heart rate down, calm your breathing and start to flush any lactic acid that may have built up during the workout,” adds Kopf. “An example of an effective cooldown is 10–15 minutes of walking post-run and some light stretching.”
HOW TO FIX WEAKNESSES WITHOUT NEGLECTING STRENGTHS
If you find you are making any of these common mistakes as a runner, don’t let it get you down. Making and learning from mistakes is part of the training process and it will make you a stronger runner overall. For every mistake a runner makes there is something that they are doing spectacularly, as well, so make sure you recognize your strengths when working to correct mistakes.
“It is important to have a proper mindset and looking at yourself more as an athlete versus solely a runner,” reveals Kopf. “Getting in the habit of properly warming up and cooling down — as well as mixing in strength and cross-training — will address any weaknesses while solidifying strengths. I strongly encourage investing in a coach to help with identifying those strengths and weaknesses to take your running to the next level!”