10 Bad Runner Habits
Runners often receive a bad rap for being quirky perfectionists who are content to cut short a night out in order to rest up for a long run or race the following morning. To many people, runners appear to be the modicum of good health and discipline. But, runners also have their share of bad habits. Listed below are 10 of the worst habits exhibited by runners.
Ramping Mileage and Intensity Too Quickly
Runners aren’t exactly known for their patience, and many have developed the bad habit of trying to build mileage and intensity too quickly. Running too many miles too soon is a leading cause of injuries such as shin splints and stress fractures. In fact, an Ontario study which looked at data from 1,680 runners found that increased running mileage1 held the biggest risk for injury. In addition, veteran runners often try to incorporate speed workouts into their weekly regimen before they are ready.
Depending on the duration of your time off from running or the extent of your injury, returning to exercise with a run-walk-run method may be best. Once you begin to build mileage, do so gradually. There are various theories on how much mileage should be added per week, but most runners can safely sustain 5 – 10 miles per week as they build to peak mileage. For quality workouts, wait until you have reached at least 70% of peak mileage (or 6 – 8 weeks) before beginning to incorporate quality miles.
Poor Post-Run Nutrition
In order to get the most from your body, you must be conscious about the fuel you use, such as your post-run snacks. A runner’s muscles are primed for protein synthesis within 30 minutes of completing a 45+ minute run. When an adequate carbohydrate and protein source is not provided within this time frame, muscle recovery is hindered, leading to increased soreness and potential for injury.
Researchers have found that a 100 – 300 calorie snack with a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 is ideal. A practical review of these findings can be found here. In addition to a healthy snack, runners need to be vigilant about eating well-balanced meals that consist of a lean protein, wholesome carbohydrates, and healthy fat daily.
Not Using Sunscreen
Runners spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly those training for marathons and ultramarathons. Do not assume just because the weather has grown colder or that you wear long sleeves and running tights that you are protected from the sun’s harmful rays. In 2006, researchers reported that marathon runners were at an increased risk2 of developing malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers versus an age and sex-matched population.
In addition, as training increased, the risk of skin cancer increased as well. When running, athletes should be mindful to cover oft-forgotten areas of the body with a high SPF sunscreen, including the back of the neck and arms.
Positive Splitting Runs and Races
Many runners have a tendency to start out too fast from the gun (or the initial beep of the watch) and run out of steam in the later stages of the run or race. In races, runners often incorrectly assume it is better to “bank” time because they will inevitably slow down. However, starting out too quickly (especially in a long race), robs you of necessary energy and economy for the later miles. If negative splitting (i.e. running the second half of the race faster than the first) wasn’t an effective strategy, the majority of the distance world records beyond the 800 m dash would not have been set in this fashion.
DIY Medical Care
Runners are notorious for treating and diagnosing medical problems themselves, often causing preventable injury and illness. Studies have indicated that runners are more likely to have Type A3 personality, meaning they would rather run through pain than potentially take a day off to visit a doctor.
However, by treating themselves with ice and anti-inflammatory medicines, they make their preventable problems even worse. Runners should seek medical attention for any soreness that lingers beyond 3 – 4 days, especially if acute, localized pain is involved. When illness is concerned, a rest day should be taken if symptoms are below the throat, including chest congestion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or muscle aches.
Many runners forgo necessary recovery activities, such as stretching, in favor of sneaking in an extra mile or two. In reality, balancing the constriction of muscles caused by running with stretching exercises is more beneficial than time spent on feet, especially for high mileage athletes. Do not ignore the necessity of balance, which includes stretching, foam rolling, or massage. One study examined the effects of post-exercise stretching on injury reduction, finding that less soreness was experienced by stretchers, as well as a 5% decreased risk4 of injury.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Unless you are a professional runner, sleep is likely not a priority. However, it should be. Sleep is one of the most important recovery activities, as it is one of few ways to naturally boost Human Growth Hormone5 (HGH) levels, which are important for muscle recovery. However, HGH is only released during small windows of time in the sleep cycle, so receiving adequate sleep is important. A rule of thumb is that runners should receive an additional 10 minutes of sleep per night for every 10 miles of weekly mileage. For instance, an athlete that runs 60 miles per week should aim for an additional 60 minutes of sleep nightly.
Running hard every day sounds like a great idea, until you become mentally and physically burnt out on exercise. Many runners develop a bad habit of avoiding rest days. Hard days should be hard, while easy days should remain easy. Strenuous activities such as weight lifting should be relegated to hard days so that easy days can be completely relaxed. When this pattern is not followed, chronic inflammation is likely to occur, which results in weight gain, fatigue, mental anguish, irritability, and severely hindered performance. To avoid overtraining6, take recovery seriously.
Avoiding Core Work
If you have ever read a running magazine, you have likely stumbled across an article touting the benefits of core strength for runners. Indeed, core strengthening is one of the simplest ways that runners can improve his or her running ability.
Not only does core strengthening improve running form and efficiency, it improves power output as well. Incorporate core work into your weekly routine by starting small. For instance, perform 5:00 of core work three times per week. Gradually increase the amount of time as you become more comfortable with the exercises. Example core exercises include pushups, crunches, squats, tricep press, Russian deadlifts, or anything that requires balance.
Trying to Achieve Perfection
Finally, a typical mistake a runner might make is to look at this list and attempt to make all the changes at once. Perfectionism is a common theme for runners, which is also why they are prone to injury and have an increased risk of eating disorders. Instead of trying to be the “perfect” runner, you should aim for making small improvements. For instance, as an alternative to trying to overhaul your diet immediately, make slight changes each week. Overall, running should never become stressful, especially if it is not your full-time job!
1. Walter SD, Hart LE, McIntosh JM, Sutton JR. The Ontario cohort study of running-related injuries. Arch Intern Med. 1989;149:2561–4. doi: 10.1001/archinte.1989.00390110113025. Link
2. Ambros-Rudolph CM, Hofmann-Wellenhof R, Richtig E, Müller-Fürstner M, Soyer HP, Kerl H. Malignant melanoma in marathon runners. Arch Dermatol. 2006;142:1471–1474. Link
3. Fields, Karl B., et al. “A prospective study of type A behavior and running injuries.” Journal of Family Practice, Apr. 1990, p. 425+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 30 Nov. 2016. Link
4. Andersen JC. Stretching Before and After Exercise: Effect on Muscle Soreness and Injury Risk. Journal of Athletic Training. 2005;40(3):218-220. Link
5. Takahashi Y, Kipnis DM, Daughaday WH. Growth hormone secretion during sleep. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 1968;47(9):2079-2090. Link
6. Lehmann M, Dickhuth HH, Gendrisch G, Lazar W, Thum M, Kaminski R, et al. Training-overtraining. A prospective, experimental study with experienced middle- and long-distance runners. International journal of sports medicine. 1991;12(5):444–52. Epub 1991/10/01. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1024711 Link