5 Of The Most Common Running Mistakes And How To Avoid Them
Runners are very stubborn. This is why they go out the door a few days a week, putting miles on their running shoes, sweating in all kinds of weather, and chasing huge goals. It’s also why they keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Here’s are five common running mistakes and some tips on how to avoid them.
Running seems straightforward. You just lace up your shoes, step outside and go. Its illusive simplicity can cost a lot and a few wrong moves can make the difference between flying across the finish line or plodding through your next long-awaited race. Whether you’re an average runner or an elite marathoner, you’ve probably committed one or more of the five mistakes listed below.
#1 Running Too Many Long Runs Back-to-Back
It’s always easy to get caught up in the numbers game. Remember that you don’t have to run the race distance before the big day. The perfect long run schedule should ebb and flow through three to four building and cutback weeks to help recovery.
The Fix: Once your schedule starts getting you into longer miles, alternate a long run one weekend with a short run the next. Never risk injury and allow your body enough time to recover from the last huge effort before you hit the next long distance run. I, myself, ran two marathons and two ultramarathons over eight weeks and ended up with IT band syndrome. Very painful!
It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality of your long runs.
#2 Tense Upper Body
Running fast AND relaxed is extremely difficult to learn for both beginners and seasoned athletes. The best way to understand this is to examine an elite sprinter. Slow the footage down, and you will quickly see how effortlessly the knees go up toward and through the hips, how the jaw and shoulders are very relaxed.
The Fix: Keep your arms relaxed at 90 degrees at waist level. The swing should be exactly like a pendulum from your relaxed shoulders, with the elbows down, extending from chest to the hem of your shorts. Avoid side-to-side twisting – it will make you more likely to slouch and not breathe as efficiently.
Imagine a vertical line splitting your body in half – your hands should not cross it.
#3 No Cross-Training
Many runners believe running is the only form of exercise that’s necessary. So they abandon everything else and only focus on running. Well, I’ve been there. But if that’s all you do, you are putting stress on the same muscles and bones involved in running and the risk for overuse injury increases because some areas of your body become too weak or too tight. Doing cross-training helps you work out different muscles so you can do more activities safely.
The Fix: Incorporate at least one cross-training (swimming, cycling, yoga, elliptical) and one strength-training (weight lifting) session per week into your running schedule.
I reached peak performance this summer when I was both running AND swimming. If you’re aiming high, cross-training is the secret to success.
Overstriding (or heel striking) is a very common injury-causing running form mistake. Some runners assume that a long stride will actually improve their running efficiency or speed, but that’s not true. When you land with your foot well ahead of your body’s center of gravity you waste energy. Overstriding can lead to shin splints or other serious injuries. Think of it like this: you simply cannot push off your feet when they are in front of your hips. Your hips must come over your feet in order to successfully propel you forward.
The Fix: Stop lunging forward with your feet and focus on landing mid-sole. Find a flat area to practice your running form and pay careful attention when running downhill. Make sure your foot lands directly underneath your body with each strike.
At first, do your best to keep your steps quick and light, as if you are stepping on hot coals.
#5 The Wrong Nutrition
Nutrition can make or break a race. I have said it once, and I’m saying it again.
Running is 50% planning, and planning is 50% nutrition.
Most beginning runners underestimate the importance of nutrition, for both their overall health and running performance. When and what you eat before, during, and after your workouts has a big impact on your recovery and performance.
The Fix: Learn the basics of nutrition. Go for a light meal or snack about 1 hour before a run. Opt for something high in carbs and lower in protein, fat, and fiber. Good examples of pre-workout fuel include: a smoothie, an energy bar, a banana. Running more than one hour? You will need to replace some of the calories you are burning. Grab a sports drink or easily-digestible solid foods, such as energy bars, gels, or chocolate. Make sure you get at least 200 calories every hour.
Other rules of thumb:
- never skip breakfast
- never eat too much the night before a race
- re-fuel adequately after a long run
- don’t try something new on race day
Treat your diet like it is part of your training plan.
There is massive chatter surrounding proper running form in today’s running world, which makes it extremely difficult to figure out which approach is most suited to you. Reading, applying, and learning is key to avoiding injuries in your running career.
There are many mistakes you could be making, yet there is one that more than 90 percent of runners have it in common: being your own doctor. While it’s true that we often hyperaware of our bodies, when something is “off”, we are actually quick to self-diagnose and treat. Yes, we’ll ice a shin splint or an Achilles tendonitis, pop ibuprofen, and hobble through lingering pain.
As a sixth-year medical student I’m saying this: avoiding a physician is one of the biggest mistakes you can actually make. Minor injuries could turn into serious problems like stress fractures or muscle tears.
Whenever you feel pain or a nagging ache, the sooner you see a doctor, the faster you will be back on track. A physician will always offer better insights on better treating AND preventing. Schedule a checkup. High blood pressure, a heart murmur, anemia, asthma. These can make you sluggish on your runs. Often times, your desire to keep running can put you at greater risk of doing longer-term damage.
Your fundamental goal should be to run for life. Don’t gamble your long-term happiness to push through pain.