5 Common Mistakes Runners Make

5 Common Mistakes Runners Make: Are You Sabotaging Your Training with These Mistakes?

I am not too proud to admit that I have made several mistakes in my years as a runner. Over the years, through firsthand experience, reading books on running, and becoming a doubly certified running coach, I have learned more about the science of running and the art of training and have come to recognize the mistakes I’ve made. And I’m sure in years to come, I’ll look back and know even better than I do know. This isn’t to say I’m not a knowledgeable coach, but it’s to acknowledge that all of us as runners can make mistakes – no matter how much experience or training we have.

That said, there are some common mistakes that runners make, time and time again: running their easy runs too fast, running through injury, and increasing their mileage too quickly. But what other common mistakes may you be making in your running?

5 Common Mistakes Runners Make: Are You Sabotaging Your Training with These Mistakes?

1. Training for only the marathon.

It’s not “just” a half marathon or “just’ a 10K. It’s not even “just” a 5K. Each race is physically demanding in its own respect and can (and should) be specifically trained for. Longer is NOT always better, and too much marathon training can reduce your speed, lead to injury or burnout, and just not promote a balanced lifestyle and fitness.

You vary your workouts to keep training interesting and become a stronger, faster runner, and you should do the same for your races. A season of focusing on the 5K and 10K will bring speed back into a marathoner’s slow and steady legs, and a short distance runner will get a boost of endurance by training for a half marathon or marathon. Either way, you’ll likely be even faster and stronger once you return to your favorite distance!

2. Racing your workouts.

I get it: you set a goal for a half or full marathon and you want to achieve it on race day, so you race your long runs to see how close you can get or push yourself extra hard in your tempo run. That will make race day easier, right? Or at least build confidence as your test your race specific fitness?

No, no, no. You get to peak ONCE a training cycle. If you keep racing all of your hard workouts, you’ll peak too early and won’t have anything left to give on race day. To avoid this, always finish a workout – yes, even a hard speed or tempo run – at the appropriate paces, with the feeling that you could have run one more repetition or mile if you pushed. 

If you do want to assess your ability to run a particular finish time, perform a race predictor workout 4-8 weeks out (of course, check with your coach first, because their workouts for you follow a specific and deliberate progression). Race predictor workouts can help you assess your race specific fitness without leaving your race in your training, usually because race predictor workouts cover only a fraction of race distance (particularly for half and full marathoners) at race pace.

3. Not eating enough.

I fully recognize that obesity and unhealthy eating is a problem for our nation. Most people in our country eat too much of too many nutritionally-lacking Frakenfoods and suffer from poor health due to this. 

However, some athletes restrict their eating, whether consciously or unconsciously – and this undereating can sabotage their training and goals. Note that when I say restrict, I mean truly restrict – eating enough food for your activity level and eating high-quality food is not restricting (unless you do have a disordered mindset). However, not fueling your body properly, especially during a long run or in the key recovery window of a workout, sabotages all the hard work you put into your running.

If you’re worried about weight gain, focus on eating high quality foods. The volume will satiate your runger, the nutrients will fuel your running, and you will maintain a healthy weight. 

4. Doing too much cross-training.

Cross-training and supplemental workouts offer numerous benefits to runners, including better aerobic fitness. Runners, however, tend to go overboard: they add yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, plyometrics, spinning, and swimming to their weekly routine. Cross-training and supplemental workouts are very beneficial in moderation, but you don’t need to include every single type of cross training every week.

Cross-training and supplemental workouts need to abide by the hard-easy principle. If you’re running speed work on Tuesdays, tempos on Thursdays, and long runs on Sundays, that’s three hard workouts in one week.

Once you add in CrossFit, Bodypump, or other strength training classes twice per week, vigorous yoga twice per week, and a hard spin class on the weekend, you’re now up to almost 7 hard workouts in one week. Keep your cross-training and supplemental workouts easy, or cut back on your number of hard runs. Otherwise, you’re on the road to overtraining and mental burnout.

5. Not having a purpose for each run.

As I explain in my post on junk miles, your miles should have a purpose. This isn’t an issue about how much you run (although each runner has an individual limit where anything more is diminishing returns and risk of injury) so much as it is ignoring the purpose of your workouts. You should live your life with intention, and this includes training with intention – whether the intention is an easy run or a challenging speed workout.

Junking out your miles includes skipping rest days if they are a part of your plan (which they should be!). Some rest days should be completely rested from running or other hard workouts. Walking of course is fine and beneficial, as is light yoga, Pilates, or maybe even easy cycling.

Rest days are included in this: they have their own specific purpose in training, just as much as a speed workout or long run. When you start adding in a short “recovery run” on your designated rest days, you are not providing yourself with the proper chance to recover and risk losing the benefits of your hard workout because the adaptations occur during recovery, not the run itself. No recovery means no adaptations, and no adaptations means you’re not going to get faster, no matter how hard you run.

And yes, I acknowledge that some days you need to run for emotional release, stress relief, or to bond with a friend. Those runs do have purpose – mental well-being and friendships. And during the off-season, when you’re taking a break from structured training, you can relax a bit and just enjoy your easy runs. But if you’re training for a race or other big goal, running without purpose each day isn’t a training plan – it’s just hodgepodge.

What mistakes are you guilty of making in your running?
What would you add to this list?
Do you disagree? Let me know why! 

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20 Responses

  1. I think I have made all of these mistakes at some point over the time I have been running! Racing your workouts is a tricky one- even if we have come to the understanding that we need to keep our easy runs easy, there is something about doing those harder workouts as fast as possible that is so tempting! Now I measure my success by coming as close to my subscribed workout time as possible.

    1. I think we all probably have – a common runner experience and we learn from those mistakes. It always helps to have prescribed paces because otherwise it’s too tempting to give into eager legs, as I’ve learned as well.

  2. I think #5 is the one I need to work on the most. Having a purpose for each run, whether it’s speed or strength or endurance or really anything, even if it’s a mental health run day, is critical. I have never regretted a single run I took, but I’ve often felt I could have used the time running better to suit what I needed the run for.

    1. #5 is certainly difficult for any runner at any stage – I think all of us, including myself, need to be reminded of purpose frequently. Mental health runs certainly do have a purpose as well – because running is about so much more than just finish times.

  3. Saw this on today’s FF link love! I have been a “sprint athlete” all of my life and I just started training for a marathon so these are going to be so helpful. Especially the one on ending a run at an appropriate speed, I almost always sprint it out so I’m definitely going to be more conscious of that now.

    1. Hi Colby, thanks for reading! How exciting that you are training for your first marathon – a marathon is such a challenging and rewarding experience. I love training new marathoners, so contact me if you have any questions. 🙂

  4. I better see this tomorrow on Running Coaches Corner, or there will be hell to pay, missy 😀
    I definitely am guilty of most of these. Maybe not the over cross training one. But the rest, for certain. Well, no, I take that back–I am guilty of cross training rather than taking a day off, so yes, I am guilty of it. I am a liar.

    1. I added it 😀 I think we’ve all been guilty of these – it’s how we learn! It’s hard to take a day off – most of us are so go, go, go and achievers at heart that we need to force that rest! 🙂

  5. This is so true! I think the one mistake that I make is not getting enough sleep. It’s hard sometimes to fit in work, working out, friends/family and errands all into such a short period of time. I’m constantly struggling to find the balance of fitting in everything I need to do while getting enough relaxing and resting time also.

    1. It’s hard here in summer to get enough sleep when it’s only dark for 6 or 7 hours in summer! Even when there is enough time in the day, there’s not always that external signal to rest.

  6. This is why runners need coaches. It is so easy to make these mistakes. Runners tend to believe that more and faster is better, which it is usually not. Thanks for linking up.

  7. Lots of runners have great success with run-specific cross-training — cycling, swimming, elliptical. But it’s important to get the same intensity as you would during a run. The other stuff is great but not when you’re in training for a specific race or time goal.

    1. I agree with the intensity note. Cross training is great, but not when you’re going to a very hard spin class the day before your long run or on top of lots of speed work.

  8. Great article. I used to do a lot of junk miles and have been better with targeted training. I also get caught in training too hard too often and too much cross training. Which is probably why I’m dealing with a bummed knee now because I tend to overdo it. Cycling has become my focus while the knee is healing and I’m loving it. But can’t wait to get back to running…smarter 😉

    1. Thank you Marsha! Too hard too often is a mistake that every runner makes at multiple points – it’s hard to find the appropriate balance between progressing workouts and doing too much. I’m sorry to hear that your knee is bummer, but I’m glad you’re at least enjoying cycling. I hope you can run again soon! 🙂

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