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?
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.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
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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