Fitness

17 Beginner Runner Mistakes to Avoid

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I reluctantly started running in 2009 at the age of 35. I never liked running. In fact, I had managed to avoid running as much as possible my entire life. I always thought runners were crazy. Why on earth would I volunteer to torture myself with an activity that is utterly exhausting when there are so many other things I could do for exercise that are actually fun?

I’ll save the long story about how I got into running for another article, but suffice it to say that I was mentally ready for something new and challenging. I had to wrap my mind around the idea that I was going to do this running thing no matter what. Once my mind was made up, the rest was much easier. 

I’ve learned a lot about running over these past 8 years. I’ve taken a great class on running form, had excellent personal training from an online program I recommend, read a ton on the subject, and practiced a lot. I’ve probably run 3,000 miles and raced in 2 marathons, a 1/2 marathon, a list of 5k’s, and many triathlons including 2 at half Ironman distance. I’m no professional by far, and many people have far greater credentials than my humble run resume, but I bet this list can still help you avoid some of my mistakes.

1. ONLY RUNNING

Fortunately, I was running to prepare for triathlon the first few years so I didn’t have much problem incorporating other forms of training besides running. And since I had great counsel and resources for cross-training at my disposal, this honestly hasn’t been a huge issue for me. However, I do know that marathon training is exhausting and the thought of cross-training on top of the running load sounds horrible. I wasn’t awesome at it for my first marathon, and I paid for it dearly. Take my advice here: run less, cross train more. You will like running more, your body will thank you, and your performance will improve.

2. NOT MOVING POST WORKOUT

It is a great temptation to plop down on the couch and relax after a hard run. I learned the hard way that the stiffness and soreness that comes with vegetating on the couch, or sitting in my office chair to work is much worse than the 5-10 minutes invested in doing a proper cool down. I’ve learned to keep the blood flowing by walking, gentle stretching, and foam rolling after a hard run. It’s really helped my recovery!

3. EATING NEW FOODS BEFORE A RUN

Definitely do not eat something new before a race. However, I believe that trying new foods before a training run is essential to dialing in your personal nutritional needs to perform your best. Sometimes that means your runs will be awful because your guts to do not agree with you, but that’s all part of learning the art of running. You must listen to your body. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t. I recommend avoiding anything really heavy before a run and I prefer real food options vs. lab created chemical concoctions labeled to be performance fuel. Unless your run is longer than an hour, you really don’t need to eat anything.

4. BEING TOO AMBITIOUS

A key ingredient to the perfect recipe for injury is being too ambitious. A rule of thumb is to avoid more than a 10% increase to your mileage or time per week in run training. The truth is that it takes time to get into run shape, so be patient with the process. If you are targeting a race event, I recommend following a training plan suited to your goals and fitness level. Not every canned training plan on the internet will work for you. I know a guy who would love to help you with your personal training plan. (wink, wink)

5. FORGETTING TO TAKE REST DAYS

Dude, you have to take rest days. Rest days are training. There is nothing macho about running every day, or doing any strenuous activity every day. It’s foolish. Overtraining will eventually catch up with you either by exhaustion, decreased performance, or injury. Settle down and consider rest day as a training day.

6. IGNORING YOUR FORM

I had no idea there was such a thing as running form. Everyone knows how to run, don’t they? Turns out that even though I played sports my whole life, I didn’t know how to run efficiently until I took the Good Form Running class. While everyone runs a bit differently, there are some key principles you should practice to help you avoid injury and improve your efficiency. Cross training to strengthen & stretch your hips, glutes, and hamstrings will also help with your form.

7. TRYING TO RACE EVERY RUN

When I first started running, I tried to PR [run a personal record] every time I stepped out the door. I learned the hard way that this is another key ingredient in the recipe for injury. I’ve since adopted a run plan with just 3 focused runs a week, and only one of them is focused on speed.

8. SKIPPING LEG (OR HIP) DAY

I had IT Band syndrome pretty bad the first few years of running because I didn’t do enough hip strengthening. If you want to make running a miserable experience, try running with constant pain in your legs/ knees. I’m pretty sure this is why many people quit running or say they can’t run. Many pains in the knees, shins, feet, etc. are from muscle weakness that can be fixed with proper strength training. Don’t skip it.

9. BELIEVING YOUR SNEAKERS ARE IMMORTAL

Runners can get emotionally tied to their favorite shoes. It happened to me. Sometimes you have to relegate them to everyday shoes, then to mowing shoes. Do yourself a favor and get new shoes more often than you need to. Then you can rotate them in your training plan so they all last longer. I’m always on the lookout for a great shoe sale (link to active.com) and have scored a couple pair at less than $40 with shipping. Like a particular shoe? Buy two pair. Remember Lieutenant Dan says, “take good care of your feet.” You can’t run anywhere with busted wheels.

10. REFUSING TO STOP

A follow up to my advice earlier about listening to your body, you need to learn the difference between injury pain and just tired pain. If you have an injury pain, running through it will only make it worse. Yeah, your training plan may derail for a while, but you’ll be back at it much faster if you rest & recover instead of worsening your injury with overuse. Just recently, I forced myself to stop in the middle of an “important” sprint set because I tweaked my hamstring. I knew that a pulled hammy would mean weeks of rest and it would keep me from racing in a couple weeks. Missing a couple workouts to let it rest turned out to be way better than “pushing through the pain.”

11. NOT FUELING CAREFULLY

If you plan to run longer than an 60-90 minutes at a time, you will need to take some kind of fuel during the run. Knowing what works takes practice. See advice in #3. In my first marathon, I made the mistake of taking all the goodies offered at the aid stations instead of sticking to what I used throughout training. The result was a bonk and a very upset stomach. Yuck.

12. BLINDLY FOLLOWING TRENDS

Another ingredient to the recipe for injury is doing what everyone else seems to be doing. Trust me, not EVERYONE is following the latest trends. (think toe-shoes or minimalist shoes for example) Many have learned the hard way that the latest thing isn’t necessarily the best for you. Sometimes the saying, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it,” is the best advice.

13. NOT HYDRATING PROPERLY

I just took a big drink of water, lol. Just like food/ fuel in running, hydrating takes practice. If you are well hydrated before you start, you probably won’t need anything if your run is less than 60 minutes. For longer runs, you need to carry water or strategically place water bottles on your course. Being dehydrated in your run can be dangerous to your health. A rule of thumb I follow is to have about 1 bottle of fluid (24 oz) per hour. There are tons of options for hydrating drinks during long runs. My advice is to try different ones to see what works best for you. And know that the most popular brands advertised as electrolyte drinks are filled with chemical additives, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and lots of sugar, which are not good for you. I prefer all natural and “clean” foods and supplements. Generation UCAN and Performance Hydrate are my favorite for during running. It’s also really important to drink a lot when you are done. I follow up a long run workout with a scoop of Performance Recover in water to help my muscles repair more quickly from the work.

14. NOT FAMILIARIZING YOURSELF WITH THE ROUTE

This might be way too obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Getting lost and being far from home or your car is not cool. Take the time to sort out your route before you start. And even though an “out & back” route isn’t as cool as a loop, the chances of getting lost are greatly reduced.

15. NOT VALUING RECOVERY RUNS

This one goes along with #7. Recovery runs should be done at an easy, moderate pace. My biggest mistake in my early years of running was doing too many fast workouts and letting individual runs turn into mini races themselves. Now I make sure that one of my 3 focused run workouts each week is at easy, moderate pace.

16. FORGETTING ANTI-CHAFE CREAM

Body Glide is your friend. So is proper running gear. Please do not wear a cotton shirt for a long sweaty run. Bloody nipples are not fun. After you experience chafing once, you will remember where to use the cream.

17. OVERLOOKING SAFETY MEASURES

If you must run in the dark, please remember to wear reflective gear at minimum. A head lamp comes in handy too if you are really into the night run thing. I carry my phone when I’m going away from my neighborhood route. I also like to wear my Road ID so if I get run over hopefully someone will still know who I am and call my wife.

So there you have it. 17 mistakes you can avoid because you took the time to read this article. Happy running!

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