How to Avoid the 10 Most Common Running Mistakes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
One foot in front of the other. On the surface, running seems like a simple activity.  In reality, though, it's not that easy. Without the proper footwear, clothing, warm-up and training, you risk injury, and frankly, a miserable experience.  

The right gear and plan can make running a positive addition to any workout routine—just don't repeat the same mistakes many runners, both new and experienced, often make.

Setting goals that are too ambitious.

If you've never run more than a few miles at a time, signing up for your first marathon is a big step. Being well-prepared for a race takes training and effort, so start small. Try committing to a 5K or 10K before you decide to jump into longer distances. By slowly progressing, you reduce your risk of injury and improve your chances of a positive experience—rather than something you never want to attempt again.

Choosing the wrong footwear.

It is tempting to pull out your old sneakers from college or buy whatever shoes you find on sale, but reconsider. "Having the right footwear is important, and if you don't have the correct shoes for your foot size, foot strike or support requirements, it could easily lead to injury," cautions Matt Mills, founder of Coaching On The Run. "This happens often when runners buy shoes online [or from a big box store], rather than visit a store [staffed by] someone knowledgeable who can assist you properly and pick out the right shoe for you." Many stores that specialize in running offer services to analyze your gait and foot strike, so do some research before setting a shopping appointment.

Setting a pace that is too fast.

It makes sense to run at a comfortable pace, but many runners don't understand how to do that. New runners often start at a pace they can't maintain, end up gasping for air a few minutes later and start walking, totally discouraged. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, use the "talk test" as your guide. According to the test, you should be able to answer a question but not comfortably maintain a conversation during the course of your run.

Managing your time poorly.

"Even if you are following a training plan, you need to find time to get your workouts in on a daily basis," explains Mills. "We all get busy. When other life priorities get in the way, sometimes training can take a backseat or be put off altogether." Mills reminds runners that it's important to schedule your runs just like any other appointment during the day so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

Skipping strength training.

Many runners assume that the best way to get better is to run more. Although increased mileage plays a part, there are other factors that go into becoming a better runner. Running is a high-impact activity, and if your muscles are not prepared to handle the load, injury is likely to occur. Strength training helps prevent injury and improves running performance. Add a full-body strength workout to your routine two to three times per week to avoid issues that may sideline you.

Not taking enough rest days.

Runners who don't include rest days in their training are at risk for injury or burnout, both mentally and physically. Whitney Heins, founder of The Mother Runners, explains that, for experienced runners, active rest days could include a very easy recovery run, cross-training or yoga. "For those building mileage, they need a "down week", which means that every three to four weeks, a week of lesser mileage (usually 20 percent) should be cycled in before the runner builds back up again." New runners should start with two to three days of running weekly, incorporating complete rest days and cross-training into the weekly routine.

Ignoring the aches and pains.

Certified running coach Meghan Kennihan cautions that many beginning runners and even veterans make the mistake of piling on mileage or speed work too quickly. Then, when they start having soreness in their shins, knees or other nagging issues, they ignore them. "Running is supposed to come with a little pain, right? Wrong," she asserts. "Ignoring aches and pains is the best way to get injured. When in doubt about whether you should 'run through' the pain, don't," Kennihan advises.

Not eating the right foods at the right time.

Registered dietitian Sarah Schlichter says there is a golden opportunity for refueling after a workout, which will help both maintain muscle mass and encourage muscle growth. The ideal time to eat after a workout is within 30 minutes to two hours, when your body is ready to top off its fuel tanks to prepare for your next session. "After a workout, [it's important to consume] carbohydrates and protein, so including a snack like chocolate milk, a sandwich or Greek yogurt with fruit can help replenish muscle stores and maintain muscle growth."

Not telling friends and family about your goals.

It's important to share your goals with those around you so they can support and motivate you. "If you are afraid you will tell them and then fail to achieve your goal, then you definitely need to tell them. [This accountability practice] will give you the motivation to prove those fears wrong," Kennihan says.. "Fear can often be the most powerful form of motivation, so use it!"

The last thing you want is injury or burnout to stop an activity you enjoy. With the right preparation, you can successfully achieve any running goal—whether that means a continuous jog around the block or your next marathon.