As a runner, there are plenty of things that we can do to improve our performance such as eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep and following a great training program. But what about those bad habits that sometimes runners never think about — the things that can sabotage your efforts? Below are ten of the most common pitfalls that many runners, at any level, can fall into along with tips on how to avoid them!
1. STOP IGNORING PAIN.
A lot of runners assume they are invincible and despite having pain they push through a run. Ever hear the phrase, “listen to your body”? Sometimes it is acceptable to push through the pain, and other times you need to listen to what your body is telling you. Do not make the mistake of thinking that missing a few runs or cutting a training short will ruin your training or prevent you from reaching your goal or finishing a race. Pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong and rest is usually the best treatment. Trust me, you will know the difference between “push through it” pain and “something is wrong” pain. If you begin to feel “something is wrong” pain, take some time off from running when the injury is in its early stages will prevent you from having to take more time off later. If you push through the pain, the injury will most likely get worse.
2. STOP GIVING YOURSELF A LICENSE TO EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT.
I am not guilty of this all the time, as I try very hard to watch what I eat; however, on days that I have long runs or weeks where I am running 30+ miles, I find myself going a bit overboard during meal time. I justify most of the food I am eating by telling myself “I ran 10 miles today so it’s okay”! This is an easy way for runners to gain weight, despite all of the exercise they are doing. I firmly believe that runners should keep track of their exercise and calorie intake by using sites like MyFitnessPal.com. By logging your exercise and calories it will give you a better picture of how many calories you are actually taking in and burning. Also, like my husband will attest to, tracking everything will make you think twice before eating that high-calorie, high-fat chocolate cookie sandwich with frosting in the middle after long runs!
3. DO NOT RUN IN THE WRONG SHOES.
Wearing the wrong type of running shoes for your feet and your running style can lead to major running injuries. If you have never been fitted for running shoes, go to a running specialty store where they will measure your feet, watch you run, and recommend the right running shoe for you. You also need to make sure you are wearing the correct size shoe — as a rule of thumb, you should wear running shoes which are at least a half size bigger than your normal street shoes. Your feet swell when you run so it is good to have some extra room in the toe area to avoid black toenails or blisters.
4. DO NOT SAY, “I AM NOT A REAL RUNNER.”
I have often ran into someone who has been running for a while and because they cannot run a 8 minute mile they say “I am not a REAL runner.” Well, if that was the case I would not be able to call myself a real runner either, because the one thing I am definitely not is fast!! You do not need a sub-8:00 mile nor do you need to be a marathon runner in order to call yourself a runner. If you run regularly (3+ days a week) — no matter what pace or distance — I firmly believe you can proudly call yourself a runner.
5. STOP SKIPPING YOUR WARM-UP!
My husband learned this the hard way just last week! I know that sometimes it can be tempting to skip your warm-up or cool down because you are either short on time or you are just eager to get started with your workout/training run. No matter what type of running you are doing, it is 100 percent necessary to warm-up beforehand to get the blood flowing and your muscles warmed up. A warm-up can be a 5 minute brisk walk, a slow jog or even cardio exercises such as marching in place, jumping jacks, knee lifts or butt kicks.
6. DO NOT RUN WITHOUT HYDRATING!
Oh the excuses! “I choke if I try to drink while running”, “I spill it all over myself”, “It hurts my stomach when I drink while running”, “I don’t have time to drink water”. I have heard every excuse in the book when it comes to informing new runners on how important it is to hydrate while running. If you are running longer than 30 minutes, you really need to hydrate during your run to avoid the effects of dehydration. The current fluid recommendations for runners is that you should “obey your thirst” and drink when your mouth is dry and you feel the need to drink. Personally, I force myself to drink at least 1 cup of water at each hydration station during a race in order to prevent dehydration.
7. DO NOT RUN ON AN EMPTY STOMACH.
While very few runners can get away with not eating at all before a run of any distance, you will run better if you eat something beforehand. Ideally, you want to try to eat something at least 90 minutes before running so you have time to digest your food, you are fueled for your run, and you are are not starving while you run! But obviously that will not work for everyone, especially morning runners! If you run in the morning and your run is for under an hour, you should be able to get away with not eating beforehand. However, you still need to make sure you hydrate before you start running. Make sure you drink at least 6-8 ounces of water when you first wake up. You could also drink a sports drink before your run so you know you are at least getting in some calories!
If you are running longer than one hour or you plan on doing an intense speed workout, and you still want to run in the morning, it is best to force yourself to wake up at least an hour and a half early for a small meal.
Some examples of good pre-run fuel include: a banana, an energy bar, a bagel with peanut butter, a bowl of cold cereal with milk, toast with peanut butter or yogurt. For the last minute, “Opps I forgot to eat” there are always shot blocks and energy gels!
8. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER RUNNERS
There is always going to be someone who can run faster or longer than you can! Do not drive yourself crazy by comparing yourself to them or being discouraged because you cannot keep up with them! Instead, think about how much process YOU have made so far throughout your running journey! Amby Burfoot, 1968 winner of the Boston Marathon, sums it up best: “In running, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are relative to anyone else. You set your own pace and you measure your own progress. You can’t lose this race because you’re not running against anyone else. You’re only running against yourself, and as long as you are running, you are winning.”
9. TRY NOT TO GET STUCK IN A RUT.
Do you run the same flat 3 mile loop every day at the same pace? Can you see how running the same loop at the same pace might eventually boring? Try switching up the elevation, distance, location and pace of your runs! This will not only help you prevent boredom, but it will also help you improve your running by adding in some hills, tempo runs, and a long run once a week.
10. DO NOT EXPECT A PERSONAL RECORD (PR) IN EVERY RACE.
When you first racing it is not too difficult to keep improving to where you can set a new personal record every time you race. Eventually you will reach a plateau when it will become increasingly harder for you shave time off your current personal records. Putting pressure on yourself to keep getting faster and faster will eventually suck all the fun out of running and racing! It is fine to set goals for certain races and work hard to achieve them, it is also important to be realistic and make sure your goals match your abilities and training efforts.