Getting Started With Running: The 4 Most Common Mistakes
Seasoned runners make it look easy, but the truth of the matter is that as experienced runners we’ve all made the same mistakes.
It’s called learning by experience.
Unfortunately, many beginning runners are hampered from a lack of information. It’s easy to go out and buy a new pair of running shoes, but understanding all the variables affecting your running experience and performance isn’t as easily accomplished. On top of that, there’s plenty of misinformation that circulates, especially on the Internet, and points beginners in the wrong direction.
There’s no magic potion to make running easy, but with proper guidance any beginning runner can avoid some common pitfalls while better directing their own progression and growth.
With that in mind, here are 4 of the most common mistakes and important lessons you need to learn as a beginner runner.
Not Including Strength Work into Your Plan
Running is an aerobic exercise, so most new runners are led to believe that cardiovascular training is the best supplement to running fitness.
And while that’s true to an extent, running also puts muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints under sustained periods of stress, and this stress can lead to injuries if it is not properly managed.
This is especially poignant because we know that our cardiovascular system improves more rapidly than our structural system (muscles, ligaments, etc). Meaning, it’s easy to build up the aerobic endurance to add more miles or run faster, but the body isn’t as quick to adapt; and thus the injuries.
Strength training is one of the best ways to strengthen your structural system and stay injury-free.
How to include strength work
One common misconception about strength training is that you need fancy equipment or a gym for your strength work to be effective.
However, when it comes to making you a stronger runner, you don’t need any of these things. Research shows that bodyweight strength training alone is effective at building running strength and reducing injury risk. That said, if you do love the gym or have the equipment, free weight and barbell exercises can be used as well.
The most important areas of focus for beginners are the hips and the core.
Research has shown weak hips are the primary cause of IT band pain, patella tendonitis (runner’s knee), piriformis issues, sciatica, and a myriad of other common running injuries.
Therefore, you should include strength training after your runs at least 3 days per week. These routines don’t have to be long or require any equipment. The important part is that you get them in.
If you do these exercises as a supplement to your running, you could significantly reduce your risk of a nagging injury.
Not Properly Recovering
As a competitive runner myself, I know how tempting it is to want to train hard, run more and keep pushing my limits.
However, in order to improve as a runner, building in recovery to your training is essential. In fact, I’d argue that recovery is actually more important than the hard work you put in when it comes to improving as a runner.
That’s because we actually improve and gain fitness during the recovery process. Here’s a really good video of how this process works.
How to recover faster
Now that you understand the importance of recovery, let’s look at some ways we can speed up the recovery process.
First, incorporate dynamic stretching after a run (active isolated stretching, drills, and mobility exercises)
Dynamic stretching has been shown to help improve flexibility to help you execute the biomechanically sound movement patterns when running (such as proper hip extension). Drills and mobility exercises have also been shown to help improve neuromuscular function and can serve as a cool down to help deliver blood and oxygen to the muscles that are in need of repair.
Second, make sure you properly fuel after your workout. This will ensure that your muscles have the nutrients they need to repair themselves.
You should aim to have something to eat or drink between 30-90 minutes after your run or workout. Ideally, you should consume a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This means that for every 4 grams of carbs you consume you also need 1 gram of protein. This could be something as simple as a protein shake, a banana with peanut butter, or a full meal.
Running When Injured
Like all runners, I’ve had my fair share of running injuries. Whether they were from adjusting to the mileage demands and intense training as I grew as a runner or from pushing the envelope too hard and not getting enough rest, I experienced just about every injury you can imagine. Most were short lived, a few were painstakingly long, and one ended my career as a serious runner.
While some injuries can’t be avoided, the decisions you make when you first feel an injury can have a drastic impact on how quickly you’re back to full health.
The trick with most running injuries is that if you identify and treat them early, they tend to disappear rather quickly.
For example, if you feel a slight tug at the bottom of your foot, sleeping in a splint, resting for a day or two, some massage, and strength exercises will knock that case of plantar fasciitis out before it has a chance to become anything meaningful.
However, decide that it’s okay to run through, despite the increasing pain at the bottom of your foot, and you may need six months off and two surgeries to run again (I know from experience).
How to avoid
First, if you feel an injury creeping up, take the time to get rid of the pain and the source of the problem early. It’s infinitely better to take one or two days off to ensure you’re healthy than need weeks or months down the road.
Second, incorporate injury prevention work into your plan, even when you’re not injured, to minimize the risk of injuries all-together.
You can build a basic plan that focuses on common areas or you can do a self-test to see where you might be most susceptible to injuries and create a personalized plan. The key to remember is it doesn’t have to take long – a few stretches, strength exercises and drills (just 5-10 minutes) can be extremely effective.
Not Running the Right Workouts
Probably the hardest part of training for beginners to understand is how all the different types of runs fit together in an overall plan.
Tempo runs, threshold, VO2max, intervals, and more…these are just a few of the myriad types of runs you can add to your plan. And, each run has a different purpose and possible outcome/improvement to your fitness.
Not having a complete plan that includes all the right workouts for your specific needs is one of the biggest mistakes I see beginner runners make.
For new runners, many make the mistake of just “running hard” or “running intervals” once or twice a week or just push the pace on the days they feel good.
As beginners advance, they may start following a written plan, but often run the wrong efforts (not understanding the purpose of the workout) or don’t include the right types of runs for their fitness level or race distance (i.e. marathoners don’t need to be doing VO2max intervals).
How to get the right workouts
This is why I was so excited to finish my first book for beginner runners, Easy Running Plans: Total-Body Plans for Strength, Speed and Endurance.
It’s the first book written for beginner runners that not only includes the running workouts (and the why behind them so you run the correct efforts), but also includes the strength work and recovery work built directly into your daily plan.
The first few chapters of the book introduce beginner runners to the importance of ancillary work, using research to back up all the claims and then in the last chapter provides training plans that specifically include strength, stretching and drills each day (and how to do them correctly), in addition to the mileage and workouts.
And, as a special bonus to RunnersConnect readers, I’ve got an awesome companion bonus for anyone that the book.
You’ll get a simple calculator that you can use to get specific paces for all the workouts described in the book. This means you’ll know the exact effort and paces you need to run for each workout based on your current fitness. Here is the link: https://amzn.to/33Q3av1
After you purchase, just email firstname.lastname@example.org with your proof of purchase (forward the receipt, attach to an email, take a photo) and I’ll send you the calculator.
This is something unique to any running book I know of and allows you to customize the workouts to your ability level!
Whether you feel like you need or want the book or not, I hope you take this article to heart and it helps you avoid the most common mistakes beginner runners make.