5 common running mistakes to avoid

Updated: Mar 16, 2020

Everyone makes mistakes. From the most advanced runners to those who are trying to run their first mile. Mistakes just happen! Sometimes they happen due to lack of experience, sometimes they happen because we are trying to push the envelope just a little too far and sometimes they happen because we just don't know any better.

Well today, I'm here to help with that last category of mistakes!

That's right, we are talking about 5 mistakes that you should avoid at all costs!

As most of us know, there are mistakes in life that help us grow as a person/runner/parent/etc...some people might even say that ALL mistakes help you grow.

I'm not one of those people.

Yes, I understand that we tend to learn from mistakes and sometimes they truly are inevitable. I get it. BUT, in some cases it really is better to learn from someone else's mistakes!

For example, if you see someone walk into a glass door you don't think "Wow, I should really walk into that glass door so I can learn from my mistake!" You use that other persons' experience to learn that there is a glass door there, and you should probably avoid it!

Likewise, you don't have to experience a hammer to the head to understand that it really, really sucks to get hit in the head with a hammer. You can use your other experiences involving pain to understand that that's probably going to hurt...a lot!

Well, we don't need first hand experience with every running mistake out there for us to become better runners. Let's do it the smart way! On to the list!!

1. Running too much, too fast!

If you've been reading my blog for more than a minute you'll know that this is my number one mistake to avoid. I talk about it all the time, including in my 10 Tips for Overweight Runners article.

The reason I talk about this all the time is because... A) It's easy to get sucked into. B) It can cause serious damage. C) It is a very, very common mistake especially for new runners.

This mistake is incredibly common among new runners, but it is also made by more experienced runners as well.

You have been feeling good for the past couple of weeks so you decide to bump your mileage up. You're feeling good the next week, so you bump your mileage up again! Still feeling great so, once again, bump that mileage!

Before you know it, you have a stress fracture or tendinitis or plantar fasciitis and you're out of running for 4-6 weeks...

I can't stress enough how horrible this is, especially for a new runner!

I've been there before. You're just starting to run, you're getting excited about the progress you've made over the past few weeks and then BAM! You get stopped in your tracks by a pain that just won't go away.

We have to continue to remind ourselves, running is a long term experience that does not have a shortcut. You have to take it slow. Let your body adapt to the new stress without pushing too hard, too fast!

2. Not mixing up your workouts or terrain

We all get stuck in ruts every once in a while. When you're running several times a week it can become boring and stale if you continue to run the same route at the same pace every time.

Mixing up your workouts, your route and even your terrain can be a great way to spice things up in your running relationship!

Not only is it great for shaking up your routine a bit but it's also better for you as a runner to continue to vary your workouts to focus on different aspects of running.

As a young runner I didn't know about all the different running workouts that existed. I just figured, I'll run 4 miles as fast as I can run 4 miles...simple!

Well, if you've read anything about running you'll know that you should definitely not be attacking every run at the fastest pace you can muster.

You have to specifically focus on different aspects of running to improve them! Here are just a few different types of running workouts... Tempo, Long, Progression, Fartlek, Repeats, Threshold, Intervals, and Recovery. Each one is fun and rewarding in it's own way!

Not sure which workouts you should be using...? I've written a whole article about all of the different running workouts and how they can be used!

Not only can you can change your pace and your distance but you can also change your terrain. Getting into trail running was one of the best things I ever did for my relationship with running! If you like hiking and you like running, you're going to LOVE trail running!

The same idea can be integrated into your race schedule! If you have consistently run 5k's or 10k's try switching it up to a half marathon for a new challenge. If you're just sick of road racing, try a trail race! And when you really need to reset, try something really wild like a color run, an obstacle course run, or a costume run.

These are all great ways to remind yourself that running is meant to be FUN!

3. Getting caught up in the gear

I probably shouldn't be saying this, seeing as I write a blog focused on running and running gear! But one of the most common mistakes I see as a runner is people who get caught up in world of running gear!

One of the most appealing things about running is how accessible it is. All you really need to run is some workout clothes and a pair of running shoes. Every other sport I can think of (besides swimming, but that requires a swimmable body of water!) requires a significant amount of gear. And on top of that, a lot of that gear requires maintenance.

I'm not trying to rag on other sports but those things are definitely barriers that can cause people to miss out on those experiences. I can't tell you how many times I missed a night bike ride because I forgot to charge my bike lights!

There's a reason that running is popular all over the world. It's cheap and it doesn't require a lot of resources. All you need is running shoes, some workout clothes, and a road or trail.

But like every other sport in the world, businesses started to recognize the amount of money to be made and started making products and marketing them to runners. Now you'd be hard pressed to find runners who don't have $100+ running shoes and shorts, shirts, compression sleeves, calf sleeves, sunglasses, hats, earbuds, gloves, jackets, and pants that have been "specifically designed" for runners and cost a small fortune.

I know, there is something to be said about being comfortable when you run and enjoying the sport. But there is something else to be said about all of this gear becoming a distraction.

If you are an amateur runner you really, really don't need to worry about the next greatest piece of tech, or the shoes that are half an ounce lighter, or the super aerodynamic sunglasses.

Please, do yourself a favor and don't get sucked into the idea that the more you spend the better runner you'll be.

4. Measuring success only by the numbers

I think it's good to have goals. When done right, goals can create actionable plans that you can measure success and failure against. I utilize goals in a lot of aspects of my life...family goals, personal goals, professional goals and running goals.

As I've gotten older I've realized that setting up purely objective goals is not always the best way to set yourself up for success.

For example...maybe you create a goal that says "Spend 90 minutes a day writing". That sounds like a great goal, but what if those 90 minutes were spent brainstorming, or writing useless information, or writing stuff you didn't really want to write about. Or what if at the end of the month you hate writing because you've been forcing yourself to try to reach this goal?

Maybe it would have been better to create this goal: "Continue to write content that you are proud of".

There are some goals that should be objective and some that should be subjective. This is especially true for new runners.

As new runners it's incredibly hard to gauge progress. You don't have a large number of runs under your belt so your average times are going to be all over the place. You might run a 5k in 24 minutes one week then run a 5k in 29 minutes two weeks later. Have you really regressed as a runner? NO! But the numbers don't always tell the whole truth.

Here is my advice to new runners looking to create goals and measure how much they are improving.

Write down some objective goals such as a Personal Best time, distance, or pace that you'd like to achieve. Or maybe you'd prefer a goal like signing up for your first race, or finishing a specific distance race like a half marathon.

Then write down a few subjective goals like "Continue to enjoy running", "Run with friends more often", or "Be consistent with my running".

Now the important part...I want you to rank these goals by how important they are to you. Is it more important to reach that 5k goal time or to be consistent with running? Is it more important to finish that marathon or to continue to enjoy running?

There will be times when you will have to step back and think about what success means to you when it comes to running. It's important to have a way to measure that success.

5. Quitting

Alright people, I'm gonna get real with you for a minute.

Running is really hard. Anyone who has ever ran a mile can tell you that. Your lungs burn, your legs hurt, you're sore for days, and it takes a long time to get better. I know.

And what's even worse is that as a beginner, it's even harder. Your body hasn't adapted to the stress of running so every step feels like you're gonna die! It's brutal, and unless you have a real, strong reason to run it's incredibly easy to give in to those thoughts in your head telling you to stop for good!

You will ask yourself why you're doing this. You will tell yourself you aren't the kind of person who runs. You will convince yourself that you don't have a runners body. You will tear yourself down so much that you cry while on the treadmill. You will tell yourself that you're never going to be good at this. And eventually you will tell yourself you should just quit.

You probably won't say it like that though. You'll probably say something like "I'm just going to skip my run today because I don't feel great. I'll make it up later this week." Or, "I need to listen to my body and take this week off...I'll pick it back up next week."

But in the back of your head you know that you don't have any intention of running again.

Please listen to my when I tell you...it's going to get better. Yes, running is really hard. But the more you run, the easier it gets. The more you run, the better it gets!

There are countless studies out there that can tell you how good exercise is not only for your body but for your mind...but it doesn't come easy.

You have to fight for it. You have to work your ass off for the ability to really enjoy running. I'm telling you this because I know. I've been there.

I've been the guy tearing up while on his daily run because everything hurts and I'm so damn disappointed in myself. And I've been the guy who told myself I'll never be any good at this. And I've even been the guy who made up the excuses not to run for months at a time.

But after months and years of working at it, being consistent, and being smart, I enjoy running more than ever.

Now I'm the guy that writes about how much he loves running. I'm the guy that counts down the hours until my next run. And I'm the guy who encourages others to start running and keep running!

You can do this. And I'm here for you when you need it.

What do you think? Did I miss any big mistakes? Any others that you would include?

Any new runners reading this?! Let me know in the comments! I'd love to chat with you about how things are going!


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