5 Running Mistakes to Avoid
Classical running goals may include: achieving personal best times (PBs or PRs), running a certain event (eg the debut marathon), qualifying for an event (eg a World Major Marathon), or beginning to run for fitness, weight loss, and health (eg Couch to 5k programs).
Another popular form of new year’s running goals is to set goals based on running certain mileage for a period of time; a week, month, or for the year. Yearly mileage goals I have observed to be increasingly set with the popularisation of tracking training via GPS eg Strava app challenges.
The underlying basis for setting such goals is to discover new running limits and explore our individual running potential (and endless pursuit). The positive feelings of achieving in the direction of our yearly running goals, or achieving the goal can be extremely rewarding and psychologically uplifting.
In order to help maximise your running year, here’s my top 5 pitfalls to avoid making which otherwise may cruel your ambitions and goal realisation for the new year ahead.
1. Not allowing enough time for the goal to be achieved
When there is too short of a time frame to achieve a certain running goal, the runner inevitably succumbs to varying degrees of pressure or anxiety, and feelings of being ‘‘behind’ in their preparations or training.
The result of feeling this way can be that the runner feels the need to ‘cram’ their training.
Such ‘cramming’ may occur in the form of significant training volume, intensity, or even both volume and intensity increases. Cramming can also be found in the addition of extra runs, large increase in the distance of the weekly long run, or removal of rest days.
While the runner’s anxieties around being ‘behind the eight-ball’ preparation wise may be appeased in the short term by the cramming of the training, the runner’s physiology and body stands at heightened risk of developing an injury.
The work of Sports Scientist Tim Gabbett (1) studied the relationship between changes in weekly training load (reported as a percentage of the previous weeks’ training load) and the likelihood of injury.
They reported the following which is depicted in the below graph:
- When training load was fairly constant (ranging from 5% less to 10% more than the previous week) athletes had <10% risk of injury
- However when training load was increased by ≥15% above the previous week’s load, injury risk escalated to between 21% and 49%.
Gabbitt surmised that in order to minimise the risk of injury, athlete’s should limit weekly training load increases to <10%.
Speaking to this the legendary Mark Allen (six times Hawaii Ironman Triathlon Champion) commented on Episode 139 of The Physical Performance Show that ‘you can’t short cut your physiology’. This quote well surmises that training cannot be crammed, gains must be made in due course with training-there are no shortcuts.
The pitfalls of cramming training can be largely reduced by avoiding the mistake of not allowing an appropriate lead in time to achieve a given running goal.
2. Ignoring strength training as part of training routine
Runners don’t strength train I believe due to two chief reasons:
(a) Fear of ‘bulking up’
Many runners mistakenly believe that strength training will ‘bulk’ them up with muscle mass, and subsequently impede their running ability. The good news however is that there is no evidence for this occurring due to what is referred to as the ‘interference effect’, whereby concurrent endurance training and strength training results in some residual fatigue and inhibition of the strength (and size) gains.
A study in 2017 (2) looked at long term (40 weeks) strength training on strength (maximal and reactive strength), speed at VO2max, running economy, and body composition (body mass, fat, and lean mass) in competitive distance runners.
The results of this study highlighted that through strength training runners improved efficiency, speed and strength without ‘bulking up’ or putting on additional muscle.
(b) Lack of awareness of the many benefits of strength training for distance runners
Benefits of strength training for runners are known to include: improved running economy, reduced injury risk, improved time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed, and improvements in time trial performance and anaerobic parameters such as maximal sprint speed.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study of all things strength training for runners comes from a recent 2017 systematic review. The research reviewed suggests that supplementing the training of a distance runner with strength training is likely to provide improvements to RE, time trial performance and anaerobic parameters such as maximal sprint speed (3).
To learn more read: Strength Training for Runners: a Detailed Look at the Evidence Part 1
The below is an infographic recently shared to Instagram depicting the top 5 benefits for strength training for runners.
3. Doing slow training runs too fast
It’s difficult for many runners to make peace with the concept that if they want to run faster they likely need to slow down in some of their training sessions. Wanting to run faster, yet needing to slow down seems contradictory.
Running too hard, too often is the single greatest detrimental mistake in the sport of running. This tendency to run what should be an easy pace run at a moderate pace is most likely hindering the progress of many runners. The problem being that running slow doesn’t come naturally to many runners.
In 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower’, Author Matt Fitzgerald outlines that recent studies of the training practices of the world’s leading runners reveal that they spend on average 80% of their total training below the ventilatory threshold. The ventilatory threshold pace is slow enough that a runner can hold a conversation. In well trained runners the ventilatory threshold falls between 77 and 79% of maximum heart rate. In other words, for every one hard run, the elite distance runner will run four easy runs. By contrast the recreational runner tends to run one easy run for every hard run. The other 20% of training time is spent at high intensity, that is above the respiratory compensation threshold (the point where hyperventilation, or rapid, deep breathing occurs)
Fitzgerald states that new research suggests that recreationally competitive runners improve most rapidly when they do slower runs in training more often than faster runs. The good news is that unless you are an elite runner, it is almost certain that you are doing less than 80% of your training at low intensity, and that you can improve by just slowing down.
For more information about improving running performance through adhering to an 80/20 training intensity philosophy tune into Expert Edition Episode 141 of The Physical Performance Show with best selling Author of 80/20 Running Matt Fitzgerald HERE>>
4. Ignoring bone health
Bones are living tissues that need care and attention e.g. vitamin D and the RDI of calcium. Here is a recent blog on how dairy free runners can meet their daily calcium requirements HERE>> Calcium Levels for Runners: a dairy-free example of meeting calcium RDI
Despite common belief and sentiment amongst runners, running does not actually enhance bone health-it simply maintains it. That is if you run across your lifespan you have a better chance of ‘slowing the normal age related decline’ of bone mineral density (particularly in the weight bearing bones such as the pelvis/hips).
What can help bone health is: heavy lifting (eg twice per week- think squats and deadlifts), paying attention to daily calcium intake, and avoiding sudden and unexpected loads to the bones (think jumping off steps and landing awkwardly with force).
For more information around promoting good bone health listen in to Professor Belinda Beck on The Physical Performance Show HERE>>
5. Over emphasis on stretching & foam rolling
Chris Johnson US based physical therapist recently summed up a key mistake that many runners make.
The mistake being that many runners over attribute the importance of stretching for their ambitions to run injury free and faster.
As Chris states, stretching is not bad, it’s certainly not the devil. It can have a place in a runners weekly training program.
However in many instances I believe some runners could stop spending time performing their stretching routines with very little (if any) negative impact on what they are trying to achieve (performance gains + injury risk reduction) with their endurance running.
The biggest problem with too much focus being given to stretching for endurance runners is that time spent stretching could have been better spent working on strength and conditioning exercises-which have been shown to be very beneficial in the reduction of injury and optimisation of running performance.
A better approach in many instances would be to replace the stretching with some form of strength and conditioning. A systematic review on the effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries found that strength training reduced sports injuries to less than one-third and overuse injuries could be almost halved (4).
The below infographic shared on my instagram gallery summarises the top 5 mistakes to avoid with your new year of running.
P.S. If you know someone that this blog post can benefit please share this blog post with them.
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(1) Gabbett TJ. The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? Br J Sports Med 2016;50:273-280.
(2) Beattie, K, Carson, BP, Lyons, M, Rossiter, A, and Kenny, IC (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. J Strength Cond Res 31(1): 9–23.
(3) Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
(4) Lauersen, J. B., Bertelsen, D. M., & Andersen, L. B. (2014). The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med, 48(11), 871-877
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