A new running habit brings with it the same new emotions as many new things. Excitement, nervousness, caution, curiosity. You want to become the best runner you can be as quickly as possible. You want to learn new things and watch them improve your workouts. But even with so much great information available to new runners, it is easy to slip into some common mistakes that can hinder your performance.
In this article, we’ll cover 10 running mistakes that new runners, in particular, are apt to commit (although seasoned runners definitely make these mistakes, too). We’ll also discuss ways to avoid them so that you can be the best runner possible.
1. Starting Too Fast
You’ve probably seen “5-10 minute warm-up” in any training plan that you’ve looked at. But many new runners don’t heed that advice. Why waste time on a warm-up when you just want to get out there and run?
Additionally, you might just be dashing out the door and not even bothering with stretching. Both of these actions are sure to set you up for failure. Your body needs some time to ease into activity and get ready to run. You don’t put food straight into a cold pan. Likewise, don’t start exercising with a cold body – warm it up first to better reap the benefits.
The solution: Spend that 5-10 minutes warming up, ideally with dynamic stretching and a light jog or fast walk to get your blood flowing and your muscles warmed up. By spending time warming up, you’ll help to reduce your risk of injury and your run will be more comfortable.
2. Running Too Far, Too Soon
What got you into running? Was it watching your friend complete a marathon? Was it watching the 10,000m track event during the Olympics? Reading about an ultrarunner’s incredible feat of endurance running 50 miles, 100 miles, or more? All of these accomplishments are worthy of admiration. They are also the result of months if not years of hard work and routine. At first, it might be a drag just to get yourself out the door. Once you start to see yourself losing weight and toning up, you might be much more gung-ho about running. You might go, “Well, I ran 3 miles for the first time on Monday, so let’s do 4 miles on Tuesday and 5 miles on Thursday!”
It’s great that you’re getting excited about your running gains. That will encourage you to keep up this healthy habit. But your body needs time to gain strength – in muscles, bones, and connective tissue – to support you through your miles. This happens slowly, and those short 3-mile runs are the perfect way to do it. Keep your runs short for the first few months. Increasing mileage too soon is just asking for injuries and burnout.
The solution: Increase your mileage by no more than 10% a week. This means that if you ran a total of 10 miles the previous week, don’t run more than 11 miles this upcoming week. It gives your body time to adjust to longer distances as well as avoiding overworking the muscles.
Runner’s World suggests that this 10% percent rule might be a little too conservative; however, it acknowledges that it is important for new runners to err on the side of undertraining rather than overtraining.
3. Incorrect Running Form
There’s a good chance that if you’re just getting into running that you think that increasing your stride length will help you go faster. In reality, that’s not good running form at all. Long strides are the product of speed, not the other way around. As you are getting into shape, work on using short strides with a fast cadence.
Your head should be pointed straight ahead (don’t look down), your hands and arms should move back and forth (not side-to-side), your knees should be slightly bent and don’t lift them too high, and your shoulders should be relaxed.
The solution: If you’re a beginner, don’t worry about heel striking; just run comfortably. That being said, if you feel yourself reaching forward with your feet as you land, so that your foot is noticeably in front of your hips, you are overstriding. This is most easily corrected by taking shorter strides, more quickly. What constitutes a “fast” cadence varies a bit from runner to runner. Shorter runners might be able to target 180-190 steps per minute comfortably. Taller runners will have a slightly lower cadence, in the 160-170 range. At the same time, remember that good running form and technique play an important role in running economy and performance, so definitely get tips from more seasoned runners on your running form whenever you can!
4. Incorrect Breathing
This mistake is common to beginners and more-seasoned runners alike. It’s much more common for runners to take light, airy breaths that occur on the same foot strike every time. You’ll be much more comfortable during your runs if you take deep breaths.
The solution: Proper breathing is about consistent, even breaths. For most runs, if you are breathing too hard to carry on a conversation, you are running too fast. Experts recommend trying to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If you’re gasping for breath, you need to slow down the pace if you’re a beginner.
5. No Training Changes
Once you get into a routine of running, it might be hard to change it. For example, you’ve started to figure out your favorite routes, your favorite time of day to run, and a speed that’s comfortable for you.
However, getting better and progressing as a runner requires changes in your training and running routine. Running the same speed and distance won’t increase endurance or fitness. You’ll have to change things up to do that.
The solution: Runners should change their distances on a day-today basis. Sometimes you should run longer than you typically do. Sometimes, shorter. You should also change your speed. Push harder during speed/hard workouts and go slower for recovery runs. Keep your body guessing!
6. Running Too Hard Uphill
A common mistake for new runners is treating all terrain equally, approaching more challenging and technical training on trails or up hills the same as they would on flat ground. This is a good way to push yourself to exhaustion. And you might not even be able to keep running up the hill.
The solution: Instead of pushing too hard up hills, slow it down. Run at whatever pace is comfortable to you, and keep it nice and steady. Don’t run uphill too fast and also don’t fly on the downhill. Just think slow and steady. This will help you do hills without burning out. Need a reference point? Focus on your breathing. If you’re on a hill and notice that you are breathing too hard to have a conversation, you are running too hard. Back off the pace, and remember that running uphill is hard. And good for you.
7. Wrong Shoes
It’s all about getting a fit that works for you. If it hurts to run in your shoes, then it’s very likely that you have the wrong shoes. This is important because shoes that fit incorrectly will be uncomfortable and may cause blisters and/or more serious injuries.
Shoes that are too old likewise can cause problems. After 300-500 miles, most running shoes are shot. Continuing to run in shoes with wasted cushioning and midsoles can increase wear on your muscles and connective tissue. The result can be problems ranging from increased muscle fatigue, to more serious problems like shins splints.
The solution: Get a new pair of shoes. Go to a running store and get fitted there, trying on 3-4 pairs of shoes to see which feels best. Don’t worry so much about terminology—neutral, stability, etc. Just figure out what’s comfortable. Typically, that’s the best shoe for you.
8. Wrong Clothing
When you’re just getting into running, there’s a good chance that you grabbed whatever clothing was available to you, not thinking too much about it. But long-term, this isn’t the greatest solution. Tech shirts that wick sweat from your body will keep you cooler and drier. That cotton t-shirt you wore for your first couple months of running, on the other hand, holds onto moisture and isn’t as comfy.
The solution: Invest in at least one good running outfit for the season that you’re in. Avoid cotton and sweatpants/sweatshirts. These will stick to your body and make your run very uncomfortable. Instead, wear technical clothes that will wick sweat away.
9. Not Staying Hydrated
All runners struggle with getting enough hydration, but this is particularly true for new runners. If you aren’t properly hydrated, this will impact your performance, and it will be hard on your body.
It’s important for you to account for the fact that your body is going through water faster now since you’re exercising and losing fluid through sweat. You need to make sure that you’re replenishing what you’ve lost after a run.
The solution: Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a run to stay hydrated. Not sure if you’re hydrated? Check your urine (it should be a light yellow) or pinch the back of your hand. If it snaps back into place quickly, you’re good. If not, drink some water.
10. Not Resting Enough
The final mistake that new runners (and sometimes even seasoned runners) make is not getting enough rest. Once you start to see progress, it’s easy to get excited and want to push yourself to reach bigger and bigger goals.
You want to avoid burnout and ensure that you aren’t overworking yourself, which could lead to an overuse injury. So you need to make sure you rest. Rest is just as important as running, because it gives your muscles a chance to heal and get stronger.
The solution: Schedule easy runs and rest days into your week. On easy runs, don’t overdo it! It should be a pace you can sustain for a long time.
You even might want to designate one day a week that is always a rest day (maybe the same day that you go to a house of worship if you’re religious). For me, I typically make Sundays a day of rest from running and work.
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you know that you need to correct some errors in your running to become even better. Props to you! Solutions to these mistakes are the next step to take in perfecting your running.
As with anything in life, there’s a learning curve, and there will always be something to improve on. But if you’re committed to working on it, there’s nothing that you can’t tackle. Good luck on your running journey!