Common Mistakes New Runners Should Avoid

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Running places a lot of high-impact force on your feet and legs, leading to aches, pains, and injuries. This is especially true for new runners. But runner’s high is an amazing feeling, so it’s easy to push yourself too hard when you discover a love for running.

Here are a few common mistakes new runners should avoid. Steer clear of these, and you’ll improve without risking injury or burnout.

1. Running Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon

This is the most common mistake new runners make. We know that getting into running is exciting, and as soon as you start to improve, you just want to keep going faster and farther.

But if you aren’t monitoring your mileage, pace, and recovery, it’s easy to overdo it.

Get rid of the idea that more is better. You should start with a beginner’s running program, even if you’ve run before and you’re starting again after a break. Your body needs time to adapt to the new level of activity.

Most beginners should aim to run 3 to 4 times a week. Start there and increase your mileage or pace by no more than 10 percent each week. Be patient—if you go too fast, you might burn out or, worse, get injured.

2. Skipping Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Skipping warm-ups and cool-downs saves time. But failing to warm your muscles up before running could lead to getting injured. Taking a few minutes to get the blood flowing can save you from getting hurt and make your overall run more pleasant.

Do a brisk walk for 5-10 minutes, followed by dynamic stretching. That’s all you need to do to get your muscles warm enough to handle a run without the chance of injury.

As for cooling down, it’s tempting to immediately sit down or stop moving when your run is over. But a slow walk and some static stretching gives your body the time to relax and allow your heart rate to decrease.

3. Not Wearing the Right Shoes

If you haven’t assessed your gait and figured out your pronation, you could be wearing the wrong shoes. And wearing the wrong shoes is not only uncomfortable but there’s a chance it leads to injury over time.

The easiest thing to do is go to a running store, where they will watch you run and suggest the right shoes for your gait.

If you don’t have a store near you, you can check your arches. Often, low arches mean you should wear a stability shoe, and medium to high arches mean you should run in a neutral shoe.

You can check your arch using the wet foot test. Wet your bare feet, stand on a sheet of cardboard on a flat floor, and examine your footprint.

If it’s almost filled in, then your arches are low. If you can only see a thin sliver of water on the outer edge of your feet, your arches are high. For most people, there’ll be an equal wet patch and dry area underneath the arch. This means you have medium arches.

Next, confirm this by looking at the underside of your old shoes to see the wear pattern. Shoes with more wear on the outer edge indicate that you might supinate, meaning you need a neutral shoe. More wear on the inner edges suggests that you overpronate and should use a stability shoe. Equal wear shows that you have a neutral foot.

4. Not Wearing the Right Running Clothes

Choose high-quality clothes designed for running. You’ll be more comfortable and motivated to get out on your runs.

Most running brands use materials that help regulate body temperature, wick away moisture, and optimize breathability.

Avoid thick fabrics like cotton. They hold onto sweat, which can be uncomfortable and lead to chafing. Choose polyester or technical fabrics like DriFit, Coolmax, or Thinsulate.

Dress for the weather. Wearing too many layers in the heat can lead to heat-related illness, and not wearing enough or choosing clothing that’s too breathable in the cold can cause cold-related injuries.

In hot weather, wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. In cold weather, layer up. Choose a warm base layer and light layers over that, which you can remove if you get too warm.

5. Neglecting Proper Form

We all know how to run, but perfecting your form is something you should do when you are just starting. Take time to learn what running with proper form feels like and prevent any bad habits from setting in.

This will help you run more efficiently, put less stress on your body, and lower your chances of injury. Here are a few things to focus on to get you started with good running form.

  • Face forward, don’t look down at the ground.
  • Keep your torso straight—imagine a string pulling you up through the top of your head.
  • Relax your shoulders and try not to hunch.
  • Take shorter, more frequent steps.
  • Aim to land your front foot under your pelvis, NOT out ahead of your body.
  • Avoid swinging your arms too much.

We recommend asking a coach or at least an experienced runner for their advice on your form. Spot-check your form regularly to prevent bad habits from starting up.

6. Not Fueling Properly

Don’t underestimate nutrition, especially if you’re a “casual” runner and not planning on doing races yet. You still need to fuel your body to continue to improve.

Eat a light snack an hour to 2 hours before your run. It should be high in complex carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fats and fiber.

After your run, refuel as soon as you can—within an hour if possible. Choose a meal high in complex carbs, low in far, and includes a good bit of protein for muscle repair.

Another common mistake—avoiding carbs. Carbohydrates are what fuels your muscles, so we recommend NOT choosing a low-carb diet if you want to maximize your running.

7. Not Using a Breathing Technique

Breathing isn’t something that most new runners think about. But breathing the right way can give your muscles the oxygen they need. Breathing too shallowly can lead to a side stitch, dizziness, or early muscle fatigue.

Start by running at a pace that allows you to breathe easily. You should be able to have a conversation while running. As you increase your pace and effort, you might find that it becomes hard to hold a conversation.

You want to breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. This might be difficult initially, and you’ll be tempted to inhale through your mouth. It’s okay to do this now and then until you perfect inhaling through your nose.

Work on breathing down into your belly, not into your chest. This helps you to take in more oxygen. It takes some practice, but work on it every time you run. As well as breathing in as deeply as possible, exhale as fully as you can every time you breathe out. Try not to leave “stale air” in your lungs.

Here’s an easy way to work on rhythmic breathing: aim to inhale through the nose for 3 or 4 steps, and exhale for the same number of steps. This will make you aware of your breathing and you can adjust it based on what feels good to you.

8. Not Prioritizing Rest and Recovery

When you start enjoying your running, it can feel wrong to take a day off. Especially if you’re focused on running longer distances.

But dedicating at least one full day a week to resting is essential, or your body won’t have the time it needs to rest and recover from the hard work you’re putting it through.

As a new runner, you should be resting for a day in between each run. You don’t need to take a complete day off, though—dedicate these days to cross-training or strength training. You’ll have a break from running but still be making progress towards your fitness goals.

Every four weeks, you should take a recovery week, where you reduce your mileage and intensity and do recovery runs.

9. Not Cross-Training

Speaking of cross-training, if you aren’t doing it, you’re missing out on a chance to boost your fitness while giving your body a break from running. Cross-training means doing a different form of training from running.

There are plenty of cross-training activities, so you can choose something you enjoy. Some examples include:

  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Elliptical
  • Jumping rope
  • Swimming
  • Other sports

It’s in your best interest to choose something that’s low-impact but gives you a bit of cardio.

As well as cardio forms of cross-training, we recommend doing strength training once or twice per week to build muscle, especially in the legs and core.

10. Avoiding Hills and Varying Terrain

Hills are tough, but at some point, you need to run them. As a beginner, it’s a good idea to stick to flat terrain until you’ve built up your fitness level.

But once you start feeling like your regular runs are becoming too easy, it’s time to challenge yourself. Sticking with the same old flat terrain allows your body to plateau, so this is a great time to introduce some hill runs.

You don’t need to go too hard. Introducing a gradient will add a challenge, so you might even want to slow down on the hills until you’ve built up more strength.

Avoiding the hills means you’re missing out on a chance to improve both muscular strength and cardiovascular strength.

11. Running Through Pain

There’s bound to be some discomfort when you start running, and you may experience DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness—in the days that follow your runs. You can run through this stiffness, but be aware when the pain becomes acute and tells you to stop.

If you wake up with sore muscles, they’re likely to ease up as you get the blood flowing and get them moving. But if you feel sudden, sharp pain in the middle of your run, or if a joint starts to ache for no apparent reason, take caution.

Don’t push through it if you’re in the middle of the run. Rather, on the side of caution, stop placing strain on the muscle or joint, and rest it.

If the pain continues at rest or it flares up again the next time you run, get it checked out to make sure it’s not something serious. Be particularly careful if the pain comes with swelling, redness, or any other symptoms—these need to be seen by a doctor.

12. Setting Unrealistic Goals

Having a goal is an excellent motivator for new runners. But the key to staying motivated is to set realistic goals. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your heart set on running a marathon. It means you need to break that big goal up into smaller, more manageable ones.

As a new runner, a 5k is a good first goal. Your next goal could be a 10k, but you might need to run a few 5k races before you’re at the point where you can run a 10k. Once you reach the 10k goal, you might need to work your way up to a half-marathon, and so on.

You can set huge goals. But don’t expect to go from the couch to a half-marathon. Work your way up to bigger goals by achieving smaller ones. That way, you’ll stay motivated as you keep ticking off goals, even smaller ones.

13. Comparing Yourself to Others

No two people have the same running experience. Everybody has a different body, schedule, lifestyle, and running goal.

So, comparing yourself to others—no matter who they are—is a recipe for failure. Focus on being better than you were yesterday. Your only competition is YOU.

14. Not Tracking Your Progress

The best way to know if you’re making progress is to track your metrics. You’ll never know how well you’re doing if you don’t keep track of your performance!

Use a running journal or running app to keep a training log. Take note of your time, distance, running route, weather, and anything relevant during your run.

Keep track of things like aches and pains, pre-workout meals, if you’re wearing new gear, difficult parts of the route, or if anything happened to make you feel different.

You might be surprised at how you spot patterns later on, which can help you to optimize your training and your nutrition. Seeing how you’re improving can be motivating!

15. Not Listening to Your Body

Your body is an amazing machine, and it speaks to you about what it needs. Pain is a sign that something isn’t right, and so is fatigue.

Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. As we mentioned above, if you feel sudden pain, it’s a sign that something has gone wrong, and you need to figure it out so you don’t make it worse.

If you’re feeling fatigued and can’t find the energy for a run, it could be a sign that you’ve been overdoing it and need some rest.

Listen to your body and give it what it needs. It may take some time to learn the signals it’s giving you but on the side of caution until you understand the signs better.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.