5 common training mistakes runners make

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As a runner, I’m sure you have realised that the world of running training is a complex maze of do’s and don’ts which can be very overwhelming and confusing.  Here’s a list of  5 common mistakes runners, novice to elite alike, make that hold them back from being the best runner they can be.

Mistake #1. Not following a structured, individualised training program

At first glance, running training seems straight forward. Just get out and run, and run further each week right? Not quite.

A training program has many variables- Frequency, Intensity (speed), Duration, running surface and terrain, type of training session etc. Furthermore, each variable is dependent on the individual’s training history, injury history, running goals, level of commitment etc. If each variable is not considered specifically or is increased too rapidly/slowly, then the runner will not adapt physiologically in the right areas and risk injury.

Either way, the consequences can range from a disappointing lack of progress to catastrophic injuries, when it is easily avoidable with a good, individualized program from a trained coach.

Mistake #2: Not respecting the ‘easy’ parts of the training program

Runners are high-achievers. They’re not afraid of hard work and pushing themselves. As much as this is a desirable trait, it can also be the downfall of runners when adhering to their programs.

Achieving physiological adaptations to become a better runner is the result of small, consistent efforts over time, and training in specific ways to stimulate the body’s systems. Sometimes, this means less is more. Rest days have to be adhered to for tissue recovery and adaptation to occur. Slow runs have to be slow to maintain workload in the ‘cardio’ aerobic zone to increase aerobic endurance (To improve the body’s ability to intake, transport and utilize oxygen for longer periods of time). Recovery between intervals need to be respected, so that the intervals can be performed at the intensity required to hit maximal efforts.

It’s like growing a flower. The flower needs to be watered a certain amount consistently, and the other factor is it needs time to grow. Watering the flower a week’s worth of water in one day won’t make it grow any faster, and can even be detrimental to its growth.

#3: Making-up for missed sessions incorrectly

Runners are a motivated bunch. If a runner regrettably misses a training session or two, they often catch-up by bunching up those sessions on top of existing sessions, and end up doing multiple sessions in a day or over a multi-day period.

In theory, this appears to be ok. You’re hitting all your sessions by the end of the week, so you won’t lose your fitness, correct?

But in reality, what happens is that on those days is you’re not allowing recovery and positive adaptations after the first session of the day, then the sessions after that are negatively impacted because you are unable to perform them to your full capacity. This negates any benefits from catching up on those missed sessions, plus leaving you more fatigued for following training sessions, so you might as well have let those missed sessions go.

So if you miss a few sessions, catch-up on them if you have space in your week and your program. Be sure to do any hard sessions (Strength training, intervals, threshold runs) FIRST in your day, and follow it up with the easier recovery sessions later in the day. Sometimes you can catch-up, sometimes you have to accept that you’re betting off missing those sessions completely.

#4 Focusing on the 20% before the 80%

When building a house, you wouldn’t start painting or tiling the house unless the foundations and walls were in first. Firstly, doing so wouldn’t contribute to the construction process at that point in time, and secondly, it would be useless because you’d probably have to go back and redo them again at the end for the final finish.

This is the same as prioritizing your training all its components. There are the big rocks such as the running program, running mechanics, strength training, wholesome nutrition and recovery. If done correctly, nailing these will make up >80% of running performance success and can go a long way to achieve very high standards of performance.

Then there are the small rocks such as supplements, nutrient timing, footwear, clothing, etc, that can make a difference but ONLY once the big rocks are in place, and the difference they make is to a smaller degree. If these small rocks are put in place in the absence of a solid foundation with the big rocks, they will make negligible impact or none at all.

The thing is, the small rocks are often marketed to be fancy and exclusive for high-level runners or for a quick-fix, and runners can fall into the trap of splashing out $$ or focusing too much on the small-rocks when they haven’t even been consistent or mastered the big rocks yet.

Don’t fall into that trap. Do the repetitive, mundane work well and consistently first, and only then do you need to put time and effort towards to final 20%.

#5 Thinking of themselves as runners, not athletes

We’re technically runners, because we run… But it doesn’t stop at just that. The best runners in the world, every Olympian, every elite sportsman manifests their identity as an athlete, because then their associated values, beliefs, environment and behaviours will completely align and support their success.

This includes values and beliefs surrounding unwavering discipline, constant hard work, commitment… Environmental choices such as weekend past times and social circles… And behaviours including sticking to an adequate, whole diet, program adherence, additional strength and conditioning/recovery strategies to compliment the running training etc.

Like anything in life, being the best runner you can be is predicated on many factors in and outside of training. There will always be a spectrum of how committed an individual runner is to all the different practices that support athletic development and performance, but truly manifesting that you are an athlete will align your identity with your success.

Now what?

Now that you’ve got the basics of what to focus on, pick 1-2 things and work on approaching it in the most practical and optimal way to maximise your results. And if this is still quite overwhelming, shoot me an email at trang@themotionmechanic.com and let’s chat!