The #1 Mistake Runners Make
As a coach, a lot of my job is helping to “fix” mistakes that runners are making in their training.
And by far, the most common mistake that I see runners make is doing too much, too soon. It’s a mistake that has some pretty serious consequences, too — injuries, burnout, frustration, poor races, etc. All of that can add up to just flat out quitting running.
Too much, too soon is a mistake all runners can make
Although these tips are perfect for a new runner, they are equally important for any experienced runner who is starting back after time off or is starting to build up for a new training cycle.
Below I cover the two main areas where I see runners try to do too much, too soon and give my suggestions on how to make sure you stay mistake-free in your progression.
Area #1 — INTENSITY
I find that a lot of runners think that running needs to feel hard to be effective. Maybe this is a symptom of a “no pain, no gain” mindset, or maybe it’s a result of a lot of our running when we are kids is all-out running. Either way, I see too many runners running too fast, too often.
Running doesn't have to hurt (at least not ALL the time)
On your easy runs (and when you’re starting out, every run should be an easy run!), the “conversational pace” rule is a great one to follow. This simply means run at a pace that is slow enough you can carry on a conversation. That will make sure that you’re not working too hard and overloading your cardiovascular system OR your muscles.
You also want to make sure that you start all your runs on the very slow / conservative side — even slower than conversational pace. This will allow your body to warm-up gradually and will also make sure you’re not artificially limiting your endurance by burning out too early.
More easy days than anything else
Finally, make sure that most of your days are easy days. Pushing the pace on speed workouts or long runs might be ok (if there’s a plan to it), but you need to make sure that you take plenty of easy running days to balance those out. For most adult runners, one speed workout a week and one long run is enough.
Area #2 — DISTANCE
As a runner, of course you want to improve and it makes sense that to improve you need to keep pushing yourself. BUT, the body doesn’t adapt to a new stimulus right away — it needs a little time to adjust.
Give your body a chance to adjust to mileage
I frequently see new runners following a plan of run 1-2 miles today, 2-3 miles tomorrow, etc. Again, that sounds great in theory but is a quick way to get you hurt in real life.
Instead, you want to vary the distance from day to day, with long days, shorter days, and recovery (rest) days all part of the mix. When you’re starting out, you don’t want to do two longer days back-to-back — make sure to space those out!
It's ok to not increase every week
This same principle is true for long runs, as well. I’ve seen a lot of marathon training plans that have you run 10 miles this week, 11 miles next week, 12 the week after that, etc. There is no reason why every long has to be the longest run you’ve done to date. Give yourself one (or two) weeks of a shorter long run to help absorb the training and stay fresh.
On a bigger scale, I see new and experienced runners make the mistake of thinking that they need to build their mileage each week. These runners often use the “10% rule” of increasing their mileage 10% per week in order to make sure they’re not doing too much.
More mileage = more stress
But any time that you increase your mileage, you are increasing the stress on your body. And given the delay in your body’s response / adaptation to training, it doesn’t make sense to keep increasing it.
Instead, I recommend staying at a specific mileage level for 2-3 weeks before increasing. That way your body has a chance to adjust before you add new stress. You can also make sure that you fully get the benefits of the training before rushing off to the next step.
To sum up …
If you want to enjoy your running, stay injury free, and keep running for the long-term you have to avoid the mistake of running too much, too soon.
When it comes to intensity, that means:
— Keep your pace conversational on your easy days
— Start slow on all your runs and gradually build into conversational pace
— Make the majority of your runs easy runs
When it comes to distance, that means:
— Vary the distance you’re running day-to-day (including short, long, and rest days)
— Maintain a weekly mileage level for 2-3 weeks before increasing it
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.