10 Common Beginner Running Mistakes to Avoid
Running is a great way to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors. And if you are new to the sport, the thrill is even greater. You wait to put on that brand new running tee and a pair of funky running shoes and tiptoe out of the house while others sleep. As your feet hit the road, you feel the runner’s high. As a beginner, you have to be consistent in your efforts and rule out injury as far as possible. So, let’s help you learn the running basics and avoid these 10 common beginner running mistakes.
1. Doing too much too soon
Running is a high-impact sport. If you don’t allow your body to adapt to the training stressors, you are asking for trouble. As a beginner runner, structure your training schedule with recovery days and recovery weeks. Muscles need time to repair and rebuild, so include a complete rest day in your weekly running schedule. Do not rush through your training if you don’t want to injure yourself. If you are an absolute beginner and have been sedentary for a while, work out only on alternate days for the first few weeks.
2. Not warming-up
You are probably hard-pressed for time — most of us are. So, when you step out for a run, you want to cover as much distance as possible and utilize every second to hit the road. However, that’s not the best plan, and one of the biggest beginner running mistakes. You will be increasing your risk of injuries. Tight calves, hamstrings, and quads indicate a physical strain on the entire kinetic chain. You need to loosen and warm-up your muscles before your workout to prevent injury.
How to warm-up: Dynamic stretches are great for warm-up. These drills mimic running and functionally activate the same muscles required for running. Exercises such as high knees, butt kicks, skips, and bounds warm up your muscles and allow you to ease into your pace. Most importantly, a warm-up increases your heart rate gradually and prepares you for the main workout.
3. Skipping cooldown
After finishing your run, you may want to head out to a café for breakfast or rush home, or even worse, chill on the nearest park bench. Don’t be surprised if you feel muscle stiffness later in the day. Skipping cooldown after your run makes your muscles tight. This is one of the major running form mistakes.
Cooldown, like warm-up, allows your heart rate to settle slowly and for your body to come back to resting equilibrium. Doing light and easy shuffles, followed by stretches for your leg muscles, allows blood flow to rejuvenate them and push out metabolic waste. This prepares your body for the next workout.
How to cooldown: Static stretching results in elongation and relaxation of the stretched muscle. It brings about an effective change in range of motion around the joint and the stretched muscle. A static stretch is performed slowly and the end position is held for a minimum of 30 seconds. It is recommended for all athletes to increase flexibility. Some of the common static stretches for runners are:
- Standing / lying hamstring stretch
- Standing / lying quadriceps stretch
- Calf stretch
- Hip flexor stretch
- IT-band stretch
- Butterfly stretch for the groin and inner thighs
4. Not hydrating enough
Not hydrating enough is a common beginner running mistake. In fact, most runners are not aware of their hydration needs. The sweat rate differs for every individual and so does the hydration requirement. More often than not, on waking up for a morning run, you may be already dehydrated.
If you are sweating a lot due to hot and humid weather, you need additional fluid intake. Don’t forget to rehydrate after finishing your run.
5. Not fueling properly on long runs
Not taking care of your fueling needs is another running mistake you need to avoid. Fueling is essential for runs lasting longer than 90 minutes. If not well replenished, you won’t be able to sustain the effort, and you will end up compromising on speed and inducing muscle damage.
Get a carb-rich pre-workout meal/ snack and start fueling within 30 to 45 minutes into your run. Your consumption should be somewhere between 40-60g carbs per hour. Energy gels, power gels, and energy drinks are some of the commonly used energy sources by runners. You could also try carb-dense and easily digestible fruits as an energy source. Protein and fat are less effective and can cause cramps. The body can not digest too much of these either, so limiting their consumption may be a good idea.
Try out different foods and figure what works for your taste buds and gut. You will need to get comfortable with running with food in your gut, which may not be the most pleasant experience. Eating a carbohydrate and protein snack post-run will aid in recovery and give your tired and damaged muscles the much-needed nutrients for repair.
6. Starting too fast
While you might be raring to run at your best speed, just don’t. Starting too fast is one of the most common rookie running mistakes. At the beginning of a race, it is normal to feel fresh and energetic. This makes many beginners increase the pace. But the euphoria is short-lived and you will crash with a quick rise of blood lactate levels.
At the start of your run, the mantra is: “If you think you are running fast, you are definitely running fast, and if you think you are running slow, you are not running slow”. Starting slow will enhance your running experience and help you finish strong.
7. Not cross-training
Running will stress a specific set of muscles in your lower extremities. Working the same muscles repeatedly will lead to overtraining them; this is a running mistake that can cause imbalances in your body. Therefore, it is vital to take up other sports and activities that complement running and train different muscles.
Yoga, swimming, cycling, or strength training will make you a better runner. Strength training is important also because it will help build a strong core that contributes to correct posture and form.
8. Having a lousy running form
The wrong running form will make you an inefficient runner. So get the posture right at the beginning to avoid making this running form mistake. Use the following cues to correct your form and get the right common running technique for beginners:
- Keep your head up and look about 15-20m in front
- Pull the shoulders back a little and tuck in your elbows with the arms angled at 90°
- Don’t let the arms swing across the torso when striding
- Run tall and avoid over-striding — keep your strides short
- Land either on the heel, midfoot, or forefoot, but make sure your foot lands under your hips and not ahead
9. Running in old or wrong shoes
Shoe soles comprise material that loses elasticity and force absorption characteristics over time. The sole at the midfoot starts getting thinner, followed by fraying. Don’t wait till this happens because it could mean that your legs are taking a more significant load from your training. Replace them.
Picking the wrong shoes is also a mistake that runners tend to make. Select the right pair for your foot type. Most branded shoe stores have experienced staff to guide you. Try the shoes on and walk around the store to see if they are comfortable.
10. Racing in new shoes or apparel
You may be eager to flaunt your new shoes and apparel at the starting line. But you surely don’t want chafed armpits, or bleeding nipples and blisters.
You need to “break” new shoes. It takes about 3 to 4 runs in new shoes for your feet to adjust to the fabric. During this time, the shoe molds around your foot. The same goes for apparel. You need a few long runs for the fabric to adjust to your thighs and upper body movement.
Note: A few new shoe models now do not need a “break-in” period and can be used right away for training or racing.
A new runner is high on enthusiasm, but it’s important to kick off your journey on the right note to actually enjoy the experience. Be smart about your needs, get the running technique right, and you are good to go for that run!
For more information, you can also listen to our podcast, Run with Fitpage, where Atul Godbole, founder of Motiv8 Running, talks about common running mistakes to avoid as a runner.