10 Common Running Mistakes to Avoid (Especially Beginners!)

June 17, 2020

I’ve been running for over 10 years now, and during that time, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. People think running is straightforward—you just get some sneakers and go run, right? It’s actually way more technical that that, especially if you want to improve your pace and avoid injury.

So, I wanted to put together this list of common running mistakes so you can avoid them yourself. While this list will likely be new info for beginners, you might learn something even as a seasoned runner. I was still making some of these mistakes several years into running!

As some context, I mostly train for half and full marathons, but I’ve also dabbled in triathlons. I’m not a running coach by any means, but I did my best to research and get expert info for this post. Also know that many “running rules” vary slightly by individual, so you should always experiment and find what works for you.

With that in mind, here are some common running mistakes, and what you can do to fix them.

Don’t Make These 10 Common Running Mistakes

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1. Warming up incorrectly.

Whether you should stretch before or after a run is a hotly-debated topic. The general consensus of experts is that you can do both, but if you stretch before a run, it should be dynamic and not static. Static stretching is where you hold a position for a certain length of time, like touching your toes. Dynamic stretching is where you do an active movement that you don’t hold for too long, like high knees. Before a run, your muscles aren’t warmed up, so static stretching could actually damage them.

That doesn’t mean that you should just skip your warmup and take off. Instead, consider adding in some dynamic stretches and exercises. I like to do elevated glute bridges and a pelvic drop exercise. Before a speed workout, I’ll also do some classic dynamic drills. Some people also like to do a slower run/walk for 5-10 minutes to warm up.

Find what works for you, but make sure you’re doing something to get your body moving before getting into your run. In that same vein, be sure to do something to cool down afterwards, such as a slower run/walk and static stretching.

Me stretching after a run
Static stretching after my run, not before 🙂

2. Tackling too much mileage too soon.

It can be easy to be overly ambitious with your mileage, whether you’re a new runner, coming back from an injury, or training for a new race. Overloading your body is an easy recipe for injury though, so you need to be smart about your mileage.

The golden rule of increasing mileage has always been no more than 10% extra distance weekly. Increasing mileage is more complicated in practice though. For instance, if you’re a new runner, only increasing 10% per week is too conservative. And if we’re being technical here, you’re starting at 0 miles, and adding 10% of 0 is still 0 (this is my math major brain lol).

If you’re just starting out, you can likely add more than 10% mileage, but after getting used to it for a few weeks. There’s actually something called the 3-week rule, where you increase mileage every 3 weeks only, but with a more significant jump. For instance, you might do 10 miles total the first 3 weeks, then go up to 17 miles for the next 3 weeks. This 3-week period allows your body to adjust to the new strains of more mileage. Most plans also recommend that you don’t run every day if you’re a total beginner. This None to Run plan has you running just 3 times/week, and uses the run/walk method, where you alternate running and walking.

If you’re an experienced runner, you can still use the 3-week rule. Some experts say that increasing 10% weekly might actually be too much of a strain for higher-mileage runners. It really comes down to what works for you though—some runners find that the 10% rule works fine for them, others can increase more or less, and others like the 3-week rule.

Regardless of whether you’re new or experienced, consider taking a week of lower mileage every 3-4 weeks. These are known as “down weeks,” where you reduce mileage 15-20% of where you were previously. Down weeks are helpful because constantly adding more mileage can lead to burnout. I personally have gotten burned out really easily, so in my last marathon training cycle, I increased my long run mileage only every 2-4 weeks and kept my weekly mileage relatively steady otherwise (I have a strange style of training though, where I basically do triathlon training for marathons).


Me running and my pineapple bangs LOL

3. Running too fast, or running too slow.

It’s a common misconception that you need to do all your runs quickly to get faster. If you’re going all-out on every run, you won’t be able to recover as well, and you’ll probably burn out. A proper training schedule includes slow runs, speedwork, and steady states.

Similarly, you can’t expect to do normal runs all the time and get faster! I’ve made this mistake in the past. I would focus only on building my mileage, and totally forget about doing speed workouts. Needless to say, I didn’t improve my pace. To run faster, you have to train faster (but not all the time, of course). Now, I try to do one speed workout a week. Others may do more or less depending on how often they run. If you’re a beginner, it’s recommended that you first get a couple months of steady state runs as a base, then start adding in speed workouts gradually.

Some popular speed workouts are mile repeats (running 1 mile at tempo pace 2-6 times with 1 minute rest) and fartleks (where you vary your pace throughout, like repeating a few sets of 4 min steady state, 2 min tempo, 3 min recovery, 1 min at mile race pace).

4. Not cross-training.

You need to run to get better at running, but you can also improve your running by cross-training, and reduce your chances of injury. I’m a big fan of cross-training and actually cross-train just as often as I run. I ran the 2019 Paris Marathon and broke 4 hours after only running 2-3 times/week in my training! The other days, I maintained fitness by swimming or biking. I train this way because I used to be very injury-prone, and cross-training allows me to do low-impact cardio.

Of course, there are lots of successful runners who don’t cross-train very much, but it’s recommended that you at least do some strength training. Some key areas to work on are your legs, core, and arms. You might do exercises like calf raises, glute bridges, planks, and pushups. I personally do about 10 minutes of core twice/week, and complete short circuits of strengthening exercises every other day (when the gym was open, I’d also lift once/week).


Cheesin’ in the pool before an aquathlon

5. Ignoring injuries (please go get physical therapy!).

One of the biggest mistakes I see and have made myself is to ignore an injury. You’ll of course experience some pains and niggles that go away after a few days, but you should absolutely see a physical therapist if your pain doesn’t go away.

In many states, you don’t need a doctor’s referral to get PT—you can simply just go (these are called direct access states). Unfortunately, PT generally can be expensive in the US, as you often have a deductible to meet before your benefits kick in. The deductibles can be a few hundred dollars or more. From my experience, most PT clinics charge around $100 per appointment, and after insurance benefits and meeting your deductible, you pay around $20-30. You should always check with your specific plan though. During the pandemic, most insurance companies are waiving co-pays for telehealth, so you can actually get PT for free.

While PT can be costly, it’s probably more costly to ignore an injury. It could end up becoming something more serious that you need long-term treatment for. You also could end up not being able to run for a few months. I’ve had my fair share of running injuries, and ignoring them only exacerbated the issue. I got a stress reaction once because I ignored foot pain (the stage before a stress fracture) and I ended up getting an MRI to diagnose it, which was over $500 out-of-pocket after insurance. I also ignored a skiing ankle injury, which got worse after I kept rolling my ankle during trail runs. I had to stop running for over a month. This imbalance later also led to a hamstring issue, which I could’ve easily prevented had I gotten PT in the beginning. With that issue, I had to stop running for a month again, and also do several months of PT.

If you’re not having any issues, one preventative thing you can do is to get a gait analysis. This is where a PT analyzes your running form and diagnoses any weaknesses in your body. A lot of injuries are due to improper form or an imbalance in your body strength—for instance, if you have knee pain, it’s likely because your hips are weak. I got a gait analysis several years ago and learned that one of my hips was weaker than the other, that my knees were angling in when I ran, and that I needed to increase my cadence. I was recommended a handful of exercises that I continue to do to this day, and I experienced a huge decrease in running injuries. Unfortunately, most insurance companies don’t cover gait analyses because they’re preventative (some may cover them if you get a doctor’s referral though). Regardless, at $100-200, I think they’re well worth the investment.

I have a whole post on how to prevent running injuries, if you want to learn more.


Wearing a walking boot las year after I ignored a skiing ankle injury for months 🙁 Had I gotten PT, my injury should’ve never reached this point.

6. Wearing old or improper shoes.

One common mistake that beginner runners make is to simply start running in a random pair of sneakers, which often aren’t made for running or are really beat-up. Having the right shoes can really change your runs, and help you prevent injury.

Experts recommend getting a shoe fitting at a running store, but I’ve actually never done this (gasp!). This is because I prefer not to spend more than $60 on a pair of running shoes, and most running stores sell them at $100+. I eventually just found my favorite shoe model—the Brooks Launch—through experience with different shoes. If you have the extra money and want to support a small business while getting a personalized fitting, definitely go to your local running store.

Otherwise, you can take online shoe finder quizzes (here’s the one for Brooks Running). These obviously can’t replace an in-person fitting, but they’re better than shopping blindly!

Once you have a great pair of shoes, it’s recommended that you replace them every 300-500 miles. Eventually, the tread wears out and the cushioning isn’t as responsive. I generally know when it’s time to replace my shoes as they start to feel less bouncy, and my feet hurt after a handful of miles.

Brooks launch 5
After I retire my running shoes, I use them just as regular walking shoes/sneakers

7. Not tracking workouts or keeping a training log.

If you want to improve your pace and go after PRs, you need to find out what works and doesn’t work for you. You want to be able to identify trends in your training, what led to a certain injury, which workouts feel hard or easy. You can’t do that without keeping a training log!

An easy way to keep a log is to use a GPS watch or free app like Strava. Your workout data will be totally digital, and automatically uploaded. It’s also easy to write notes about the conditions and how you were feeling.

For the longest time though, I simply kept a handwritten log (I still actually track some workouts manually only, like yoga and indoor biking). This is totally fine too, but you won’t have as much data on your distance, splits, and elevation for your runs.

If you do use an app like Strava, which also has a social sharing component, remember that you want as accurate a training log as possible. Turn off the “auto pause” feature so that your elapsed time is counted, not just your moving time (otherwise your pace looks faster than it was). Be sure to also share your “slower” runs so you have the full picture of your training. I have a whole post on reasons to share your “slow” runs on Strava, but the short version is that every training run counts—the PRs would mean nothing without the less glamorous work you put in.

COROS APEX watch face after a run

8. Spending too much on gear, or not getting the essentials.

Running is as cheap or as expensive as you make it. I personally spent over $3,000 on running in 2019 (including related travel expenses for races)—I’m not rich, but it’s something I care about a lot, so I choose to spend more money on it. You can see the breakdown of how much money I spent on running in a year if you’re interested.

You could easily spend much less, or much more. There are lots of ways to save hundreds of dollars on running expenses. My personal favorite tips are to only buy shoes during sales (or lightly used on eBay) and to participate in free timed races like weekly Parkrun 5ks across the world. You might also be able to take advantage of your company’s health discounts to get a gym membership, or even use insurance benefits to cover the cost of a fitness tracker.

There are a few things I think you shouldn’t skimp on though:

  • Running shoes—again, there are ways to save tons of money on these, but make sure they’re actually a model that work well for you. These are probably the single-most important piece of gear you can get.
  • Anti-chafing balm—I personally use Body Glide, which looks like a little deodorant stick; I’ve had the smallest size stick for years now. This helps reduce friction between your thighs so you don’t get irritation. It can also be helpful in areas where clothing rubs your skin extra, like your shorts waistband.
  • GPS watch—this isn’t totally necessary for newbies, but I’ve found it really helpful in keeping track of my runs, and getting accurate data (free apps aren’t as precise). I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re committed to running long-term and want to go for PRs. I personally use the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music (~$200) and think it’s one of the best-value watches out there (and I’ve tested 9 popular GPS watches). If you’re interested in some other options, see my post on the best GPS running watches under $200.
  • Quality shorts (with pockets for your phone or gels)—I recently discovered Senita Athletics, which is a company owned by two sisters in Arizona. They have quality compression shorts with pockets, at around $25—I personally like the Baselines and Rios. I’m not sure how ethically made these are though, so if you want a more sustainable brand, check out Girlfriend Collective. They make really cute workout gear out of recycled water bottles, and the company is well-rated on Good On You. They’re just much pricier at $50+. If you can’t afford that, don’t feel bad—you can still live more sustainably by making your clothes last and only buying what you need. Workout clothes last forever, and I still use shorts, shirts, sports bras that are 10 years old! (I clearly haven’t grown much since middle/high school lol). You can also buy used gear in the many “buy, sell, trade” groups for specific brands on Facebook, or shop in thrift stores.

running gear flatlay

9. Not fueling properly during long runs and races.

Once you start running longer than 1-1.5 hours, fueling can really improve your energy levels and prevent crashing. Experts recommend consuming anywhere from 30-90 grams of carbohydrates each hour, and to start fueling 30-45 minutes into your long run.

If you’re running a half marathon, you could probably get away with avoiding solid foods like gu or gel. Sports drinks with electrolytes might be enough, but you could find that your performance will improve with solid fuel. For a full marathon, you’ll absolutely want more substantial fuel. I personally like to take a Honey Stinger gel every hour starting from mile 4, and a salt tablet every 8 miles (for electrolytes, especially if there are no sports drinks offered). If you’re vegan, the Clif energy gels are a great alternative. Each gel has around 24g of carbs, so that’s just about what’s recommended per hour. You may find that you need more or less, so be sure to experiment during your long runs, and not on race day!

10. Expecting linear progress.

Running is far from a linear journey. It’s been almost 5 years since my half marathon PR of 1:44 (though I did get close in 2018 in the Lyon Half Marathon, at 1:45). I ran a 3:59 in the Paris Marathon in 2019, but it took 3 years of trying (it was my 3rd marathon, and I’d run a 4:08 and 4:16 previously, in that order).

Since that marathon PR in April 2019, I’ve been dealing with injuries related to a skiing fall, and haven’t run more than 7 miles in over half a year. I haven’t been anywhere close to a PR in any distance.

There are of course people who have smoother journeys, but they tend to have more motivation, time, and expert advice (if you want the most efficient improvement, you might want to hire a coach). It’s also only normal that sometimes life has other ideas, and you won’t be able to run as much due to work, injuries, or major events.

If you want running to be a long-term part of your life, understand that your progress won’t be linear. There will be lots of ups and downs, but that’s what makes the happy moments so worth it. A PR is all that much more gratifying if you really had to struggle and overcome challenges to get there.

 


 

I hope this was helpful in clearing up some common running mistakes! I’d love to hear from you—what would you add to the list?

Happy running,

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About Me

I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
Here is where I document my (mis)adventures and try to offer some helpful advice. Feel free to join me for the ride. Read More

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