We are raised to believe more is better – that if we fall short, we need to work harder, go longer, and do more. While the notion still holds many truths, your self-reflection needs one more essential element that isn’t always at the top of our list: work smarter.
We asked our experts about common training mistakes we often make when trying to push ourselves further, faster, longer each day. It’s the mental reassurance you need to let yourself know that sometimes less can be more when it comes to training.
Doing Too Much
In particular, doing too much too soon will set you back quickly. Unrealistic training expectations are usually to blame, says Will Hayes, Performance Manager at Novant Health Sports Performance.
“Do less than you think if you haven’t run very much,” he says. It’s best to work up slowly then set an unrealistic expectation based on something you used to do “last time.” If you get hurt going too far, you won’t be able to get back to work until you have rested and healed sufficiently.
“Set goals that are habit-based,” says Hayes, “not outcome-driven.” Distance and time goals are great, but the important part is consistency — making good habits.
Running Through an Injury
This is a no-brainer. Just like doing too much, running injured will set you back more than just taking a few days off to heal. Running Coach Lisa Landrum of Forward Motion XC and runCLTrun says it’s okay to take a rest day or more if needed. Use this time to focus on your strength work, stretching for flexibility, or doing other activities you enjoy that will take the stress off your injured limb.
Lack of Proper Strength Training
We’ve said it before — a good muscle structure around your core gives you stability as you run. All sports have their major muscle groups, but cross-training keeps you from ruining your form from overuse of just a few running muscles.
“Running is an impact sport, so it’s important to incorporate strength training,” says Jamey Yon, Ironman competitor and owner of TRiYON Performance. He compares pounding the pavement to tackles in football. — they’re both hard hits. “We’re constantly breaking our tissue down. When you’re running you’re impacting the road.”
Yon suggests simple bodyweight exercises like walking lunges, deep squats, lateral exercises, and calf raises to add some strength to your stride. Remember to keep them slow and controlled for the best results.
Running “Junk Miles”
You know we’ve all done it — added more distance to our runs because we feel like we should, our friends are doing more, or our high-tech watch says we haven’t reached our pace or weekly goal yet. Landrum says Staaahhhhhppp! Those miles don’t serve a purpose, so don’t feel like you need to do them if your legs are dead.
“There is a time for a hardcore training cycle, and yes, we do want to improve as runners,” says Landrum, “but be wary of the notion that to be a ‘real runner’ you have to be ‘fast’ or run X amount of miles a week or a run.”
“It’s all relative,” she adds. “There will always be someone faster and someone who runs longer than you. Who cares? Go out, run for the health of your body and your mind.” Sweet.
Not Warming Up/Cooling Down
We all know we should do this, but sometimes it feels like it takes a heroic effort just to find time for a run of any length in our schedule — so skip the intro? Y’all…. It makes a difference.
“If you don’t do this consistently, you’re setting yourself up to get injured because you’re not preparing your body appropriately,” says Hayes. Got a sore heel? Stiff ankles? Leg cramps? Your body is telling you that you’re jumping in before you’re ready.
And cooling down after your run is important, too, if you want to avoid the soreness that comes from a hard workout or run.
“Cool down is a reset to bring the body back down into a more of a resting level,” says Hayes. “Cool down is effective at getting out of the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome your body engages in while exercising. You have to bring it back down to ‘rest and digest,’ to get yourself into a recovery state and feel better the next day.” Flush out that lactic acid and set your body at ease!
Remember, training for a marathon is a — uh — marathon, not a sprint! Take your time to do it right. Make good habits and you’ll get farther… Faster. Good luck!