MISTAKES RUNERS MAKE

The Mistakes Runners Make

Runners fail to achieve their best for a great many reasons, some obvious and some quite counterintuitive. Unlike many skill sports it is not just a case of practice and more practice. Too much, too fast is only ever likely to lead to long term failure. Even when correctly trained to a good level, many runners fail to translate their fitness into performances where it counts - in races. In most cases failure is down to not engaging brain before body!

These notes are aimed at runners who are interested in running their best. If you are a social runner with no ambition to extract that 100% performance from your body you may blissfully ignore all that is written and just get on with enjoying your running.

Getting fit is relatively easy, and by avoiding common running mistakes you will make major strides towards achieving your best performances. On this page I discuss some of the most common training and racing mistakes. There are not many runners I've known over the years who've avoided all these mistakes! However, if none of these mistakes apply to you, congratulations - you may not be in as much need of guidance as other runners. But I would still suggest that you read these notes, even if just to convince yourself that you really are getting it dead right! If you are a new runner, then it is even more important to read this page to ensure that your training and racing get off on the best possible basis.

I have kept the notes on each mistake as short as practical but it should be borne in mind that in many cases much, much more could have been written. If you want to know more about a mistake you may be making then it is probably best to have a word with me.

And now the disclaimer! The opinions expressed are based on my own beliefs, experience and research – other coaches and runners may disagree with some or all of the points I make. But I think a very useful job will have been done if it just makes you pause to think about your running.

Simon Parsons
September 2016

Also available in pdf form PDF ICON

THE MISTAKES – IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

Mistake #1 Failure to specialise

Racing over 5k puts  very different demands on the body compared to running a Marathon. The 5k is much more of a speed-based event while the Marathon demands a high endurance capacity. We are all built differently, with a unique mix of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres. Fast-twitch muscles are the power and speed muscles while unsurprisingly slow-twitch muscles are good for endurance. If you have a very high percentage of slow-twitch fibres you are more likely to make a good endurance runner than if you have fewer slow-twitch and more fast-twitch. That is why Usain Bolt would never make a Marathon runner or Haile Gebrselassie a sprinter. A fast-twitch runner attempting a marathon will hit the wall sooner and harder than a slow-twitch runner.

Many runners fail to recognise or take into account their muscle composition and therefore the event they would be best suited to. There's nothing wrong with competing over distances your body is less suited to, BUT don't be surprised when your performances don't meet your expectations! If you really want to achieve your best then it would be wise to match your body type to the right event! If you're a speed-based runner it would be better to concentrate on 5ks and 10ks and ignore the marathon!

How do you identify your body type? One approach is to look at your age-gradings over a variety of distances. If your age-gradings decline as the distance increases it could mean that you are more speed-based – but it could also just mean you haven't trained correctly or raced properly for some of the distances!

Here are my gradings from when I was 31 for 800/Mile/5k and when I was 18 for the 200/400m.

200m (23.8)    83.15%

400m(53.0)    83.28%

800m (2:07.1)    79.55%

Mile (4:53.6)    76.18%

5k (18:42.9)    67.77%


Now it doesn't take a genius to see that my gradings get worse the longer the distance. I am clearly speed based. I enjoy road running but accept that I will never be that great at it.

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Mistake #2 Drifting without a goal

Some runners just drift from race to race and year to year without a clear goal in mind. They may even appear to train correctly, incorporating, long runs, hills and speedwork. Race performances may go up and down.

So, why is this a problem? Goal setting focuses the mind as well as the body. It also makes it more likely that a plan will be needed that further focuses training and racing– more of which later. It also gives something to measure performances against. If you don't have a clear target you won't know whether you're succeeding or whether something needs to change. Furthermore, it's impossible to gain the benefits of peaking without a genuine goal to meet!

Peaking is the marriage of the mind and the physical to meet a desired goal. The goal needs to be something that is important to you and that you believe is possible to achieve. Peaking is the process of following a training and racing plan that leads progressively to the goal race and a belief that the plan will work. There is nothing better than reaching the taper point before a goal race knowing that you've done the hard work and are ready to give it your best shot.

When setting a goal, it’s best to set a single goal over a single distance. Your target and race distance should dictate such matters as the length of long runs and the pace of  key race-pace sessions. Having multiple goals can only confuse things.

A marathon training plan may extend over 4 months or more but for other events I would generally advise shorter training periods of 6 – 12 weeks. Long enough to achieve a change but short enough to allow for a number of training periods and revised goals over a year!

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Mistake #3 Unreasonable Expectations

Just as having no expectations can be bad, having over-expectations can also cause problems. One evening, while coaching a middle distance squad at the Crystal Palace, another coach pointed a new athlete in my direction. As usual with a newcomer, I asked Bill what his goal was. I was somewhat taken aback when he said that it was his intention was to break the World 800m record. When asked how long he thought this process should take he reassured me that he understood that it might take longer than the current year! Unfortunately, his job as a road digger was hardly compatible with such a lofty ambition, never mind questions of talent and genes.

So why is it a problem? Having unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and disappointment that might unnecessarily lead to you giving up a sport you otherwise enjoy. Furthermore, unless you have a set of realistic expectations it makes it hard to judge whether your training or racing have moved forward at a reasonable rate. It's perfectly okay to have a dream - the motivation that gets you out there doing it, but for day to day purposes it is better to focus on a smaller goal. Even the biggest goals are reached one step at a time. It's far better to enjoy a large number of small successes than experience one massive failure!

Aiming for a series of small gains also fits well with only drawing up training plans for short periods of time. Sometimes long training plans are needed, marathon training or when training for a major championship but in general it is possible to work with plans lasting no longer than 12 weeks. With a training period only lasting 3 months you can fit in 4 training periods a year and still have time left over for a well-earned end of season rest! A new goal can be set for each training period and before you know it you will have taken major strides towards your long term goal!

A slight digression here, but if I were tasked with taking 60 seconds off over 4 training periods I'd use something I'll call the rule of 10 – I've forgotten its proper name if it ever had one. Using this rule you divide the target into 10 equal units – in this case of 6 seconds each. In the first training period you would aim to knock 4 units off (24 seconds). Then 3 units (18 seconds) in the 2nd period, 2 units (12 seconds) in the third period and just 1 unit (6 seconds) in the fourth period. This method front loads the targets recognising that it will become harder to make progress.

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Mistake #4 Poor or no planning

Problems often start right from the very beginning with a failure to plan properly. And many runners fail to appreciate that both training and racing need to be planned. The purpose of training is to get your mind and body into the best shape possible to meet the demands of a specific race or races. You must be properly trained and also properly rested for the key effort. So, straight away there is a need to know when that might be - and what race? Unless those questions are answered properly you won't know how long you have to train, when to taper - or even what specific training is needed. In considering what training is needed you also need to know where you're physically at now.

Failure to plan properly may mean that your body is in poor shape to undertake the race that matters or even simply unrested. You also miss out on the ability to properly apply lessons hard won in the period just gone.

I have already suggested that 3 month training periods are the way to go – but other plan lengths can be just as valid. Whatever plan length is adopted, the first thing you need to do is establish a Target race and goal Such a goal doesn't have to be performance related – it could be to complete a new race distance, place well in a championship or just beat club mate Johnny.

Writing a plan is the time to look at your current physical condition and any weaknesses you may have identified over the previous training period. It may well be that some tweaking is needed – a lack of speed may indicate more speedwork sessions than in the previous plan, poor race pacing may need more training races, a lack of endurance will suggest an increase in the length of your Long Run or weekly mileage.

I think it's always worth planning on paper, taking a sheet of paper and drawing a grid covering 12 weeks split into days. I'll do an article on planning at some stage but for now, here is a quick summary of the steps I use.

Planning summary:

1. Set training period goal

2. Identify Target Race.

3. Plan training races, identify the actual races and add to plan

4. Plan Taper periods for Target Race and any training races where used

5. Add post race Recovery Runs

6. Add regular rest days

7. Add known non-training days

8. Determine Long Run Progression and weekly milage progression

9. Add Long Runs to plan

10. Add Race Pace sessions to plan

11. Add Speedwork sessions to plan

12. Add recovery runs needed after hard sessions

13. Add regular steady runs to fill remaining training sessions

If you're not comfortable with drawing up your own training plan it is worth seeking help from one of the club coaches. Example plans can also be obtained from the running magazines and any of the many books on running.

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Mistake #5 Racing in training

Training is training and racing is racing – they are two different things. But far too many runners give their all in training such that they are unable to use all that training effort when it really counts – in a race. Of course it’s tempting to beat your training partners on a run, or in intervals, but unless you’re running within yourself you’re just beating yourself up to no good end.

A hard training session should push you – but should not demand absolutely100%. At the end of a great training session you should know you worked hard but that you could have given just a little bit more. The importance of this comes in a race If you've given 100% in training then when you feel the same pain in a race you may believe that you have nothing left to give. On the other hand if you have held back in training then at that same level of training pain you should know that there’s still more in the tank!

Pushing hard all the time also puts you at a high risk of overtraining. This is a condition where the body is unable to recover from training. Not only can it take several months to recover from serious overtraining but can lead to you to losing interest in an activity you once loved. I once coached a friend who said he was doing all the sessions set as planned but who surprisingly didn't seem to be improving. Then, all of a sudden he announced he was giving up running. Only at that point did he admit that he'd been pushing himself hard on every single run – even recovery runs! Sadly, I didn’t stand a chance to put him right because he wasn't telling me the truth in our weekly updates.

Bu training within yourself, even in hard sessions, recovery will be easier than if the body hasn't been pushed to the very limits.

There's a banking analogy often used in running that says that reasonable training deposits fitness into your training bank account while hard training and races act as withdrawals. If you make too many withdrawals you go overdrawn and the consequences aren't good! This is why you should do far more steady running (75 - 80% ) and only limited amounts of hard training and racing.

I'm not a total killjoy, and there's no harm in having the occasional full out blast in training - just don't make a habit of it. Train hard but within yourself in hard sessions – race pace and speedwork sessions, but at all other times take it easy and smell the flowers. Don't beat yourself up in training!

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Mistake #6 Long Run too short

The “Long Run” is a key component of endurance training and the most fundamental element of all distance running. If your long run is too short you are not giving your aerobic system a long enough stimulus for the development needed. The longer the run, the more slow-twitch fibres are recruited or reused. Furthermore running economy is only developed through extensive amounts of long running. Plus, there is also a tremendous psychological benefit to be gained from running for longer than race time – with the possible exception of the marathon! But even then, it should be noted that a number of Kenyans enjoy 3 hour runs on a Sunday - 50% more than race time.

There are no absolute rules here, but most distance runners would be advised to include a regular long run of 90 minutes or more. Half Marathon runners should perhaps look to run for 1/3 longer than race time  – if you are a 2 hour runner then your long run may need to be as long as 2 hour 40 minutes. Marathon runners will almost certainly be building up to even longer run times as part of any plan they are following.

If your long run is currently shorter than these targets then please take care and build up to 90 minutes and longer over a period of time – there is no need to jump straight to 90 minutes and more.

There's some good news for fast-twitch runners (see Mistake #1), because you have fewer slow-twitch fibres you exhaust them sooner than slow-twitch runners, as a result you may well find that 13 miles or 90 minutes is quite enough. Slow-twitch runners should look to go longer.

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Mistake #7 Steady Runs too fast

This is an incredibly common problem among recreational runners, and I think it's largely because it's counter-intuitive. There's a tendency to think "I'm training to run faster, therefore I should run fast". I'm not talking about race pace training or speedwork here, but your everyday steady runs. Time on feet is much more important than rushing through a run. It's not helped by the fact that it is relatively easy to run faster than recommended and it can be fun to push hard! The problems lie in firstly, that you are thrashing your body more than necessary which means that longer recoveries are needed. Secondly you may even be engaging the wrong energy systems. But perhaps the biggest issue is that over time it may sap your enjoyment of running. If every run is seen as a chore then eventually you will feel less and less like doing it.

You are almost certainly running too fast on steady runs if a) you can't hold a conversation and b) the pace is faster than 90 seconds a mile slower than your 10k pace. In other words if your 10k pace is 6 minute miling then you are running too fast if you are breaking 7:30 miling. The recommended pace is 1:30 to 2:00 a mile slower than 10k pace. If you haven't run a 10k then you will need to estimate that pace.

If you are not quite ready to believe me, here are what some very different coaches suggest:

10k Race Time 10k Pace Jack Daniels Bob Glover Runner's World
Minutes Mins/mile Steady Run
Steady Run
Steady(Long Run)
30:00 4:49 6:17 6:19 – 6:49 6:04 (6:53)
35:00 5:38 7:16 7:08 – 7:38 7:02 (7:58)
40:00 6:27 8:16 7:57 – 8:27 7:59 (9:02)
45:00 7:15 9:07 8:45 – 9:15 8:55 (10:04)
50:00 8:03 10:11 9:33 – 10:03 9:49 (11:04)
55:00 8:51 11:02 10:21 – 10:51 10:43(12:03)

But if you don’t believe the coaches how about some real life examples:

Jack Daniels' steady pace works out at between 1.25 and 1.3 times 10k pace. Here is what just a few elite athletes run.

Athlete
10k PB
10k Pace/Mile Training/Mile Ratio
Haile Gebrselassie 26:22 4:14.5 6:15 1.47
Mo Farah 26:46 4:18.4 5:30 – 5:45 1.28
Dave Moorcroft 28:09 4:31 5:30 - 6:00 1.21 - 1.32

It's interesting that Haile likes to run even slower while Dave Moorcroft who is very much a speed based runner runs slightly faster than Jack Daniels recommends.

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with having the odd faster run if you're feeling good - just try not to make a habit of it - and make sure your next steady run is just that! And just for the record, it is possible to do steady runs too slowly – but believe me, it’s a much less common problem.

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Mistake #8 Insufficient Pace Training

If training was a trifle, steady runs would form the sponge base, pace training the custard and speedwork the cream and cherry on top. After steady running, pace training is the next most important component in our training trifle!

By pace training, I mean training at race pace and slightly faster than race pace. Pace training is essential because it teaches the body to handle the specific demands of the event you are training for. Your steady runs will have trained the body's slow-twitch muscles and endurance capacity, while your speedwork should have trained your fast-twitch muscles. Psychologically, you should have learned that you can run further than race distance and faster than race pace. Pace training now teaches you to handle race pace itself. Ideally this training will be conducted at just a smidge faster than your current race pace or even at target race pace. The types of training session used in this zone will either be long repetitions such as 5 x 1000m or tempo runs – runs at race pace over distances shorter than race distance: for example 2 miles for 5k / 4 miles for 10k or 8 miles for the Half Marathon.

Make pace training a regular part of your training. One session every week to 10 days is a good guideline.

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Mistake #9 Insufficient Speedwork

By speedwork I am talking about training faster than 5k pace – from mile pace to flat out sprinting. Many road runners avoid speed sessions believing that they have little or no relevance to distance running and risk injury. Failure to do any speedwork is to ignore your fast twitch fibres and it is just plain crazy to leave a valuable resource untrained.

Even as a distance runner, your fast-twitch muscles still get called into play. They provide a valuable top-up resource to your slow-twitch muscles and are used when accelerating to overtake another runner, tackling hills and in that all important final kick! Even if training them only boosts your performance by 1 percent that would still see a near 30 second improvement for a 50 minute 10k runner!

If that's not enough, there are two other very good reasons for doing speedwork:

First, knowing that you can run actually run faster than your current race pace. The difference between race pace and maximum speed is something I like to call your speed-reserve. And, as far as I'm concerned, the more speed you have in reserve the better!

A second major reason for performing speedwork is that it teaches your body how to run fast. Your body needs to learn how to both recruit and control the muscles needed to run at speed. This is a skill that needs teaching. Running fast tends to encourage better running form. For example it's almost impossible to sprint properly utilising a heel strike or over-striding Learning these skills has a benefit that carries through to all your running.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on the benefits of maximum pace speedwork. Research into HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) has also demonstrated its aerobic training benefits – in other words you won't lose all those hard earned endurance gains by doing the occasional speed session!

So, how much of this faster training do you need to do? A recommended spread of training is 75% at steady run pace, 15% at race-pace and 10% speedwork. Working in percentages like that is fine if you are doing 10 sessions or more a week – but for the rest of us a more pragmatic approach is needed where the majority of the sessions are still steady runs! Here's a table that might help – individual circumstances will mean tweaking the spread of sessions! Bear in mind that races count as race-pace sessions.


Training Sessions Per Week

3 4 5 6 10
Long Run 1 1 1 1 1
Steady Runs 1 2 2 3 7
Race Pace 0 or 1 0 or 1 1 1 1
Speedwork 0 or 1 0 or 1 0 or 1 1 1

Working on a two-week basis allows more flexibility


Training Sessions Per Fortnight

6 8 10 12 20
Long Run 2 2 2 2 2
Steady Runs 2 4 5 7 14
Race Pace 0 or 1 1 2 2 2
Speedwork 0 or 1 1 1 1 2

There are many different types of speed session ranging from 400m intervals at mile pace to max speed sessions over 60m 6 x 60m full recovery. Fartlek and hill sprints also fall into this training category. A good starting point is to participate in the club sessions which include hill sprints, reps and relay work. If you want a more structured and individual approach it would be best to speak to one of us coaches.

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Mistake #10 Too little running

There are no short cuts to becoming a good distance runner. Training twice a day, seven days a week, may not be necessary, but a higher volume of training will tend to be more effective than a lower volume. Running economy and efficiency are only developed by very regular running. It is also no coincidence that the golden era of British distance running occurred at a time when runners trained much harder than they do today But, a higher volume of training should only be undertaken when necessary. If your race times are improving on the amount you currently run then there is no need for you to run more. But if your performances stagnate then increasing the volume of your training should certainly be a go to tool in your tool box.

As a beginner, you may well get away with 3 runs a week for a weekly total of 20 miles or more. A very good and experienced club runner may be running 6 times or more a week and covering 50 - 60 miles in that time. I don’t think it especially matters whether you see yourself as a 5k, 10k or Half marathon runner. All distances runners need a good regular volume of running.

The following table shows what a variety of coaches have recommended (or quoted as examples) of training volumes for “good” 10k runners. It is not suggested that you follow these recommendations. But they should give food for thought!


10k Runner – Weekly Training Milage
Coach Category – if specified Miles Per Week
Bob Glover (U.S) Advanced Competitor 30-50
Jack Daniels (U.S) Blue Advanced Plan 40 – 52
Harry Wilson (Ovett’s coach)
90 (at peak)
Peter Coe (Seb’s coach) Long Distance (10k) 80 – 95
Jeff Galloway (U.S) Sample Training Plan 75 - 80
John Humphreys (Senior Coach 1980s)
85 – 120
Lydiard General up to 100

One of Britain’s greatest ever distance runners, David Moorcroft (5k World Record 1990), would run, at peak, over 90 miles a week and that's as a 5k runner.

It's no surprise that Whippets who have followed  “Marathon Training plans” have often found their 10k times improve! Quantity of running does matter.

If you are looking to increase your volume of training, then do so cautiously. A good tip is to increase weekly distance by no more than 10% - but you may be able to get away with higher increases, You will see later, that I am keen on fairly short training periods of around 8 - 12 weeks. Over the course of a single training period you should perhaps look to only increase your weekly milage by around 5 miles on a previous maximum – and only then if truly necessary. If you have 4 training periods a year and in each one your weekly milage increased by 5 miles, by the end of the year your weekly milage will have increased by a very significant 20 miles.

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Mistake #11 Over-racing

Once upon a time distance races were less frequent, often far away and nearly all races had an entry fee. In those days it was somewhat harder to over-race. These days road races can be found on most weekends within a reasonable distance, and the advent of free “Park Runs” has made regular racing a much cheaper venture. So, that should be good news, shouldn’t it? The answer is a resounding yes – but only if the ready availability of races is used wisely.

Racing should be a maximum effort. It should challenge you mentally and physically. There is an oft quoted maxim that says that racing takes out of the bank while training puts into the bank. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that view, over-frequent racing will place a mental and physical toll on the body.

To be effective, race efforts should be a contract between the mind and the body. They should happen at a time when your body and mind are both ready for the challenge. I’m a believer in races being of two distinct types  – training races and goal or target races. Training races are those you schedule in the lead up to a target race and have a training/learning purpose. Training races may be over distances other than your target race and may be used to try out new tactics or practice aspects of pacing and racing. Training races may even take place in the middle of heavy training. The goals of the two types of racing maybe different but all races are only undertaken for good reason.

Racing should never become commonplace – something you do just because it’s a Saturday/Sunday! To do so is to lessen the importance of races and weaken the mental aspect. All races should be seen as "special" and never just a run. Too much racing can also lead to the same problems as over-training.

So how much is too much. Racing twice a month throughout the year, while possibly sustainable, is verging on over-racing. Much more reasonable would be 16 – 20 races a year with periods of non-racing. Let’s say you undertake four 12 week training periods during a year, and each period features one target race preceded by 3 training races. By the end of the year you will have undertaken a very reasonable 16 races – and all of them important!

As an aside, it's unfortunate that the parkrun organisation celebrates runners completing 50, 100 parkruns etc. To a large extent I guess they do this because they are targeting non-club runners who they see as perhaps just using them as runs, in which case it's good to encourage people to do plenty of running. I'm sorry, but as soon as you record times and finishing positions you've got a race. Celebrating someone for completing 200 runs is fine, but for completing 200 races in just a few years – that's ridiculous. The reason UKA insists on calling them runs and not races is because if they called them races the organisers would have to abide by the full set of UKA race standards and rules! Personally, I treat them like any other race and only do one if truly racing. If I just want to go for a run, I put my jogging boots on and step out of the front door.

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Mistake #12 Poor race preparation

Training the body to be in the right physical shape is all well and good – but there’s also a need to get the body to the start line of a race in good shape to race. After a heavy or long period of training the body needs to be suitably rested if it is to give its best in a race. The amount of rest needed varies by individual and will depend on the training being undertaken. There may be times when a lessening of training may be all that’s needed – but for most runners a day or so of no running is best. For marathon runners, a tapering period may be as long as two or three weeks. For shorter distances there may still be a lessening of training over one or two weeks before key races.

Along with rest, the body needs to be properly fuelled for a race. Water is just as important as food. If food is the petrol in our car, then water is the oil. Without it, your engine will eventually overheat and seize up! For most road races there’s enough spare food stored in the body to allow you to race on empty – but you can’t take that approach with water. Too many runners fail to drink enough water before the start of a race. Water takes around 20 minutes to reach the places it is needed, if you leave drinking until a water stop it’s often too late! Ensuring proper hydration is something that starts the night before a race. If your pee is clear several hours before a race then you are properly hydrated. If it is closer to yellow/brown then you are almost certainly dehydrated. At the very least ensure that you get a good drink of water at least 20 minutes before the start.

Except for marathons, food consumption is more about ensuring that you feel comfortable to race. What you eat before a race, and when, are decisions each individual needs to make. But you should not experiment with meals before a key race. Experiment with pre-race meals – what and when - before training sessions or training races, Having found out what works for you stick to it!

Finally, you need to get your racing head on. Nerves and awful nagging doubts are all part of racing and should be expected, but despite those agonies there still needs to be a desire to race! Good racers will know how to get into the right head space at the right time. There is a need to be aware of a coming challenge, its importance, the goals to aim for and the tactics to be used. At the same time there is a need to avoid over obsessing. The period immediately before a race is incredibly important – and that's when there's a need to enter the zone – where only the race matters. While a little light banter can be a good relaxant be careful not to lose concentration. Failing to keep in your own zone can expose you to the negative vibes of others and risk stirring up doubts and fears. If you do mix with other people, try to hang around positive runners and avoid negative people like the plague!

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Mistake #13 Failing to properly warm  up before races

This particularly mistake is one that's probably more common among runners who have never raced on the running track. That’s not to say that all ex track runners warm up properly or that all non track runners fail to warm up properly. However, many road runners seem to think that either there’s no need to warm up – or that a mile or two spent warming up is a mile or two too much running!

The purpose of the warm up is to ensure that the body is in a fully operational condition right from the start of a race. Most runners know that the first ten to fifteen minutes of even a steady run can seem quite hard. This is the period in which the cardiovascular and aerobic system is getting up to speed and adjusting to the demand placed upon it. The aerobic system lags behind the anaerobic at this stage. Placing the demands of a race on a non-warmed up body will force the body to use more anaerobic energy flooding the muscles with waste products from the word go. Furthermore, the start of the race will seem harder than it should. This mental shock may well be all that it takes to mentally throw you off pursuing your race goals!

A good warm up will involve an easy jog of 15-20 minutes or more, perhaps some stretching (if it makes you feel better – but don't get cold!) then some "strides" – accelerations over 50-60m at race pace. Some runners prefer a slightly faster warm up run – but, unless you know what works for you, it's best to err on the side of caution. However, never do strides faster than race pace unless you know what you're doing as it can lead to you starting the race way too fast!

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Mistake #14 Starting too fast in a race

This mistake could easily be placed in a list of the top three worst mistakes runners make. The most disturbing aspect of which is that many runners seem to keep on making it – even when they’ve recognised that they do it!

There is nothing to be gained by starting at a non-sustainable pace. Energy is depleted quicker, the muscles are forced to work anaerobically sooner, and discomfort arrives quicker. And, in all likelihood, a negative mindset will ensue as other runners come past - making recovery from a fast start even harder. On the other side of the coin, a slower than planned start can usually easily be turned round if recognised in time. Plus, as you start to pass people there’s a definite positive vibe!

If you run with a watch there is usually no excuse for a fast start. However, if you don’t race with a watch then you need to become very good at recognising your breathing pattern in order to establish whether you are running at the right effort level.

To some extent this problem is associated with the lack of a proper warm up. Warm up properly and start cautiously!

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Mistake #15 Leaving stones unturned

The very best aren’t so just because of their genes  but because they leave no stone unturned in their journey to the top. You may not have the genes to reach the very, very top, but if you want to get the absolute best out of yourself then you should still seek to emulate the ultimate elite runners. If you don’t address every area there will still be that nagging little voice in your head saying “I wonder what I could have achieved if only I’d lost weight/gone for longer runs/raced properly......”

So what are the areas that need to be addressed? The right training and excellent race execution will take you a long way but the last few percent of performance will only be clawed out if attention is also given to:

Body weight – yes, I'm afraid that there comes a point where carrying those extra pounds doesn't make any sense. Each unnecessary pound is worth 2 around seconds a mile!

Diet and nutrition –Those no need to go nutty. But a good healthy diet that includes fresh fruit and vegetables is going to be better than one made up of processed food and takeaways!

Sleep and rest- Recognising the right time to rest is key to being a good runner. And partying before races is almost certainly a no-no.

Core strength and flexibility – distance runners don’t need to be power athletes or ballet dancers, but there is a lot to be gained from ensuring that you are fit in every area. How can it possibly be good to ever be able to say or think:  “I am weak and inflexible”? Strive to become fit in every sense of the word. Weight training, circuits, yoga and Pilates can all be good for your running.

Motivation and commitment – you’ve got to really understand and want the goal you have in mind and then you’ve got to make it happen. You can’t just “talk the talk” you really do have to “walk the walk”.

Attitude – runners can be selfish, self-centred and obsessive, but they can also have some bad attitudes! Okay, there may be a lot of truth in that sentence, but there is a world of difference between being focussed and being a complete diva! There are certain attitudes that an athlete needs to succeed, we have already looked at motivation, dedication and willingness to leave no stone unturned in the quest to be the best. To that needs to be added a willingness to be flexible and to learn from experiences both good and bad. Every race or training session, good or bad, should be looked on as an opportunity to learn something. It probably is true that you learn more from a bad experience – so bring the bad experiences on! What is truly awful is failing to learn obvious lessons and continuing to make the same mistakes race after race. We’ve all seen runners who get carried away at the start of a race and set off at a pace they are never going to be able to sustain – hopefully, we’ve all done it once or twice – it’s all part of learning the limits, but to keep on doing it, as some runners do, is bizarre and unpardonable.

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Mistake #16 Getting in a rut

If you keep on doing the same old things it's no surprise that you're going to keep on getting the same old results. And if you don't vary what you're up to then boredom can set in and eventually disenchantment with running. Having a plan that includes a variety of running will certainly help, and speedwork provides many options to vary your training. But if you do nothing else, vary the routes you run and even the direction you go round a route. It can also help to experiment with different distances or disciplines. Perhaps give cross country a go!

Changing race distance for a training period can be a great way of getting motivation back and you can even work on sorting out a weakness at the same time. If you are normally a 5k specialist but find your endurance is a bit lacking – train for a half marathon. If you're a marathon runner who lacks speed – train for a 5k!

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Mistake #17 Rigidly following plans

Training plans are more akin to guidelines than blueprints. They should certainly point your training in the right direction and ensure that you cover all the bases needed – but no plan can adequately take into account how your body is responding. Fatigue, illness and other commitments can all derail training plans. If there is a disruption to your plan then simply take a calm breath and think about the consequences of the disruption. You may just be able to pick up where you left off, but if the disruption is very bad then simply replan.

If you are following a plan, but find yourself getting more and more fatigued then you need to stop and check whether a rest is more important than rigidly following the plan. One or two missed training sessions is far better than a dose of over-training! But you do need to recognise the difference between normal training tiredness and health threatening fatigue! As a tip when training heavily record your waking pulse rate. If you start to feel fatigued and you wake one morning to find your resting pulse is elevated by more than 5 beats per minute then you may well be fatigued or sickening for something.

Illness and injury are two other good reasons to step away from a training plan. There's often no easy way to tell the difference between an inconvenient  niggle and an injury but if in doubt err on the die of caution. The same is true with illness, you can train with some colds but if in doubt have a rest. Never run with a virus or just after a virus. You can drive problems deep inside the body. I don't think I've been the same since I ran a 10 mile XC race before I'd fully recovered from flu.

There's a belief among coaches that, for many runners, a well timed illness or injury is a blessing in disguise as it can stop obsessive trainers from overtraining! Which is just another way of saying that there are time when a rest is far better than pushing the body even harder.

It's also worth remembering that running is supposed to be fun! Following a training plan to the best of your ability is great – but there may well come a point where it's best to put the plan to one side for a day and just run for fun.

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Mistake #18 Not hurting enough

If you're disappointed with a race time there are a number of questions you need to ask yourself such as:

Did I train properly?

Was I sufficiently rested?

Did I warm up correctly?

Did I start at the right pace?

But perhaps overriding all of these is the question, "Did I really hurt myself enough?" Running personal bests is hard and can be a downright painful exercise, but we are not born knowing how much pain we can endure! We have to learn how to hurt ourselves. We’re not necessarily talking about entering a whole new world of pain – but when it starts to hurt, rather than giving in to the pain you need to be ready to say “I can handle this” or even ask “can I handle even more pain?” Coach Jack Daniels goes as far as to say that when you first feel yourself slowing down you should first try speeding up – you might just be in a rut and moving at a pace your body doesn't like, if you’ve tried speeding up and it still goes pear shaped you haven’t really lost anything!

World class athletes do us no favours, here. They finish a race and just a few seconds later they look as right as rain. Believe me, they hurt just as much as you or I, it's just that their level of fitness is such that they recover tremendously quickly!

In case you've forgotten, or never known, here's a photos of an athlete I've coached showing what hurting in a race really looks like.


Richard Coe
Richard Coe 2nd Place British Masters 800m

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