Run smarter.

You may have decided to run faster, run farther, or run without injury this year. But, none of these things will happen unless you first resolve to run smarter. The first step in running smarter is to avoid repeating these three running mistakes. I guarantee that you’ve made some of them before. Probably within the last few days, if you’re being honest with yourself.

Running Mistake #1 – Too Fast on Easy Days

running mistakes, too fast

Easy, cowboy. Not every run is about proving your fitness to the passing cars. Easy runs should be done at a slower pace and lower intensity level. If you’re following a training plan that makes any sense at all, most of your runs fall into this category.

I used to run with a coworker named Jamie. We’d get together for a trail run after work every week or two. Jamie was a 20:30 5K guy who wanted to be 18:00 5K stud. His approach was to follow a P90x program and run a hard 3 miles, three times each week. After several months of this, he’d barely moved the needle on his race time and became frustrated. I suggested he might want to try some long slow runs, but he said that didn’t work for him. Being his friend, and not his coach, I decided to leave it at that. He stopped running soon after. What Jamie didn’t know is that magic happens during the easy runs.

magic happens during the easy runs... Click To Tweet

Easy runs strengthen your heart. Did you know that at 60% of your maximum heart rate (a very easy jog), your heart beats just as strong as it does at any effort level above 60%? Sure, it beats faster and works harder at higher levels. But, the force of the stroke remains the same. All kinds of miraculous adaptations occur within the body as you cruise along at an easy conversational pace. The small blood vessels that feed your muscles multiply and expand, muscle fibers become more efficient at converting fuel to energy, and your tenuous connective tissues become stronger and more resistant to injury.

These adaptations occur over time. And, because you’re running slower, you can run longer and spend more time building your running body. It may not feel like you’re doing much, but this is where the magic happens.

Running Mistake #2 – Too Slow on Hard Days

run too slow, running mistakes

Quality workouts or hard sessions require grit and determination. I get nervous before my tough workouts the same way that I get nervous before a race. I know it’s going to hurt. When distance runners say they enjoy speedwork, I always wonder if they’re doing it right. 

If you want to run faster, you’re going to have to embrace a little suffering. It’s scary to run outside your comfort zone, but that’s where personal records, glory, and success hide out. Tough practice sessions prepare us for tough races. But, for many runners, their ‘perception of effort‘ prevents them from pushing themselves and ultimately holds them back on race day.

The next time you run hill repeats, ask yourself what adjectives you’d use to describe the experience. If fun, exciting, and refreshing are on that list you’re probably doing it wrong. If you have a hard time focusing your thoughts, all your best word choices are vulgar, and you saw the grim reaper laughing at you on the second to last repetition, you’re probably doing it right.

When distance runners say they enjoy speedwork, I always wonder if they're doing it right. Click To Tweet

Running Mistake #3 – Skipping Rest Days

rest, sleep, running

The enemy is not the missed workout, it’s the missed rest day. Sleep well, eat well, and know when to take a day off. Injuries sneak up on you when you’re overconfident and bulletproof. Take comfort in your weekly progress and don’t ask for too much, too soon. It never ends well.

Last spring, I learned that lesson the hard way. A nagging case of plantar fasciitis grew increasingly worse day by day, even as I was mowing down some 5K PRs and crushing it on the local road race circuit. Several weeks later, I was hobbling out of the doctor’s office on crutches with a stress fracture at the base of my heel. I missed the entire summer and most of the fall racing season.

Listen to your body and when rest when you’re tired. It’s really quite simple. One or two days of rest will make a huge difference in terms of running performance and energy levels. Rest days are the antidote to injury.

The enemy is not the missed workout, it's the missed rest day. Click To Tweet

Making these running mistakes will lead to injury, plateaued performance, and burnout. It’s not a happy place for runners. This year, resolve to run smarter and avoid these pitfalls. You’ll discover a stronger, faster version of yourself by focusing your efforts and running with intent every time you lace up your shoes. Enjoy the miles!

3 thoughts on “3 Running Mistakes That Are Holding You Back

  1. The advice about taking slow, long runs every week is good, but I don’t know how to apply it in my situation where I already run very slow. If I ran any slower, I’d be walking. And when I run “fast” it’s only at a pace of about a 10 minute mile. I’m 43 and never ran or exercised at all before age 39. Currently I run between 3 and 4 miles, 3 to 4 times a week, with a longer run of about 6 miles on weekends, always at about a ten minute mile pace, no walking. I monitor my heart rate while I run (it always seems high to me, averaging about 163 on any given run). But whether taking “easy” long runs, or harder short runs, I never seem to get any faster or more agile. Man I feel old and decrepit most days.

    1. Matt, You’re doing quite well running 15-18 miles per week. Without knowing the full picture, the only suggestion that I’d make is to choose one 3-mile run each week and make it an interval session. This could be as simple as running fast between every other mailbox on a rural route, or every other block in the city. Maybe an easy first mile, intervals during the second mile, and an easy third mile. A taste of speed, even for short bursts, might increase your overall speed after a month or two. And, if not, enjoy the miles at 10-minute pace and feel good about being fit and healthy at age 43!

      1. Thanks for the advice I hadn’t thought about using subjective targets for intervals, such as running fast between mailboxes. I’m very numbers oriented so I tend to look at my watch a lot and set goals that way, which has its drawbacks. I’ll try what you suggest.

Thoughts?