The beauty of running as a sport or an exercise lies in its simplicity. Neither does it require any fancy equipment nor does it call for a special practice location. It can be done by anyone, anytime. However, do not let that simplicity make you undermine the importance of “running right.” Whether you are a beginner or an experienced marathoner, you should understand that even simple mistakes you make while running can have lasting negative effects on your body. Starting with the most basic and easily fixable mistakes, here are some common running mistakes to watch out for that could otherwise wreck your results.
1. Wrong Shoes
When you begin running, you may be persuaded to cut costs and buy just any sports shoe or even make do with your regular pair. Even experienced runners sometimes continue to use shoes that are well past their expiry in terms of the miles run. But not wearing the right shoes or not changing shoes after a period of time can lead to injuries, affect your running form, and weaken your feet.
The three main reasons you should invest in a good pair of running shoes are protection, support, and cushioning. Studies have shown that plantar fasciitis or the inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes, can be caused by wrong running shoes. Shoes that don’t have proper cushioning and support cannot absorb the shock of heel strike and can also increase injury rates in track and cross-country runners.1 2
Solution: Choose Shoes As Per The Terrain And Your Running Style
Visit a running speciality store, where your running style and foot type can be evaluated. Depending on where you run, how much you run, and your foot arch, choose the right shoes for running. Keep in mind your running style and the terrain you will be running on. Make sure the shoes are light and flexible and have enough cushioning to protect your feet during heavy, repeated strides on hard surfaces. Change the pair after every 300–400 miles. Or buy another pair and keep alternating.
2. Wrong Clothes Or Fabric
Pretty much like with the shoes, you may want to cut corners with the clothes you wear thinking anything comfy would do. But not wearing the right clothes while running not just affects your comfort but can also hamper your performance. You could end up with blisters or suffer from chafing if you wear the wrong outfit or fabric while you run.
Solution: Wear Nylon Or Technical Fabrics, Avoid Cotton
The right running attire must be one that is light, keeps away sweat, helps the body regulate its temperature, and provides overall comfort. Avoid cotton clothes and socks as they hold on to moisture and don’t let your body regulate temperature well. A study conducted among 35 long-distance runners found that socks made of 100 percent natural cotton fiber were associated with a greater number of blisters compared with acrylic socks.3
Seasoned runners often recommend clothes made from synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, or Lycra as they are designed to move moisture away from the skin and let the air flow smoothly into it. Thanks to the many “technical” fabrics specially designed for runners with options to suit different temperatures, it is now easier to make a choice.
3. Wrong Time To Run
While late afternoon and early evening are indeed the best times to run as the body is best prepared for exercise at these times, if you are used to running at a certain time of the day, stick to that. Also, if you have started running to treat depression, running in the morning might be more useful.
As a beginner, you may want to run in the morning and get it out of the way. But if you are not used to getting up early, you shouldn’t force yourself to run in the morning. Every person’s body is governed by a unique circadian rhythm. So exercising at a time when you are used to sleeping would affect your body temperature and blood pressure, making you more vulnerable to injuries.
Solution: Run In The Late Afternoon Or Early Evening
As a beginner, you could instead run in the late afternoon or early evening. Studies have found that late-afternoon runs are best in terms of endurance, reaction time, and strength. It is around this time that the ratio of testosterone and cortisol levels in the body is optimum for performance, with less cortisol than testosterone, which helps in fat burning.4
Even evenings are a good time to run as your body is warmed up and the temperature and energy levels are optimum for a good sprint. A study conducted on cyclists showed that increased core temperature in the evening ensures that the blood vessels are dilated, thereby ensuring a better supply of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and helping release more energy.5
For experienced runners, however, the time of the run does not matter as much.
4. Wrong Terrain
Some runners who are used to running on the treadmill get too ambitious too soon and head on to try their luck on pavements. What they do not pay attention to is the fact that pavements can be hard, unforgiving surfaces. This sudden switching of terrains can shock your muscles and joints and is an open invitation to injury.
Running on a slanted road increases the risk of injury because of gait asymmetry or the lack of balance in the style of running.6
Uneven surfaces are also not the best for runners. A study of 1,680 participants found that 33 percent could attribute their injuries to running on surfaces that weren’t smooth and even.7
Solution: Start With Grass, Then Move To Asphalt
Choose a low-impact surface like grass or a synthetic surface when you begin running. Slowly graduate to a hard surface like asphalt and then to concrete. Keep changing the surface to work different muscles.
5. Wrong Food
Do not try a new food on the day of a running event.
Not eating the right kind of food both before and after a run can affect your performance and recovery. Many studies have found that running without fueling your body with enough food can lead to exhaustion and faster burnout as the body eats into its protein reserves because of the absence of fats and carbs. So take care to eat the right food before you set out for a run.8 At the same time, not eating enough proteins after a run can slow down your recovery, while not eating carbs and fats can keep your energy levels down.
Solution: Eat Proteins And Simple Carbs
Avoid high-fiber food as eating them before running can cause gas or diarrhea. Also avoid fried food, caffeinated drinks, and spicy food as these may cause digestion problems if consumed right before a run. Instead, stock up on simple carbs and protein-rich food like hummus and carrot sticks, cashews, cereal, or whole wheat toast with peanut butter. Within 30 minutes of a run, eat carbs like wholewheat bread or pasta along with proteins like chicken or turkey and some nut butter.
6. Improper Hydration
Drinking too little water before or during a run or having too much can both affect your performance. Despite being one of the most crucial things needed for a good run, being hydrated is not given enough importance. Water is key to keeping your blood flowing easily to your organs. It transports oxygen to every organ in your body. Not having enough water in your system while you run will make your blood thicker and make it harder for your heart to pump it out to different parts of the body. Being dehydrated can even lead to near-fatal conditions like heat stroke, which is the most important cause of collapse during aerobic exercises like running, or even renal failure.9
Professional runners most often track and monitor their hydration status through their runs. According to a study of nearly 300 half-marathon runners, 70 percent reported having experienced one or more incidents in which they believed dehydration resulted in a major performance decrement, and 45 percent perceived that dehydration resulted in adverse health effects.10
However, drinking too much water in one go is also risky. Drinking more water than your kidneys can expel can cause your cells to swell and even lead to death.
Solution: Drink 5–12 Oz Water Every 15 Mins During A Marathon
As you are sweating and losing sodium from your body continuously, it is important to keep replenishing it with drinking liquid regularly. If you are running long distance, especially a marathon, drink about 5–12 oz water every 15 or 20 minutes during the run. Better still, have sports drinks that also keep your electrolyte levels balanced.
7. No Warm-Ups
This is one of the main mistakes that overzealous newbie runners make. They set out at a breakneck speed without caring to get their bodies ready for the run. Starting off too fast can be a recipe for disaster as it puts you at a high risk of pulling a muscle or tweaking a tendon, bone, or joint. A good warm-up regimen gives your body the chance to loosen up and energizes it by slowly increasing the heart rate. It then becomes easier for your body to get into the rhythm of running.
Solution: Warm Up With Stretching And Agility Drills
According to a 2012 study published in the BMC Medical Journal, “a practical neuromuscular warm-up strategy that includes stretching, strengthening, balance exercises, sports-specific agility drills and landing techniques can reduce lower extremity injury in athletes.” So, the next time you decide to go for a run, start out with a few butt kicks, high knees, lunges, and leg swings.11
8. No Cool Downs And Stretches
The act of cooling down your body after an intense run is as important as warming it up. After a strenuous physical activity like running, your heart rate is higher than normal and so is your body temperature. The blood vessels in your legs have expanded, causing increased blood flow to your legs and feet. Stopping abruptly at such a point could cause dizziness and, in extreme cases, even make you pass out.
This is where it becomes essential to cool down the body right way so that it returns to a resting state where blood circulation is restored to all vital organs along with healthy muscle functioning.
Solution: Slow Down Into A Jog Or A Walk
Dial your speed down while running and come to a gradual stop. Walking or jogging for the next 5 minutes can also lower your heart rate gradually. The American Heart Association advises runners to walk for 5 minutes post their run until their heart rate gets below 120 beats per minute. Following this up with strong stretches will help cool down your body faster. Stretching after a run can also help reduce lactic acid build-up, which is what leads to muscle cramps and stiffness.12
9. Wrong Foot Strike
Foot strike refers to how and which part of your foot touches the ground while running. There is a clear difference between the effect of heel striking, midfoot striking, and forefoot striking on your feet, legs, and body.
According to a Harvard University study, of 52 runners, 74 percent were found to have experienced a moderate or severe injury every year, but those who landed on their heel were found to have approximately twice the rate of repetitive stress injuries than those who landed on their forefoot.13
Solution: Avoid Heel Strike
From Chris McDougall’s Born To Run to numerous research papers, heel striking has been listed as a sign of bad running form. Most coaches and studies advice shifting to forefoot or midfoot strike to protect the feet and lower limbs from impact-related injuries.14
10. Wrong Body Form
Since it seems that running is an exercise that one can start without much preparation, a lot of people start running with health benefits in mind but without awareness about the correct running technique. Not just the heel strike, how you carry your upper body, your hips, and your hands also have bearing on your performance.
Solution: Correct Your Posture
- Look ahead when you run, leaning your body forward a little. This can help improve your balance and keep the weight on the midsection of your foot rather than the heel or front.
- You shouldn’t hear a heavy thudding sound when you run – this will jolt your body.
- Keep the hips stable and don’t waste momentum by swaying them from side to side – this will only slow you down.
- Your arms can be leveraged to push you forward. Bend them at a 90-degree angle, hands relaxed.
- Aim at regular rhythmic and deep breaths rather than shallow and quick ones. Try and breathe once for every two strides you take.
11. Not Breathing Properly
Irregular or bad breathing patterns while running can lead to an imbalance in the amount of oxygen in your body. This can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and sometimes even side-stitch, the stabbing pain you feel on lower edge of the ribcage during vigorous activity. Studies have found that improper breathing techniques can also slow you down and impair your overall performance while running.15
Solution: Practice Belly Breathing And Coordinate Your Foot Strike To It
The debate on the best way to breathe while running is still ongoing, with studies comparing nasal and oral breathing not showing conclusive results. However, a large number of experts today seem to have reached a consensus on the importance of belly or diaphragmatic breathing, which allows the lungs to take in more oxygen and expel more carbon dioxide.
After having mastered the right breathing technique, the next important thing is to achieve a breathing pattern or rhythm. For best results, try and coordinate your foot strike with inhalation and exhalation in an odd-even pattern so that you will land alternately on your right and left foot at the beginning of every exhalation. In this way, the impact of running will be spread out equally across both sides of the body and thus reduce injuries.
12. Doing Too Much Too Soon
Besides running, try lifting weights and doing squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Also do other strengthening exercises for muscles that running doesn’t use.
A lot of newbies get so enthusiastic about the idea of running that they run too much, too fast, all too soon. This causes overuse or stress injuries like shin splints and runner’s knee, and iliotibial band syndrome. You need to progress gradually so that the body gets enough time to adjust to this activity and recover. At the same time, just running and not doing any strength training can also raise your risk of injury by overworking weak muscles.
Solution: Go Slow To Run Fast
Take it slow. Increase your mileage in a slow but steady way, not going over 10% in a week. Don’t increase your speed and mileage at the same time. Don’t run every day. Take rest on alternate days. If you are back after a hiatus, start slow again.
13. Running With Injury
On most days, you can believe in the saying “there is no gain without pain,” but not while running. Running with severe injuries like a twisted ankle, runner’s knee, and back injuries will only worsen the condition, wreak havoc with your system, and lead to further injuries. The thumb rule here is, if it hurts, you are not doing it right.
Solution: Slow Down, Pause, And Stretch If It Hurts
As a runner, you will grow to identify the signs of pain your body gives you. When your legs feel heavy, you know that it could be due to lactic acid build-up. When your legs feel numb, you can point out that it’s a circulation problem. In such cases, it is best to stop and stretch, experiment running on different surfaces, check your shoes or shoelaces, or just slow down your pace and see if it makes a difference.
So starting from breathing to the food you eat, the time you run, and the clothes you wear, many factors determine if running is, indeed, doing your body more good than harm. Beware of the common mistakes and correct your style to achieve your best performance.
|↑1||Where runners go wrong. Harvard Gazette.|
|↑2||Warren, Barbara L. “Plantar fasciitis in runners.” Sports Medicine 10, no. 5 (1990): 338-345.|
|↑3||Herring, Kirk M., and Douglas H. Richie Jr. “Friction blisters and sock fiber composition. A double-blind study.” Journal of the American podiatric medical association 80, no. 2 (1990): 63-71.|
|↑4||Hloogeveen, A. R., and M. L. Zonderland. “Relationships between testosterone, cortisol and performance in professional cyclists.” International journal of sports medicine 17, no. 06 (1996): 423-428.|
|↑5||Fernandes, Alan Lins, João Paulo Lopes-Silva, Rômulo Bertuzzi, Dulce Elena Casarini, Danielle Yuri Arita, David John Bishop, and Adriano Eduardo Lima-Silva. “Effect of time of day on performance, hormonal and metabolic response during a 1000-M cycling time trial.” PloS one 9, no. 10 (2014): e109954.|
|↑6||McGrath, Alicia C., and Caroline F. Finch. Running the race against injuries: A review of the literature. Monash University Accident Research Centre, 1996.|
|↑7||Walter, Stephen D., L. E. Hart, John M. McIntosh, and John R. Sutton. “The Ontario cohort study of running-related injuries.” Archives of internal medicine 149, no. 11 (1989): 2561-2564.|
|↑8||Blomstrand, Eva, and Bengt Saltin. “Effect of muscle glycogen on glucose, lactate and amino acid metabolism during exercise and recovery in human subjects.” The Journal of Physiology 514, no. 1 (1999): 293-302.|
|↑9||Noakes, Timothy David. “Dehydration During Exercise: What Are the Real Dangers?.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine 5, no. 2 (1995): 123-128.|
|↑10||O’Neal, Eric K., Jonathan E. Wingo, Mark T. Richardson, James D. Leeper, Yasmine H. Neggers, and Phil A. Bishop. “Half-marathon and full-marathon runners’ hydration practices and perceptions.” Journal of athletic training 46, no. 6 (2011): 581-591.|
|↑11||Herman, Katherine, Christian Barton, Peter Malliaras, and Dylan Morrissey. “The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review.” BMC medicine 10, no. 1 (2012): 1.|
|↑12||Warm Up, Cool Down. American Heart Association.|
|↑13||Daoud, Adam I., Gary J. Geissler, Frank Wang, Jason Saretsky, Yahya A. Daoud, and Daniel E. Lieberman. “Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 44, no. 7 (2012): 1325-34.|
|↑14||Lieberman, Daniel E., Madhusudhan Venkadesan, William A. Werbel, Adam I. Daoud, Susan D’Andrea, Irene S. Davis, Robert Ojiambo Mang’Eni, and Yannis Pitsiladis. “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners.” Nature 463, no. 7280 (2010): 531-535.|
|↑15||Willcockson, Michael A., and Cara M. Wall-Scheffler. “Reconsidering the effects of respiratory constraints on the optimal running speed.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 44, no. 7 (2012): 1344-50.|