All runners have bad habits. Yet no matter how often these errors and vices throw us against the wall, slow us down, or leave us stranded on a PR plateau (that's "personal record" for you non-runners), we keep making them. Here's a look at the most common mistakes:
When I ran my first marathon, I brought with me two packets of energy gel. Two! Nutrition remains for most runners one of the more challenging obstacles to overcome. So many of us don't fuel properly for races, training runs, and even fewer take the time to actually study the science behind nutrition. There's no "exact" amount of nutrition to take in during a long race, but the general consensus is about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. How you get it is up to you, but one thing is certain: figure out a way to do it!
You Run Through the Pain
Even when doctors advise rest, we runners look for ways to skirt our projected recovery times, and trick ourselves into "quick" runs. The dangerous rationale usually follows as such, "well, it didn't hurt when I got out of the shower, and that's usually when it hurts, so I must be healed." The result? Advanced injuries that have us risking further bed rest. Better to follow the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) , and take as much time with the "rest" as needed.
You Disregard Your Surroundings
"Surroundings" usually refers to weather. It's risky enough to run on ice, in the dark, or on unbeaten paths. But an often ignored danger comes during winter, when muscles experience cold-weather tension, and are more susceptible to cramping and pain. Assuming you don't live in a desert, be cautious to take the time to properly warm up muscles. Another common mistake is incorporating off-road runs to vary your routine. Trail running employs different muscles from road racing, and presents more hidden hazards. If your body isn’t used to traversing alluvial ground, you could wind up face first in it.
You Didn’t Break in Your Shoes
Imagine you just bought a new pair of gloves. If they're at all different from what you're used to it's likely you're going to be all butterfingers at first. The same with sneakers. Variations in different brands will have a big impact on your feet, so adjust properly. All shoes are not created equal and cause different injuries such achilles tendontis and plantar fasciitis, depending on their function. If you're switching into the same brand, model, and size, 2-3 runs pre-race is fine. Same brand, new model: 5-6 runs. New brand: give yourself 10+ runs, or at least three weeks of training.
You Told the Truth About Your Finish Time
You pick your race; you sign up; you give the race directors your projected finish time. They place you in your appropriate corral. The gun fires. You start off… and immediately bob and weave around the wall of runners in front of you, realizing everyone from your corral lied about their time. Ideally, everyone should be more honest, but as this is unlikely, you should learn to adapt. And while the issue is typically exclusive to large-scale marathons, like the NYC Marathon, it's been known to happen with medium to large races as well. So that means you either give yourself a little generosity on your estimated finishing time (contributing to the overall societal decline) or create a race strategy focused on making up time in the later miles (essentially assuming everyone else lives a life of dishonesty). The moral choice is all yours.
[Pic via Flickr - Martineric]