I tried running lots of times before it finally stuck as a long term habit. I made all the biggest running mistakes in the book. Yes, running is just putting one foot in front of the other over and over again but it’s also nerve-racking and hard at the start. It’s a challenge, it’s difficult to keep going and it can take a long time before you even feel half good at it. I got it wrong so many times and gave up.
Here are my top 5 running mistakes to avoid when you’re a new runner. I’m passing them on in the hope that you can learn from them and nail running on your first go.
1. Going too fast.
The quickest way to put yourself off running is to run too quickly. You can’t keep going for long when you’re gasping for breath. It doesn’t matter if you already feel too slow, slow down a bit more. If you can talk when you’re running then you’ll be able to go for longer. It might feel like snail’s pace, it doesn’t matter. The first ten minutes or so of a run is known as ‘the toxic ten‘ and always feels pretty horrible so be prepared for that, take it easy, slow down and keep going. There is zero shame in walking. Mixing walking and running intervals is a really useful tool for all runners. It will help you to keep your breathing under control. Use your breath as your guide, don’t worry about pace on a sport’s watch at this point. Simply adjust your pace so you can talk a little while you move. There’s all the time in the world to work on pace in the months and years ahead.
2. Going too often.
It’s great when you’re motivated and keen and are making progress with how far or fast you can run but it’s also very easy to overdo it. There are a lot of changes going on in your body when you start to run. Injuries are common in new runners and most of the time it’s because people do too much too soon. It isn’t actually when you exercise that you get fitter, it’s when you rest. That’s when your body repairs the stresses that the running has caused, strengthens and adapts itself so it can take on a little more the next time you go. Allowing enough recovery time is vital for all runners but particularly when you’re making a change such as starting to run or increasing your pace or distance. How many rest days runners need is a very individual thing, it varies with age, genetics, medical conditions, running experience and a host of other factors but as a general guide, three times a week is plenty when you’re starting out. Don’t forget to factor in what else is going on in life. If you’re super busy or stressed with work or family then this will have an impact on your energy reserves. Running makes you tired (although it helps you sleep well), it can give your energy a boost but it’s a fine balance that takes a bit of getting used to. Take a day off whenever you need to.
3. Running with poor posture
Getting into the habit of running with good posture early on will reap rewards in your running. Your lungs can expand and bring in the maximum amount of oxygen, your muscles will be free to power you along, and your joints will be aligned reducing your risk of injury. Don’t get overwhelmed with technique small print just start by standing up tall when you run, lifting your head and putting your shoulders back. Most new runners run hunched over, sometimes reflecting their uncertainty about being out running. The simple actions of standing tall, lifting your head and squeezing your shoulder blades together will move a lot of things into the correct alignment. I wrote a post sharing other simple tips for good running posture, you can read it here. Start out with good posture but check in with yourself every now and then, especially when you get tired, to make sure you’re maintaining it.
4. Striding out too much
Running is much easier if you can run efficiently and use the energy saving mechanisms your body naturally has. You’ll hear lots of discussion over ‘foot-strike’, this is how your foot hits the ground and is split up depending on whether you land on your heel, mid foot or forefoot. I would avoid getting too caught up in this debate as a new runner. Like speed, there’s plenty of time to address this in years to come. What I would say however is that one simple thing can help you with your running technique as a beginner and that is to shorten your stride. Take smaller steps. When you try to reach your leg too far out in front of you you’re landing with your body balance way behind your foot and knee when you hit the ground. It’s easy to see how this isn’t going to be good for your knees or ankles. It also acts as a break, requiring more energy to get you up and over the top of that extended leg in order to move forwards. With a shorter stride you’ll land with your balance directly over your knee, ankle and foot. Your foot can then push nicely off the ground propelling you forwards. Worried the shorter strides will slow you down? Just take more of them – that’s called increasing your cadence.
5. Not owning it
How do you feel when you see another new runner out? Don’t you just want to encourage them and tell them to keep going? There’s room in the running community for all of us, no matter our speed, body shape or running experience. No one cares! If you run then you’re a runner so be proud of what you’re doing. Don’t underestimate the power that you being out running can have on others. It might be just the thing that gives them the confidence to start or to restart if they’ve lost their running mojo. Wherever you are on your running journey you can inspire others. In fact, those at the beginning can have the biggest impact on helping others to make a change. Own it!
There’s lots more advice for runners in my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. It’s packed with tips and information for every level of runner.