Three Common Mistakes New Runners Make and How to Avoid Them

Starting to run for the first time or resuming after a long break can be difficult. Even experienced runners have questions: what running shoes should I buy? Why am I getting angry? Why can’t I run faster for longer?

The racing journey can be littered with lessons and trial and error. Some mistakes lead to injury, while others provide learning experiences. We asked coaches and medical experts about common running mistakes and what runners should do about them.

The Terrible Toos: Too much, too soon, too soon

Beginner runners often run too fast and struggle to keep up, coaches say. When Scott Peacock, director of training for the San Antonio Road Runners, started racing, he thought he had to approach every practice run as a race. Slowing down, Peacock learned, allowed his body to recover.

“I finally slowed down and figured out that there are specific days a week where you train for speed and other days are easy to run,” he said.

Tia Accetta, a running coach in Tucson, tells her clients they should “get exactly where they are.” Start small and make it easy to race before taking it to the next level.

Coaches recommend running the majority of races at a conversational pace. You should be able to have a conversation with another runner or even sing along to music, said Brenda Hodge, a running coach based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “You should always feel like you can run faster,” she said.

The pace can change depending on weather, altitude, hydration status and even hormones, Hodge added.

When building weekly mileage, Hodge said, the 10% rule can be a good guideline for ramping up. For example, if you run 10 total miles the first week, you can safely add 10% or 1 mile the following week, she said.

Pushing your body beyond what it can adapt to can lead to injury, said Michael Fredericson, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Stanford University.

To prevent injury, he recommends gradually increasing weekly mileage and doing exercises to strengthen core, hip and quadriceps muscles. “If I had to pick one exercise, squats are probably the best thing you can do,” said Fredericson, who is also the chief medical officer for Stanford’s cross country and track and field teams.

Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries too much, he said. People with shin splints will experience pain along the inside edge of their lower leg, which can turn into a stress fracture when “the pain becomes more focal,” he said.

Icing the legs, taking anti-inflammatory medications and stretching the muscles on the back of the leg help, Fredericson said. If it hurts to run on the road, work out using an elliptical trainer, swimming, or running in deep water.

What do you want to know about running? Ask at the Well+Being desk.

Choosing the wrong shoes and clothes

Wearing running shoes or appropriate clothing can make a difference.

Travisha Gunter started running about 10 years ago in the same sneakers she wore for runs and gym workouts. His feet hurt after running.

“They could have gone 1,000 miles, but because they were clean and smelled good, I thought they were still good,” said Gunter, running coach at Montgomery County Road Runners Club in Maryland. “You can’t use the same shoe for everything.”

Gunter, who trains runners at the back of the pack or slower-paced runners, recommends gearing up at a running shoe store. Feet can swell during runs and it’s best to buy shoes usually half a size larger, she said.

“If you feel comfortable on your foot and comfortable when running, this is a good shoe for you,” said Drew Wartenburg, a running coach based in Flagstaff, Arizona. “You don’t want anything too tight.”

Wearing inappropriate clothing can also make running uncomfortable. This can lead to skin irritation, which occurs when skin rubs against clothing.

Rubbing can cause itchy and open sores that can lead to infections, said Alexandra Bender, a dermatology resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center and an avid runner. Common areas include between the thighs, under the arms, nipples, under the bra band, or along the lining of shorts.

Friction, humidity and heat can make chafing worse, Bender said, especially in the summer. She recommends avoiding plain cotton and opting for lightweight, moisture-wicking and absorbent clothing. Cotton “doesn’t dry as quickly, which contributes to the moisture problem,” Bender said.

Apply Vaseline or Body Glide to areas where you are likely to get irritated before your shopping, she said.

A random race schedule

Consistency is the key to improvement. The number of runs per week depends on the individual and that person’s goals, but you should do enough to make it a habit, Wartenburg said.

“For someone starting or starting again after a long stretch, that probably means every other day to run or run,” he said. “The second week, if all goes well, most can safely transition to two days on, one day off.”

Running every week is also important. Some new runners will run a week and take a week off, and not pick up speed, Hodge said. Running regularly doesn’t mean running the same distance or doing the same workout every day, but stringing together weeks of solid training, she said.

Many running training programs require months of running, and patience is important for all runners, whether new or experienced.

“I try to remind runners, don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do,” Hodge said. “Focus on progress, not perfection.”

Know that it is normal to make mistakes. Wartenburg likes to tell new runners to remember how far they’ve come.

“It can be a really good reminder of progress,” he said. “Track your own journey. Keep a logbook so you can see how far you’ve come and compare yourself to yourself.

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