Thursday, March 24, 2011

Five Mistakes (Even Great) Runners Make

On May 1st, I'll be running my third full marathon.  Heading into the peak of training season, I'm feeling great and am (knock on wood) injury-free. This Saturday, me and the rest of the Bob Roncker's group will tackle 17-18 miles. 

While I'm still learning new things every day about running, I've built a solid list of "to-do's" and "no-no's" over the years, some of which came from my own mistakes and some of which I've learned from taking note of what others have done wrong.  Here's a few of the most common mistakes that marathoners make:

1. Not using variables to your advantage.  I'll admit there's something sort of badass about a runner who can go out and run an 8-minute pace for 15 miles on no sleep, without eating, after a night of boozing it up.  But imagine how much better he could have run with all those variables working for him instead of against him?  I've often said that I need to use every tool in my arsenal in order to run well. I carb-load, drink lots of water, and get a good night of sleep.  That means that I'm not a lot of fun on Fridays before a big run, but it's absolutely worth it when I get out there on Saturday morning.

2.  Not knowing when to stop.  While injuries are going to happen to everyone, you actually do have some control over the severity and duration of an injury.  Since I'm not trying to win any marathons or significantly improve my time, it's easier for me to cut myself some slack when I feel a muscle strain coming on.  That's not to say I don't push myself past a lot of pain, and I certainly don't quit when the going gets tough.  But faster runners with more elusive goals tend to chase after them harder, and sometimes they don't have an accurate gauge of when to stop and rest, rather choosing to push on and become injured.

3. Improper Fueling.  We've all seen the hotshots who sprint through a water stop while just splashing a little water sort of near their mouths.  Runners who skip water stops during a race usually pay for it later.  You'll only know that you've under-hydrated when it's too late.  I've found out that it's way better to over-hydrate than to under-hydrate.  And, much like hydrating, the amount of food, gatorade and energy supplements you take in before and during a race work against you only if you've underdone it.  I try to stop for water at least once every half-hour, and take in at least 400 calories during my marathons.

4. Not cross-training. Like most fanatical runners, when it comes to exercise, I would rather be running on any given day than cross-training (except for Zumba, of course).  I don't enjoy lifting weights, but I know that it's an important way for me to prevent injuries and get stronger in order to have better runs.  Furthermore, mixing it up is key, because overuse of the same muscle groups can lead to injury.

5. Going out too fast.  When running in a group, I am often passed early on in the run by runners who I breeze past as they are walking in the last few miles.  Most training programs recommend starting out with a slow, comfortable easy pace.  If you are struggling at the end of the run, it usually means you went out too fast.  Slow and steady may not actually win the race, but it will make you feel a lot better during it.

Happy Running!

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