“Be Informed- Knowledge is Power” -Matt Bevin
In any type of activity there are techniques used to improve performance, and to prevent injury. Have you ever picked up a tip here and there that changed the game for you? I know for a fact that I have. As an endurance athlete, these tips I have received from others and learned by doing over the years have helped to shape my running style. Oftentimes mistakes can be corrected simply by hearing a solution, other times mistakes can become habitual. At any rate I want to provide some of my own insight into some common running mistakes you might not know you’re making and offer a solution that will ultimately improve your running game!
The Shoes You Choose To Wear Actually Matter, A Lot.
I have mentioned this point in my previous blog titled 4 Crucial Tips For Beginner Runners.. Where To Start? But in discussing common mistakes this point can’t be over looked. Being one of the most common causes of injury among runners I have to reiterate the importance of wearing quality footwear. Visiting a specialty running store is critical in being sure you are wearing the correct shoe for your foot type. Stores that specialize in running can observe your stride and body type to put you in the perfect shoe that will work well for you. Pronation is the inward roll of the foot during the normal running motion, while supination is the opposite, or the outward roll of the foot during a normal motion. Understanding which type you are is also crucial to fitting the right shoe, the benefits of wearing the correct shoe besides not wearing them out as fast can be vast, but injury prevention is key. Knee and hip injury as well as stress injury in the foot (stress fracture) are all tied to footwear. So the type of shoe you choose to run in is HIGHLY critical.
Hydration, How Much Do I Need On a Run?
No matter how tough you are, we all need to eat and drink to keep our bodies functioning properly. The general rule with hydrating is 20 ounces of fluid per hour. By not replacing the fluids in your body it cannot recover as fast thus not reaping the full benefit of the exercise. I recommend anyone doing a run that is over an hour in length to keep fluids with them to ensure they are staying hydrated. It is important to be drinking small amounts of fluids more frequently than a large amount all at once. As logical as this may seem, this is a common issue when you drink heavy amounts of fluids at once it is going to slosh around your stomach which in turn will make it hard to keep a pace during a run. So remember small amounts frequently and this will allow your body to absorb the fluids rather than just sit in your stomach.
Okay, So What about Nourishment?
The same is true with food especially when you’re going longer distances like half marathons or full marathons. You should be eating during the race, reason being that you are depleting sugars and you eventually will need to replace them. If not you will (in runners terms) hit the wall, which in reality what is happening is your body has run out of stored sugars called glycogen and your body is forced into the fat burn zone. Fat cannot be utilized as quickly as sugars which slow the body down. Like drinking, it is recommended to eat small amounts consistently. I like to set a timer for 20-30 minutes and be eating during my run to maintain the proper sugar balance. If you wait until you are already thirsty, it is too late. If you wait until you are already hungry, it is too late.
Longer Strides Equal Longer Distance Overall Right? Not Always.
This refers to over striding. People often think if you do these long, galloping strides that you are going to be more efficient in the long run, when really the opposite is the truth. As an Ultra and Trail Runner I can say that you want to stay as absolutely low to the ground as possible. Make sure that your stride length is sufficient of course, but it is more about the cadence or tempo of the stride. By focusing on steps per minute rather than the length of the step you will create consistency in your stride, lower the chance of injury, and as your time speeds up your cadence will stay the same and your stride will get longer. You conserve much more energy as each step won’t be so energy intensive due to leaping. This equals less time in the air and more focus on propelling yourself forward.
New Years Ambition.. I Can Do It All, But Should You?
I like to think of this category as the New Year’s ambition phase. I call it this because more so at the beginning of one’s running journey they attempt to do too much too soon. While setting goals and planning running schedules are key, over working your body and burning out is not. It IS okay to be at a beginner level and work through those entry level phases as we all have. Remember that you want to stress your body, relax your body, stress, and relax. The key word there being relax as you want proper time to let your body rebuild. Mental relaxation is also something to consider as doing too much too soon can burn you out mentally, it is so common to see people at the entry level begin a running program and do a month or two and quit after that amount of time. Remember, pace yourself and work your way up, it’ll be worth it.
Relaxing Your Muscles While Running Is a Benefit.
Naturally people are very tense in their upper body. For running we want to relax that upper body and imagine that our arms and our wrists are functioning as pendulums, and these pendulums swing forward at the shoulder joint. Your hands, neck, and face should all be relaxed. If you watch the top runners as they finish a race you can notice how relaxed their upper body is, and see many of the muscles in their face as they sort of flop around. That is relaxation. A common misconception can be that tensing up your arms and upper body allows you to draw more power as you run. Simply put it requires more energy to tense up those muscles which depletes your energy faster in a race scenario. You want to focus that energy into the lower body with minimal focus on the upper portion. As a cross country coach, a drill I like to do to help with the relaxation of the upper body is to pretend you are holding an egg in your hand, or a potato chip between your index and thumb and the goal is to not break it. This helps to create relaxation in the upper body that helps with energy conservation.
Keep the Pace, Finish the Race.
This mistake can be made in any event at any distance from a 5k to a 100 miler. General rule of thumb for this is called reverse splits, which means you run the second half of the race faster than you ran the first half. By that rule you have to pace yourself from the start in order to conserve enough energy to increase that pace during the second half. Ultimately you want to know what your pace is, ease into that pace and be realistic on race day to not stray away from what you know. I teach my cross country kids to let the “rabbits” go, let them take off while you find your pace and rhythm. The energy conservation or depletion will come full circle throughout the race. What happens when you start off too fast is your body goes into oxygen debt and when this happens your body will look for any source of energy it can use to keep your body functioning at that pace. This depletes your muscles and the energy required to finish strong. Often times when in this state, it becomes very hard to recover from it during the race. So remember, keep the pace, finish the race.
These are some of the common running mistakes you might not know you’re making. All of these tips are things that improved my running throughout my 35 year career. What are some common mistakes you have seen or things that you have found to fix some of the things I listed above?