November 1, 2019

Training tips for runners: Common running mistakes and how to avoid them

Here in Wisconsin, running is a favorite form of outdoor exercise for adults.

Jenny Kempf, a physical therapist at UW Sports Rehabilitation Clinic, says one reason it's so popular is because it's so accessible.

"Anyone can go and run. You just need a pair of shoes and a safe neighborhood, and you can do it anywhere for a very low cost," she said.

And the pinnacle achievement, for a lot of runners, is to complete a marathon. There are more than 30 full marathons scheduled around the state in 2019 alone.

At 26.2 miles, a marathon is no easy feat — even for experienced runners. But it's often the time and dedication it takes, Kempf said, that makes it such an attractive goal.

"It's a lifestyle change," she said. "But that's what makes it so much more enjoyable in the end. When you look back at how much time you dedicated, and you get to the event and you finish, it makes it all that much more enjoyable."

Tips to avoid common running injuries

Ready to sign up? Consider these pitfalls that frequently befall marathon runners, and some tips to avoid them.

Mistake No. 1: Not being mentally prepared

A marathon is long, arduous, and typically takes 4 hours or more to complete on the day of the race. But the starting line is not truly where it all begins – there's months of training that goes into every successfully completed marathon. Before you sign up, Kempf said, it's a good idea to assess your current ability so you have a realistic idea of how far you'll need to go.

"See how much you can run right now," she said. "Can you run a 5K? And then develop from there."

Mistake No. 2: Excluding your team

Your training is likely to affect every aspect of your life – what you eat, how much free time you have, and even what you think and talk about. Chances are, it'll affect the relationships in your life as well. So get your friends and family on board – their support can mean all the difference when it comes to achieving your goals.

"Weekends or days off tend to be when people do their long runs," Kempf said. "You'll need everyone in your life to be supportive."

Mistake No. 3: Neglecting the shoes

Kempf said that while running shoes should last anywhere from 300-500 miles, it's more important that they feel good.

"Choose shoes based on comfort and you're more than half-way there," she says. Have you been running in the same pair for awhile? Kempf said checking the bottoms for wear, and to see if they look about the same.

"Almost treat them like your car tires. If two little blocks are worn down to the base, you wouldn't drive on those," she said.

Mistake No. 4: Underestimating the likelihood of injury

Kempf said that as many as 80 percent of runners get injured annually, and knee pain is by far the most common physical complaint, followed by shin pain. She said the key to treatment is identifying which of three primary causes is behind it:

  1. Muscular/skeletal fault: An injury caused by a muscle that's too tight or too weak.

  2. Running error: Stress to your body, caused by the way you run.

  3. Training error: An injury that can happen if you're training to hard, or just overdoing it.

But while it may be discouraging and take several weeks to heal, an injury does not necessarily mean that marathon training needs to end.

"I try not to have anyone stop running unless they absolutely need to. I think it helps keep them motivated, and it helps us to determine whether they're getting better or not," she said.

She also recommends incorporating cycling or yoga into your marathon training, to reduce your odds of getting hurt.

"After you've run, after everything has tightened up, use some stretching or yoga to help loosen all that tissue back up," she said.

Mistake No. 5: Changing your routine

Whatever your training regimen, it's been working for you — so don't change it on race day.

"Stay consistent with what you've used in the past," Kempf said. "What you plan on doing on race day, practice it a couple of weeks ahead of time to make sure your timing, calories, and nutrition work. That way you can stay calm and be ready to go."

Mistake No. 6: Ending at the finish line

Kempf warns that once the thrill of crossing the finish line has passed, emptiness can creep in after a few hours or even weeks. She said the solution could be as simple as signing up for another, smaller race.

"There's often a feeling of 'What am I working towards?' " she said. "It's always nice to have something on the back burner — a smaller distance race like a 5K or a 10K."

But throughout the entire marathon journey — from training through race day and beyond — Kempf says it's important to have encouraging words for yourself.

"You're going to go through some good times and some bad times," she said. "And in those tough times, have a mantra to help keep you positive and moving forward. It can make the whole experience more positive and help you achieve your goal."