Athletes often hear the saying, “Train ‘smarter’ not ‘harder’.” What does that mean? I’ve personally coached a lot of athletes and these are the most common mistakes I’ve seen then making:
Doing too many runs at the same pace
If you want to improve your running you should try to incorporate at least two hard days into your weekly training. On these days it’s business time. You need dial in the mind, focus and give your best. A good example of harder days could be a track / interval session, tempo, fartlek, hill sessions or structured workouts within your longer run. On these days you are breaking out of your comfort zone and this is when the magic happens.
However, that means that on the other days you should be taking it easier, allowing your body to recover and your muscles to regenerate. Pushing too hard on these easier days will leave you fatigued, stopping you from reaching your full potential. These maintenance-running days should make up around 75-80% of your weekly training.
If you do the same runs at the same pace, you will improve, but at a much slower rate than if you add structure to your training. Snap out of your comfort zone on harder days and take things easy on easier days. I wish I had known this in my earlier running years as my rate of improvement would have increased dramatically.
Neglecting Strength and Conditioning
As runners, we all love… running. This often means that we neglect crucial sessions that complement running, such as strength and conditioning.
Maintaining and building muscle is a key part of staying injury-free. If you only focus on running and neglect giving love to your weaker areas, it will likely be a matter of time before something ‘gives in’ and your training becomes unsustainable. Often it takes an injury for us to realise this, so don’t tempt fate and leave it too late.
I encourage you to do two weighted strength sessions a week. If you’re really tight for time, then try to do at least one run session with lots of body-weighted work in between. This means incorporating exercises like jump squats, jumping lunges and calf raises. Even better: trying doing these every day. As the old saying goes: ten squats a day keeps the injuries away.
Ramping up Speed, Quality Volume and Mileage too soon
Your body can take a while to adapt to improvements in your running - it doesn’t just happen overnight. On many occasions I’ve seen athletes start to follow structured training, see drastic improvements, then ramp things up too quickly eventually resulting in an injury.
If you do the same runs at the same pace, you will improve, but at a much slower rate than if you add structure to your training.
Getting more speed and running faster times is rewarding when you put the work in - and addictive too. A lot of us runners have addictive personality types, but we must remember to train smart and not get carried away. I wouldn’t recommend increasing the volume or quality of your training or mileage by more than 10% from the week before. This will give you the best chance of remaining productive and reduce your chances of getting injured.
Not practising with Nutrition and Gels during training
When it comes to race day, you never want to be trying something new. You also want to be able to train your stomach so that you know it can handle the nutrition and carbs you’re putting into it.
I used to make the mistake of thinking that if I ran a long distance on race day without taking a gel, it would improve the effects when I did take them. This is wrong. You actually see much better effects when you fuel your body consistently throughout a race or long session.
Getting obsessed with social media
We live in a day and age where a lot of the things we do - including running - ends up on social media. It’s easy to get brainwashed into going on Instagram or YouTube, seeing athletes running with an almost perfect form, and letting that demoralise you.
Instead of looking at it that way, own your style! We all have different run styles and form. In fact, very few of us are happy with the way we run. Don’t let that throw you off training hard and being the best you that you can possibly be.
It's also easy to fall into the trap of running your easy runs faster, because you’re concerned about what other runners might see on your Strava. You’re better off running with the mindset that the easier you do your recovery runs, the fresher and faster you will be on your harder days. Ultimately, this means that your training will be productive and you’re more likely to hit the goals you’ve set yourself!
I’m definitely guilty of making some of these mistakes myself. I hope by sharing this with you, you’re able to overcome and correct some of them yourself. Try to execute your training in a smart way that will provide you with the biggest benefits and smallest chance of getting injured.
Onwards and upwards,