The 10 Dumbest Things Smart Runners Do

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Smart runners don't come back from an injury too soon, compare themselves to others, not get enough rest, not cross train, and more. The 10 Dumbest Things Smart Runners Do

You consider yourself a fairly smart person. You hold down a job. You did okay in school. You know the answer to Final Jeopardy at least a couple times a week.

So why do you keep doing dumb things when it comes to running?

Don’t feel ashamed. The fact is, we all do it. Whether you’ve been running for a week or a decade, you have probably picked up sloppy habits that can wreak havoc with your results.

It’s not the obvious stuff. Most runners are pretty good about hydration, doing their long runs and getting new shoes every 400 to 500 miles.

The “dumb stuff” is more subtle. It’s mistakes you make without even realizing the impact they can have on your running.

Here’s the good news—most of these mistakes are easy to fix. Once you recognize the behavior, you can modify it so you stop sabotaging your runs, wittingly or not.

Mistake 1: Bumping Up Your Miles Too Quickly

This is a mistake beginners are especially prone to. You slightly increase the distance of your long run, you feel terrific, and the next time out you aim too high. That may mean going from 1 to 2 miles as a newbie or from 10 to 15 for experts. The general rule of thumb is to bump up mileage by 10 percent per week. So that means much, much, much smaller increases.

Why follow this rule? Well, as with a lot of rules on this list, it prevents injury. You don’t want to overstress your body.

Mistake 2: Coming Back From an Injury Too Early

You have been sidelined for weeks, and your goal race is coming up. Do you a) gingerly test your aching ankle on a jaunt around the block or b) go out and complete that 10-mile run come hell or high water? Unfortunately, many runners would choose b, which is why so many of us have long-lasting injuries.

You can’t get better without rest. Stop worrying that you will lose all your fitness. You may, but it’s not the end of the world.

Mistake 3: Not Getting Enough Sleep

If you get less than seven hours of shut-eye per night, you are only harming yourself. Put down that book/tablet/work and hit the hay. You need sleep to heal the microtears that occur in your body’s muscle after every run, and though you may not see the correlation between sleep and performance, you can feel it.

Mistake 4: Competing With Someone Other Than Yourself

When you hear a friend completed a 5K in a time 2 minutes faster than your PR, do you suddenly have the itch to run faster? Good. Do you suddenly start putting yourself down, feeling teary-eyed and going on a crash diet? We need to talk.

You can never win when you compare yourself to someone else. Another person will always be faster, stronger, you-name-it-er. But keep in mind that to someone else, you’re the faster one. Concentrate on your own PRs and stop worrying about how other people finish.

Mistake 5: Taking Advice From Some Random Blogger

I love running blogs. I enjoy reading about other people’s races and accomplishments. I sometimes send them a high-five on Twitter. But unless I know they are a certified coach, I do not use them for advice.

Running bloggers (the ones who do it for a living and have huge followings) don’t always model smart behavior. A few I follow race too often—i.e., multiple marathons in a month. Others barely train and miraculously finish a race. This can be inspiring to read about, but it’s not smart advice to emulate, unless you enjoy getting injured.

Mistake 6: Racing Too Much or Too Little

Going to either extreme can actually be harmful. If you race too much, you risk getting burnt out. If you never race, you may get bored because you never push yourself. Try to find a happy medium.

Mistake 7: Not Following a Training Plan

If you are the type of runner who runs because they love it, good for you—it’s a superb mental release and a wonderful way to stay in shape. But many runners run because they like to race. Unfortunately, many of them wing it in the lead-up to their races, and then they’re surprised when they don’t do well.

I’ve spoken with runners who lamented that they hadn’t run over five miles in a training cycle, while training for a half marathon. Unless you are blessed with incredible genes, you have to put in the time in training or you won’t get the result you want. It’s really that simple.

Mistake 8: Not Crosstraining

I’d wager 95 percent of runners make this mistake, based on observation, anecdotal evidence and the eye rolls I get from my running friends when I mention my recent jaunt into strength training. All joking aside, you are doing your body a disservice if you run and don’t do anything else. Your muscles won’t develop equally, and you can get weak glutes and core, which help stabilize and push you forward on a run.

Whether it’s yoga, biking or, yes, hitting the weights, make sure you do something else so you don’t get injured.

Mistake 9: Never Doing Easy Runs

Easy runs should be your bread and butter. While speed sessions certainly give you a sense of accomplishment, your body can’t run hard every day. Even elites do so-called “junk miles” to round out their training—even though their junk pace is a mark you couldn’t hit in your wildest dreams for 1 mile.

Mistake 10: Going Out Too Slow in a Race

You’ve probably heard many a runner admonished for starting a race too fast. Well, I can tell you from experience that starting too slow doesn’t work, either, when you have a time goal in mind. If you start too slow, you will have too much left in the tank at the end and you may not meet your goal time. There’s no going back and changing it, either. If you feel fresh as a daisy at the end of the race, you’re doing it wrong.

What dumb mistakes do you make as a runner? I’d love to hear your answers!