In every sport there is a clear difference between amateurs and professionals. Aside from talent and ability, the main difference is often how hard an athlete works. But with running, there is a difference between running harder and running smarter. The professional holds longevity sacred, and thus, does everything possible to be able to maintain the ability to train consistently without injury or burnout. Whether you're beginning your career in running or developing your fitness during off-season training, these are the three major errors you need to avoid making in your running training.
Don't Make Every Run a Hard Run
You only have 30 minutes after work, so you better get the most out of it, right? For many, this “go hard or go home” mentality means aiming to crush every run. If you’re not beating the pace from yesterday’s run, you’re not trying hard enough. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t work that way. The body gets faster from being stressed (i.e. running) and recovering from that stress (i.e. resting), repeating the stress (i.e. running again), and recovering again. If you are not recovered, you can’t get faster; you can only get more worn down. When the body is constantly in a worn down, depleted state, it will continually underperform, and will be at risk for injury. Contrary to popular belief, it’s what you do on your easy days that allows the body to get faster.
Recommendation: Take 3 days easy in between hard efforts to allow your body to recover. Incorporate some exercise that enhances recovery like yoga, swimming, or light cycling. It’s okay to run, but keep the runs shorter and the pace light (you should be able to have a full conversation while running). You should feel refreshed and energized before you crush that next workout.
Don't Only Pay Attention to Pace
The only time pace provides good feedback is when you’re training for a specific race time. For example, if you’re trying to break 3 hours in the marathon, then you’ll want to do some work at a 7:00 per mile pace. But (as mentioned in point #1), easy runs will be significantly slower than this in order to aid recovery. For runners that run without a specific training plan
, pace is an arbitrary measurement. External factors like stress at work or school, amount of sleep the night before, heat and humidity levels, and hydration all affect how fast that run will be. Professional runners don’t worry about the variation of pace in their easy days. Some days it will be faster, other days it will be slower. They worry about what they do on their hard days. They will run as slow as they need to in order to feel good enough to perform well in their next (planned) hard run.
Recommendation: Use a heart rate monitor. Unlike pace, which doesn’t always feel as hard as it is on the body, heart rate is an unbiased indication of the amount of work your body is doing. Aim to keep your heart rate under 160 on easy days, and under 150 during the next 24 hours after a hard workout.
Don’t Do Anything But Run
You’re a runner now, so you don’t need anything other than a pair of shoes and a path (or trail), right? Well running still requires single leg propulsion with each step and single leg stabilization upon landing. Many injuries are the result of a lack of strength and inability to stabilize. Professionals know that being a good runner means being a good athlete, and take time to strengthen their weaknesses.
Strength means durability, so don’t cancel your gym membership just yet.
Recommendation: Be sure to incorporate some strength training two to three days per week. Include single leg exercises like single leg squats, lunges, or single leg press, as well as core stabilization exercises like elbow plank and side plank in your strength workouts. Your arms do a lot to propel you forward, too, so don’t be afraid to incorporate upper body exercises like pushups, shoulder press, and rows. Strength imbalances and form inefficiencies will transfer to your running form, so bonus points if you can work with a personal trainer to ensure proper technique.