Top 10 Training Mistakes

By Sasha Pachev

Below is a list of the training mistakes I have collected from the training entries at the Fast Running Blog:

  • Doing anaerobic speed work without proper aerobic base conditioning. If you are running less than 8 miles a day and/or less than 6 days a week, your extra energy should go into increasing the daily mileage and the number of training days per week rather than speed work. If you feel you have to reduce your aerobic mileage on the speed day or the day after, this also shows that anaerobic speed work is not something you need at the time.
  • Randomly skipping training days for odd reasons. Do not do it. Active recovery is more effective than passive recovery even if you are very tired and sore. Sure, one missed day does not hurt, but it creates a precedent that will make you miss enough days to make a difference.
  • Making up for a skipped day with additional mileage or intensity. This catches your body by surprise and gives it a jolt that it may not be ready to take often resulting in an injury. Additionally, a habit of doing so makes it easier to rationalize skipping days thinking you can make up. You cannot, the train is gone. If you missed a day or more, come to grips with the setback and start the recovery. If you've missed too much, you may need to resume with a significantly lower mileage or intensity to avoid injury and/or overtraining.
  • Running longer in the long run than you have the fitness for. A long run as a rule should not exceed 3 times your regular daily mileage. Otherwise, the long run will likely beat you up beyond your ability to recover, and you will be wondering why you hit the wall so soon even though you've gone 20+ miles in the long run on a number of occasions. Increase your daily mileage before you increase your long run. If you can feel the effects of your Saturday long run Monday morning, you have gone too long.
  • Neglect for recovery. Many runners mistakingly believe that they get faster from training. Think about this for a moment. Are you faster before a hard 10 mile run, or immediately after? Of course, before. So what did the run do to you? It made you slower! When do you actually get faster then? During the times you do not run! What you do when you are not running is absolutely critical to your growth. You must get enough quality nutrition, as well as enough sleep. You must learn to control your emotions and deal with potentially stressful situations in a calm and graceful manner. If you allow yourself to experience any kind of emotional stress, it greatly reduces the effectiveness of your recovery window.
  • Failure to adjust the training volume and intensity in response to reduced recovery. Perfect recovery regime is difficult to achieve even for a professional runner, and practically impossible for somebody with a full-time job, family to take care of, community or church service, etc. You may have to work longer hours than you planned, a sick child may keep you awake in the middle of the night, or your boss may insult you in a particular way that just gets under your skin. Your recovery potential is reduced, and so must your training stress. You should first seek to reduce the intensity of the workout, and only then cut the mileage if you feel that was not enough.
  • Cutting a run short due to not feeling energetic at the start. When you first increase the training volume, you will often find yourself tired in the morning. If so, your body does need to relax and recover. However, active recovery is much better than passive recovery. You can continue to build your general aerobic fitness almost just the same while recovering from a harder workout a day earlier. Just run at a pace that feels right even though in may be much slower than you think you should be going, and cover the distance you originally planned to run. A lot of times it is not so much the fatigue of the body, as the inertia of the nervous system. When training harder, the nervous system often goes into a deeper rest mode, and takes longer to get activated. Some days, it takes me as long as 4 miles before I start feeling good in my runs.
  • Pushing the pace on the easy runs. There is no pace that is too slow for an easy aerobic building run. If your body wants to go slow, that is fine, do not force it to go fast. In fact, I often recommend finding a slower training partner for those runs, running with him, and making sure he stays conversational. If you start feeling feisty, maybe you should be doing a tempo run instead that day. Pick it up to the fastest pace you can hold while still in control, and try to hold it. One of the two things will happen after about 10 minutes of that - if you are truly ready for a tempo run, your body will tell you to keep going. If not, it will tell you to stop, and your pace will slow down to a true recovery pace for the rest of the run. You may also try doing 10-15 second strides in place of a tempo run.
  • Increasing the mileage or intensity too fast for your fitness. This is perhaps the most common cause of injuries. Your body can be trained to handle a lot of stress eventually through a gradual increase of the training load. However, any kind of a sudden stress is bad. How fast should the training load be increased, and how fast is too fast? The answer depends on your body a lot. There is a standard 10% rule, which is a good rule of thumb, but does not always apply. Forget the rule. Listen to your body instead. Generally, if you are venturing into the levels of training load you have never done before, or recently, you should be very cautious. In some cases, it may be a good idea to keep the load the same for months or even years. If you have trained at a certain training load recently, you can return to it a lot faster than the 10% rule would dictate. If your current load gives you soreness or makes you feel you are on the verge of injury, do not increase at all. If your current training makes you feel undertrained in every way - e.g an hour after the run you would have had no idea you've run just from the body signals and without the actual memory of having done it, you can increase it fairly fast. If you are going from sporadic training (2-3 days a week) to consistent (6 days a week) you can in most cases go ahead and nearly double your mileage by running the same daily volume with greater frequency. If that is too much, then cut the daily volume as appropriate, usually 20-30% cut will do. Similar principle if going from single runs to training twice a day - keep the first run the same, and add some easy jogging for the second run.
  • Using the popular heart rate guidelines as the primary guide to determine training intensity. Why can this be bad? Your heart rate monitor could be malfunctioning. Your maximum heart rate may be not what you think. Your anaerobic threshold percentage as well as the easy run threshold percentage may not be what the charts would recommend.  The air temperature and the humidity could vary affecting your heart rate. The primary guide of the training intensity should be the way you feel. For an easy run threshold, you should feel very comfortable carrying on a conversation (although for some people this is not a good guideline, they might be very fit but still will not pass this test even sitting down). For a tempo run, the thought of having to run like that for an hour should not scare you. Heart rate can still be used effectively, but the focus should be on the observation rather than guidance/pace decision making. Sometimes it is fun to play a game of keeping your heart rate below a certain limit while trying to run no slower than a certain pace. This game is good for easy run, and mild tempo runs. When running hard or racing, use your perception of effort as the primary guide and your heart rate only for observation/second opinion.

Other Articles in Running