Break Your Bad Running Habits

In 2001, Melisa Christian was a 3:30 marathoner plagued by stomach cramps and frequent porta-potty stops. But she never sought a doctor's help. "I thought it was either a normal part of training or race-day anxiety," says the 31-year-old Dallas dentist. Three years later, Christian was diagnosed with food intolerances. After she eliminated wheat and dairy from her diet, her symptoms vanished. In November, she ran a 2:41:57 personal best in New York City. "I no longer have the mindset that because I'm a runner I can't benefit from a checkup," she says.

Running makes us fit, not invincible. When we neglect our bodies' basic needs, we can't go as far or, as Christian discovered, as fast. Breaking your bad habits with these easy fixes will make you a better runner, not to mention a happier, healthier person.

BAD HABIT: You Are Your Own Medic

We runners are often hyperaware of our bodies, and when something's "off," we're quick to self-diagnose and treat. We'll ice a tight hamstring, pop ibuprofen, and hobble through lingering pain. Big mistake, says Lewis G. Maharam, M.D., medical director of the New York Road Runners and Team in Training. "Minor injuries could turn into serious issues like muscle tears or stress fractures."

BREAK IT:

When you have a nagging ache or pain, the sooner you see a doctor—preferably a sports-medicine specialist—the faster you'll be back on track. An expert who recognizes that you're an overpronator, for example, could offer better insights on treating your iliotibial band syndrome. If you've been sluggish on runs, schedule a checkup. Asthma, a heart murmur, high blood pressure, or anemia can sap energy levels. Ask your doc to test your blood's iron stores.

"Serum ferritin, a protein responsible for iron storage, can become depleted, which is associated with slower recovery and declining performances," says Dr. Maharam.

More: Recovery Tips for Runners

BAD HABIT: You Never Stretch

It's hard to squeeze in runs some days, never mind stretching. But tight muscles can contribute to shinsplints, plantar fasciitis, and muscle pulls, which could sideline you for weeks. Improved flexibility also shortens recovery time; looser muscles are more receptive to glycogen replacement, which accelerates healing, says Skip Stolley, director of VS Athletics Track Club in Santa Monica, California.

BREAK IT:

Your muscles get the most benefit from stretching postrun. Ideally, you'd tack on a 15-minute flexibility routine to your workout. No time? Drop a six-miler to a five-miler and use those leftover minutes to hit your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

"You're not hurting your workout—you're enhancing it," says Stolley. "The benefits of stretching will do your body more good than could be done by running that mile."

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