Which bad training habits hurt running performance the most? We tracked down some of the top coaches across the country and asked them about the most common things runners do wrong.
The coaches had plenty to say, and some of the answers might surprise you.
Failing to Put in the Time and Effort Required1 of 11
Leslie Branham, a USATF Level I coach at Equipt Fitness in Saint Paul, Minnesota, trains beginner and intermediate-level runners for races from 5Ks to marathons. In other words, she sees a lot of rookie mistakes.
Chief among them is when runners fail to respect the amount of time and training required to get ready for a race. Branham tells her runners they should consider marathon training a part-time job. You wouldn't skip one or two shifts a week at work, so showing up to each training session should be equally as important.
Letting Emotions Dictate Your Decisions2 of 11
Branham also lamented the tendency of runners to let their emotions or other arbitrary factors determine their race goals.
An intense desire to run a race in a certain time doesn't make it a realistic goal. Instead, Branham says, training parameters need to dictate race goals. "Keep the long game in mind and spend more time building your base" she says. "Get there faster by going slower."
Comparing Yourself to Others3 of 11
Richard Hansen, DC, a sports medicine practitioner at High Altitude Spine & Sport and Olympic-level running coach in Boulder, Colorado, wants runners to stop comparing their workouts to those of other runners.
Apps like RunKeeper, Strava and Daily Mile make it easy to compare your training runs against others in your area, but the same competitive drive that can come in handy on race day can sabotage you during training. For one, it can be a real confidence killer to see other runners putting up better numbers than you. Even worse, it could also make you stray from your training plan, causing you to overtrain and set yourself up for injury.
Skipping Strength Training4 of 11
Another pet peeve? When runners avoid the gym.
"Most runners only want to run," Hansen says. "They don't get excited about strength training." For his athletes, strength training is a crucial part of a well-rounded training program but, he cautions, it needs to be the right kind of strength training.
Randomly choosing a strength workout because it happens to be popular at the moment probably won't help and could possibly even hurt your running performance. This is where working with a knowledgeable coach can pay big dividends.
Overtraining5 of 11
All of the coaches called out overtraining as a big no-no, but Dr. Darrin Bright, a running coach and medical director for Marathoners-in-Training in Columbus, Ohio, says it best: "Rest and recovery days are the key to boosting performance."
The sports medicine physician and medical director for the Columbus Marathon and Cap City Half Marathon explains that, while tough workouts are necessary to force the physiological adaptations that make you a better runner, those improvements don't happen during the workout—they happen on your rest day. He also bemoaned the widespread tendency of runners to go too fast or too far on their easy run days.
Not Listening to Your Body6 of 11
Another of Bright's least favorite things is when runners get overly focused on the training plan and fail to listen to their body's warning signals.
Just because you're supposed to hit certain mileage or pace targets doesn't mean the plan can't be adjusted. Staying too rigidly tied to a training plan and failing to make changes when your body isn't properly adapting to the training load is a recipe for disaster. Bright warns runners to pay attention to aches and pains because they can quickly turn into more serious injuries.
Making Excuses7 of 11
While it's important to listen to your body, some runners will look for any excuse to skip a workout.
As a USATF Level 1 Certified Running Coach in Florida, Beth Shaw is shocked at how often runners use bad weather as an excuse not to run. While she would never send an athlete out into dangerous heat or storm conditions, she advises runners to dress for the conditions, then suck it up and get the workout done.
Not Asking Questions8 of 11
There's a ton of information and advice in the online running community; some of it is good and some of it is complete garbage. A wise runner will approach every article, blog or training program with a bit of skepticism and see whether there's a body of credible research that backs up what the author has written.
Shaw stresses that it's important for runners to learn as much as they can about their sport, while taking a cautious approach to online information. Rather than change your diet or training program because of something you read, it's better to defer to an expert. Ask a certified running coach if the information you've read is accurate and if it would actually benefit you.
Snacking Before and After Every Run9 of 11
It's not surprising that Gale Bernhardt, co-author of "Fat Burning Machine: The 12-Week Diet," isn't a fan of overeating. Yet, the two-time Olympic coach and Level III coach for USA Triathlon says she sees it all the time.
For competitive athletes putting in hard or long workouts, pre-fueling and refueling strategies make sense on those days, but Bernhardt hates when she sees recreational runners eating before and after every run.
"Runners need to stop thinking in absolutes," she says. "Your nutrition decisions should actually depend more on what you did yesterday [than on the workout you just finished]." Bernhardt sees this as the main reason why most runners don't lose weight.
Training Harder Rather Than Smarter10 of 11
Another thing Bernhardt points out is the prevailing thought that runners need to do what she calls "torturous track workouts" in order to get faster.
She uses a couple of relatively short treadmill workouts to maintain and build speed in her athletes. While not exactly easy, these interval workouts are nowhere near as punishing as many speed workouts can be. According to Bernhardt, there's a place and time for gut-busting repeats on the track, but they shouldn't make up the bulk of your speed work.