Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The top 15 mistakes in running (written for UK Athletics 03/08).

Mistakes – unfortunately, we all make them; some of us more than most, but the morale of the story is always to gracefully accept and learn from them! So to give you the heads up on how to avoid injury, illness, embarrassment and lack of motivation, NICOLA BAMFORD reveals the top 15 common mistakes in running; with a few examples of her own foolish experiences...

1. Not going to the toilet before running – the cardinal sin of most athletes. Runners always tend to be in a rush and seem to forget that despite keeping our hydration levels up to an adequate pre-session state, our bladders sometimes just can’t cope with the continuous pounding and stress we put our bodies through!

Occasionally, however, no matter how diligently we prepare, we are forced to undergo untimely episodes and are left to ponder; “Oh crap, I really hope I don’t get a fine for this!” as I have done in the past.

A bi-product of this mistake comes in the traditional pre-race ‘call of nature’ (although, usually brought on by nerves) in any nearby bush; a form of ritual bonding and ‘becoming one with nature’, some might even say.

2. Not running to heart-rate – In my opinion, too many runners fail to rely on heart-rate monitors. Instead of seeing these gadgets as nothing more than a snazzy piece of technology, runners should open their eyes to the vast benefits to using them.

Taking one’s resting heart-rate upon waking is an ideal method of spotting any oncoming health or fatigue issues and using them in training ensures an athlete can never under or over-train.

The two down-sides to heart-rate monitors - from personal experience - are becoming obsessed with checking your watch and losing the H.R reading if the electrodes on the strap aren’t moist enough – either spit or a gel-based lubricant can eradicate this latter problem, however.

3. Thinking we own the road – probably the most unintelligent mistake of all lies within the fact that the majority of runners seem to be under the illusion that they ‘own the road’.

All too often, have I witnessed athletes taking ridiculous risks with cars – I for one, being guilty myself and experiencing one alarming bump – I guess the old adage is true; you just can’t stop a runner, especially when they’re against the clock! I bet a trip to A&E just might about do it, though!

4. Wearing old shoes – not necessarily the most obvious, but certainly the quickest and easiest way to cause yourself an injury.

Finance-permitting, it’s a good idea to possess a different pair of footwear for each terrain and speed of runs and sessions. Running in shoes past their use-by date is a quick-fire (although money-saving) method of putting extra pressure on the joints and muscles – I’ve previously trained in lifeless footwear; complaining of aching quads – hmm..I wonder why...?

5. Not enough rest or recovery runs– some of us are just too darn keen; so obsessed with running everything fast and clocking up the miles, that we forget or are reluctant to having a day off and easing back occasionally!

One rest day per week – at least! – is advisable, for this. Following our efforts, this will allow for physiological adaptations to take place; and of course, keep us free from illness, injury and fatigue. In addition, every other training day should be centred on ‘recovery running’ or light gym sessions.

There’s certainly no shame in occasionally surrendering defeat if you’re not feeling top notch or achy! Remember – every day you continue to train as normal through illness or injury, you’re merely prolonging the recovery process. Patience! – We’re humans not robots! (And nearly always come back stronger!).

6. Neglect core/conditioning work – failing to condition our bodies by working on our core almost guarantees that all the miles we plod and rep sessions we thrash out, are pointless.

Runners will not improve unless they have a strong torso and legs to carry them! Weights, circuits and core-stability sessions are often over-looked, yet vital components of any athlete who wants to run efficiently and injury-free. Ignore these at your peril!

7. Inadequate preparation and after-care –training sessions and races will almost certainly never go to plan unless runners realise (and practice) the importance of an adequate warm up (at least one-mile aerobic work, followed by drills) and cool-down (one-mile aerobic work, followed by stretching).

8. Poor diet – food is our fuel, so runners should therefore live by a balanced, high carbohydrate and protein diet and show particular attention to what they eat before and after physical exercise.

Eating at least 2-hourse before training is advisable, to allow time to digest; as is making use of the 2-hour post-training window, to fulfil one’s nutritional requirements.

Of course, athletes should allow themselves the occasional treat but – and I’ve learnt this the hard way! – should not over-eat because of the illusion that one’s heavy training volume is a great excuse to indulge – some runners, despite their training load, like myself, have annoyingly-low metabolisms! Oh, and depriving yourself all of your favourite treats for 6-months until the end of the season break, then completely ‘pigging out’ is not a good idea either! - trust me; I once gained half-a-stone in a week!

9. Allowing life to stress us out – for many runners, combining long working hours with a hectic family life can become so stressful and tiring that the previously joyful act of running transforms into an inconvenient chore.

To combat this, runners should ensure their running fits around their life; not vice versa and be patient – learn to relax physically and mentally, and realise that you don’t have to run 20-miles each day to improve or be a ‘proper runner’.

Remind yourself or your achievements and the things that matter to you most, such as family and friends. You can always train in your lunch break or better still, get the family involved, too; with some after-work/school activities.

10. Over-racing and over-zealousness – I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this one. To avoid fatigue and stagnation in improvement, it is advisable to race no more than two or three times per month (distance-depending).

Another factor to consider, especially when runners are in the ‘easing-down’ training period for an important race, is to control your enthusiasm at the start. Finding myself in the top 20 of the 2008 National cross-country for the first mile because, as I’d been saying for the entire week prior to the competition; “I feel brilliant – so fresh and ready!” I subsequently found myself fading into the early-thirties, due to my over-eagerness; a lesson well-learned there!

11. Vanity over practicality – many runners understandably think “why should we look scruffy just because we’re covered in spit and sweat?” - good point; but opting for sports apparel based entirely on its ‘attractiveness’ can have its flaws – finding yourself either too hot or cold during training, being two of them.

12. Losing the bigger picture – often in the grips of extreme tiredness and fanatically fixated on achieving their goals, runners tend to occasionally lose sight of what really matters most – enjoyment!

Learn to be patient with your running; take the rough with the smooth and be grateful for your health and successes.

13. Un-structured training - failing to plan is planning to fail! Runners should stick to a scheduled training plan (although these are never set in stone – you should always remember to take into account factors such as illness), to provide a strategy for them to focus on; a metaphorical map to indicate their route of progression.

14. Lack of goals – every runner needs goals; no matter quick or slow. Goal-setting is vital to keeping our motivation levels high, so decide three goals – short-term (to try to achieve during a fast-approaching week or month), medium-term (over the season ahead) and long –term (for your year or future aims).

15. Failing to log training – keeping a training diary is beneficial for all athletes, as it enables us to look back on what training had previously either helped or hindered us.

Log the amount of sleep you get each evening and your daily resting heart-rate and morning weight, in addition to keeping a record of all sessions (duration/intensity/times), weather conditions and psychological feelings and emotions.

· None of us are perfect, but we can at least try our best to be as near to perfect as possible!

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