To the naked eye, running looks the most simple and convenient form of exercise; you can do it pretty much anywhere, it burns heaps of energy, and it’s relatively cheap. On the surface, these seem valid observations. Why then, do the good intentions of so many runners wither to a frustrated end?
The truth is that running isn’t simple. There’s a significant amount of psychology involved because every time you run, your mind essentially goes to war with your body. In addition, your body is a complicated machine and coaxing its best running is a complicated balancing act. The rest of this article highlights four subtle, but habitual mistakes runners make that can hamper their progress.
Not increasing distance and speed
Runners, like all humans striving for something, need results to keep them motivated; reaching a plateau will poison their persistence. It can be a stagnation of your weight loss, or your running endurance, or even the endorphin release you’ve started to crave. As soon as the effort you’re putting in seems fruitless, you’re in trouble. That lack of results is what squashes your shoes into the dark dusty corners of your cupboard.
To be sure, no training schedule survives uninterrupted. But to avoid a premature end, you need to introduce a plan that prioritises results. And the only way to ensure continuous progress is to incrementally increase the distance you’re running, or the speed you run at, or both. Pushing through the boundary you’d originally set yourself will be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon adapt. The epiphany that your body can do more than you thought is an intoxicating one, and one that will inject longevity into your training.
Accurately measuring exactly how much further and how much faster you’re running is critical for your training’s momentum. Wearable fitness devices exist for this purpose. Running enthusiasts fervently compare their minutes per mile, their resting heart rates, their VO2 max’s, and their calories burned. It’s the gradual improvement of these variables that keeps them running. You could do worse than to embrace these fitness trackers.
Ignoring your running psychology
When you don’t feel like running, it’s easy to conjure the necessary excuses. To avoid falling foul of these distractions, you need to plan your runs more thoughtfully. Don’t like running on traffic-ridden roads? Run in the early morning or on the trail. Getting bored on longer runs? Invite a friend to keep you distracted. Monotonous routes sapping your enthusiasm? Pull up a map and plan a new path.
Your psyche is also responsible for your performance once you’re mid-run. Defeatist thinking will work its way into your muscles, fatiguing them further. Isolate a reason for the run you’re about to tackle, before you set off; you’re unlikely to find one out on the road with your heart beating between your ears. Then lean on that thought for inspiration when those negative thoughts appear in your periphery.
Neglecting your recovery
Although it may feel like it, your job is not done when you finish your run. The benefits you reap from your training sessions are heavily dependent on how you handle your recovery. It’s particularly difficult to remain disciplined in this regard because of how tired you can feel after a hard run, but the rewards of a proper recovery program are too great to ignore.
If you’ve pushed yourself like you should have, your muscles have probably suffered microscopic tears. These tears are associated with general post-workout stiffness rather than injury. What you want is for those tears to heal quickly – the end result being stronger, more enduring muscle – so you can get back on the road sooner.
There are three ways to speed up your recovery. First, stretch. It increases circulation and realigns muscles, both facilitating faster recovery. Second, make sure you’re consistently eating a balanced diet. Your muscles need an intake of protein in particular to heal efficiently. Third, introduce some weight lifting into your training schedule. This will accelerate the strengthening of your muscles, making them more resistant to microscopic muscle tearing.
Avoiding competitive races
While you probably won’t be aiming for any podium finishes, a race is a race and the emotions they rouse can benefit your running. Whether it’s a fear of failure, an irrepressible competitive urge, or just to prove to yourself that you’re able, these ruminations can quieten the corruptive “You don’t really have to run today, do you?” voice. Put another way, you’ll make less excuses and run more.
In addition to that extra psychological fuel, entering these events will expose you to the many diverse cultures and people that enjoy running. You may get swept into a befitting group that’ll provide you with all the information, running partners, and motivation you need to keep you on the road, working toward your goals.
Tying in with a previous point, races can also be used to measure how fit you are. And because you’ll be boosted by a dose of race-day adrenalin (and a crowd if you’re lucky), it’ll be a truer reflection of your body’s capabilities when compared to that of a training run.
More than meets the eye
Running is, perhaps, simple in style but convoluted in character. To achieve anything of significance you must think about the mental and physical nuances that will have an impact your running. There is much you can do, both on and off the road, that can make running a pleasurable and satisfying form of exercise.
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