October 19, 2021

Five Common Mistakes That Lead To Running Injuries

Running is a high impact sport. Here are five things to avoid if you want to run injury-free and perform at your best.

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Running’s a high impact sport.

Almost all runners that have spent any significant length of time training have likely suffered some form of injury – mild or severe.

In fact, I read that up to 79% of people who run each year get injured. 

Bugger me! That’s a lot of people.

While some injuries are unavoidable, and we all have a different predisposition to injury, there are several things that runners commonly do to increase their risk of injury and sabotage their performance.

This article will identify each and recommend what you can do to avoid these costly mistakes.

1. Running Too Fast, Too Often

The intensities you train at throughout the week play an essential role in your development as a runner.

Get them right, and you’ll quickly progress while minimising your chances of injury. Get them wrong, and poor performance and injury will plague your running.

Over the past 13-years I have been a professional coach I have witnessed many thousands of lactate tests conducted in our lab. What these results have continually shown is that most amateur runners are training too hard too often.

It’s the number one training mistake we see, and it’s wreaking havoc on the performance and bodies of many aspiring athletes.

Easy and slow are not the same thing. Neither is hard and fast. You can be running slow and working hard because you’re unfit. Likewise, you can be running fast and easy because you’re incredibly well-conditioned.

Most runners we see in our lab don’t understand this distinction and are running in a grey zone. The grey zone is a pace too fast to train your aerobic system properly but too slow to correctly train your anaerobic system.

The result is a comfortably hard pace that gives you limited improvement and leaves you prone to overtraining and injury.

If you haven’t already determined your training zones, you should. It’s critical. You can do this in many ways, but my preference is to use testing. You can test in a lab like the one we operate here in Singapore or use field testing to approximate your lactate threshold and determine training zones.

Once you have determined your training zones, I recommend training by heart rate (regardless of your pace) for zones one and two and pace for zones three, four and five (irrespective of your heart rate).

Around eighty per cent of your training should be in zones one and two. The remaining twenty per cent should be in zones three, four, and five.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

2. Running Too Long

Another common mistake I see among amateur runners is running too long in single runs. So often, runners think that they must run 30km, or more, in preparation for a marathon irrespective of the time it takes.

The longest runs professional runners do in their preparation for a marathon is 2:20 – 2:30. Yes, they cover a significant distance in that time, but that is not the point. It’s the time that matters. Esteemed running coach, Jack Daniels, explains this idea well in this short video.

An elite runner like Eliud Kipchoge may cover 40k in a 2:30 long run, but you have to understand that his intensity is relatively low – he’s just supremely conditioned. 

You also have to understand that the number of steps he takes in that 2:20 is probably similar to what you would take in 2:20. 

If you’re running for more than three hours, you’re likely taking significantly more steps than him and putting your muscles and connective tissue under significant strain. Add to that that you’re probably far less technically efficient than him, and you can understand why your risk of injury is so high.

I recommend that you cap your long run to a ceiling of 3-hours. For most Coached runners, we usually schedule significantly less than that, and it works.

If you want to run more volume, do it through frequency, not longer single runs.

3. Running Too Much

If you’re just starting and motivation is high, it’s not uncommon to want to run a lot, but you must be careful. As you begin your running journey, your heart and lungs will typically respond pretty quickly with improvements in fitness.

Unfortunately, your connective tissues don’t often develop at the same rate as your cardiovascular system. You’ll usually start to have niggles or suffer injuries if you ramp up your training load too quickly.

For each individual, there’s a sweet-spot weekly distance, above which you’re far more likely to get hurt. For me, during my pro days, that threshold was around 80km per week. It may be less or more for you. 

Either way, learn from your mistakes and don’t copy other athletes’ training just because it works for them.

Be progressive in your approach and seek out the advice of experienced runners or coaches to help guide you.

4. Always Running On Hard Surfaces

If you live in a city, as I do here in Singapore, it’s common to do most of your running on hard surfaces. Surfaces like concrete put significant stress on your legs, and the impact over time can cause harm.

Just because concrete is accessible and convenient doesn’t mean you should do all your running on it. Instead, I recommend you seek out a variety of terrains and surfaces to run on. The softer surfaces will put less stress on your muscles, joints and connective tissues while helping to make you stronger.

5. Poor Lifestyle Habits

Most runners only have 30-minutes to 2-hours to run each day. That leaves 22 – 23.5-hours every day to make decisions that can positively or negatively impact your training recovery and performance.

When you’re not training, you need to consider what you can do to impact your health and performance positively.

The obvious ones are getting plenty of sleep and eating whole foods that are minimally processed.

The less obvious but also important ones are:

  • Mobility training. Do some stretching, foam rolling or strength training.
  • Massage. Get a regular massage or use a massage gun to help keep your muscles in good condition.
  • Meditate or spend time offline in silence. Your brain uses roughly twenty per cent of your total daily energy. Let your brain rest
  • Move. There are plenty of sedentary athletes. Outside of training, they barely move from their desk or the couch. Don’t be a sedentary athlete. Move frequently to increase blood flow and help clear byproducts produced during training.

While injury is common among runners, it’s not a full-blown conclusion. There are many things you can do to minimise your risk of getting hurt. 

Start implementing the advice above into your training – I am confident it will help. If you’re struggling with niggles or training in general, we’d love to help.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.