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Becoming A Runner

Coach Jenny shares her best advice for avoiding the most common missteps new runners make.

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Coach Jenny weighs in on a reader question with advice to avoid running missteps. . .

Question: I recently started running, and I have been getting a lot of different advice from friends. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, and I’m not sure if I’m doing anything wrong. What are some mistakes you see in new runners? How can I avoid these? —Ellen

Answer: Welcome to running, Ellen! The key to running healthy for life is to become a “runner” one step at a time. You’re bound to make a few mistakes along the way—but running doesn’t have to be a completely trial and error adventure. Check out the top 10 mistakes I see in newbie runners, so you can learn from their errors and stay healthy and happy as you run toward your dreams.

1. Too much too soon
The excitement that stems from a new goal often causes runners to ramp up weekly mileage before their bodies are ready. Running is a high-impact activity, and diving into training headfirst can lead to injury. If you are just starting out, a good rule of thumb is to begin with a 20-minute run/walk program a few times per week and build slowly from there. I recommend increasing your running time or distance by no more than 10 percent every two weeks.

2. Hitting the gas too fast
Speed workouts are a great tool for intermediate runners, but newbies don’t need to schedule hard, fast runs right off the bat. Allow your body to adapt to a running routine for six to eight months before incorporating speedwork. You’ll recover better, improve faster and have a heck of a lot more fun!

3. Playing copycat
What works for one runner doesn’t necessarily work for another. When you train like your husband or friend, you’re not tuning in to what is going on in your body. Follow your personal game plan and stick to your own speed.

4. Buying cute shoes
It is tempting to buy those adorable running shoes that match your outfit, but they may not be the right pair for you. Shoes are the most important running investment you can make, and it’s critical that they  t your feet. Head to a running specialty store to  nd your perfect model with the help of a footwear expert.

5. Monotonous training
All run and no play can make you a very dull girl—especially when you’re first getting started. Remember, variety is the spice of life. Mixing up your training will keep your program fresh and help ward off injury. Alternate running workouts with cross-training activities (e.g., cycling, Zumba, swimming, inline skating, etc.) every other day. You’ll go into your next run excited and motivated to hit the road.

6. Making pace paramount
One of the biggest mistakes beginning runners make is paying too much attention to their watches, GPS devices and treadmill numbers. Sticking to a specific pace regardless of how you feel will hamper both recovery and improvement. Every day is different for a runner. Some days we feel like Wonder Woman, and others we feel lucky even to  finish our workout. Instead of minding numbers, let your body be the guide. When your training plan reads “easy,” run at whatever pace feels easy that particular day. It’s as simple as that.

7. Skipping strength and flexibility training
When you’re just starting out, running regularly can feel like a big time commitment. Adding weight training and stretching on top of this may seem impossible, but keep in mind that muscular tightness and weakness can lead to aches and pains down the road. Investing in regular flexibility and strength work will help you run farther and stronger. Bonus: Building muscle makes it easier to lose weight.

8. Ignoring your inner tweets
Our bodies are excellent communicators, so when you start to feel a niggling pain, listen. In most cases, it means you’ve pushed too hard, haven’t recovered enough or transitioned to something new too quickly (new terrain, hills, shoes). Let the discomfort subside by resting or cross training for a few days. Taking short breaks early on will prevent you from needing long breaks if you ignore the symptoms.

9. Setting time goals
Runners have a tendency to focus on specific race-time goals. We dream of finishing a 30-minute 5k or breaking two hours in our next half marathon. Specific times make for nice round numbers, but what do they really mean? Let go of racing by time and pace and open yourself up to running your best race. First-time racers should have a goal of finishing upright with a smile. Seasoned runners should race by feel and effort. This will allow you to run faster than you’ve ever imagined.

10. Impatience
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Becoming a new (or improved) runner takes time, and you can’t rush the process by cramming in workouts. All runners should focus on incorporating ebb and flow into their training. For new runners, this means switching between running days and cross-training days. Seasoned runners can rotate hard workouts with easy runs. If you have patience, you will get to where you want to be—promise! ■


Coach Jenny Hadfield is the co-author of Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals. She is a nationally recognized speaker and writer. Learn more about Jenny at