Common Mistakes When Training for a Race

Training for any kind of race, whether it’s a 5K or a 100K, can be a daunting task. There are hundreds of different training plans and apps that provide training plans, but the sad truth is that many of them have no physiological scientific basis and eventually lead people to overtraining, injuries, or poor performance in an event.

This article addresses common mistakes that people make when training for a race.

Mistake #1: Performing too many high-intensity workouts.
Many online programs suggest that performing interval workouts, tempo runs, and/or fartlek runs 3-5x/wk, but neglect the easy low-intensity runs. High intensity runs are important for improving speed, but the timing for these workouts is key and they should only make up ~20% of your training. Doing high-intensity training too often doesn’t allow your body to recover properly and puts you at a higher risk for an eventual overuse injury.

Mistake #2: Ignoring easy runs.
Many runners underestimate the importance of easy runs and don’t know what an easy run truly is. An easy run should be in heart rate zone 1-2, which is 55-75% of your max heart rate. (Max heart rate is calculated 220 – age). Another way to think about it is to use the Rate of Perceived exertion scale. Easy runs should be between a 2/10 to a 5/10 maximum. This level of exertion means that you should be able to have a comfortable conversation. Doing true easy runs are extremely important for recovery between harder runs and for building your aerobic base. These workouts should comprise ~80% of your training.

Mistake #3: Ignoring Signs of OverTraining.
Often runners push through signs of overtraining such as excess fatigue, soreness, and stiffness. Another way to track if you are overtraining is to pay attention to your heart rate when you are at rest. Most people have watches that track this for you now, or you can monitor your own pulse. Usually your resting heart rate decreases when you are training because your cardiovascular system is becoming more efficient. If you notice an increase in your resting heart rate for more than a few days, it is a sign that your body is fatigued and that you need rest. Overtraining can lead to decreased performance, injury, and burnout. In short, listen to your body; it is trying to help you. It is much better to see a health care provider when you first start to feel a problem rather than waiting until you can barely walk or run.

Mistake #4: Following a Rigid Training Plan.
Each person’s training plan shouldn’t look the same. Everyone’s body is different and the way everyone is able to train is different. Having a training plan that adjusts to the individual is critical to avoid overtraining and burn out.

Mistake #4: Lack of Periodization.
Some runners think that they have to run at or near their race pace during most of their training runs. This leads to a similar intensity of training throughout the build-up to a race. This can lead to overuse injuries. Your training should include a variety of easy runs (~80%) and high intensity runs (~20%) to allow you adequate recovery and allow you to peak at the right time for a race.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Recovery Runs.
A recovery run is a short, easy run utilized to recover from a higher intensity run. Many runners skip this or push too hard, which negates the effects of recovery benefits. These runs should occur in HR zone 1 which is 55-65% of max HR, or at a 2-3/10 on the rate of perceived exertion scale, in other words, a very easy rate). During these runs you might think your pace is too slow and your workout will not be helpful. If this is how you feel during a recovery run, congratulations you are actually doing a recovery run correctly!

Mistake # 6. Not Getting Adequate Sleep
Sleep is extremely important for your overall health, and is especially important when you are training for a race. You are putting a lot of stress on your body during training, so when you don’t get enough sleep you aren’t truly letting your body rebuild and recover before stressing it again. You should aim to get 8 hours of sleep every night. If you need to do runs before work, then make sure you get to bed earlier!

Mistake # 7. Ignoring Recovery Weeks.
Many runners progressively add mileage every single week. You should have a week of lesser mileage every few weeks to allow for recovery. This recovery week will improve your performance in the long term and will reduce the chances of an overuse injury.

Mistake #8: Not incorporating strength training.
Some runners think that running is enough to strengthen their legs. While running may make your legs more toned and improve the endurance of your leg muscles, it falls short in terms of building actual strength for improved performance and injury prevention. You should have at least 1, ideally 2, days of weighted progressive strength training to provide improved strength, power, and support to the muscles and joints that are used repetitively when running.

Mistake #9: Not Having a Clear Goal for Each Run.
If the goal of your run is for recovery, it should solely be a recovery run (zone 1 heart rate or 2-3/10 RPE). If your goal is to improve your aerobic base, it needs to stay in zone 2 (4-5/10 RPE). If your goal is a high intensity run, it should be fast getting in to zones 4-5 (8-10 RPE). Runners typically don’t have an issue pushing themselves on the high intensity runs, but when it comes to easier runs, more often than not, they are running too fast. This can eventually lead to decreased performance and overuse injuries.

You may have noticed a common theme with many of these points: Recovery is an important component to training for a race. Runners want to run fast and push themselves, which is great, however, the key to running fast and feeling good when you get to the race is having the discipline to adhere to the recovery aspects of training so that you are able to push yourself more in the long term. Much too often, as a PT, I see people who get injured leading up to a race or limp to the starting line due to injuries. Many of these problems can be avoided with a proper training plan and consulting with a physical therapist, endurance coach, or sport science professional. It may feel very different and probably pretty weird to train correctly, because it isn’t what you are used to doing. However, it will also make you feel and perform much better when you get to race day. You just have to trust the process.

If you have a running related injury, a new ache or pain, or specific questions about your training plan or running form, feel free to reach out to one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy at any of our Jackson County Physical Therapy locations for a one-on-one consultation!

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