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The Most Common Mistakes Runners Make (and How to Avoid Them!)

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Not sure why you’re injured? We have a few ideas . . . Avoid the most common flubs to run strong for a lifetime.

Allison DeLancey is a running coach and an 800-meter All-American. But somehow she still missed the signs. When DeLancy started to feel a nagging pain in her foot she thought, Oh, it will just go away. I can just run through it.

“Eventually it caught up to me, and it was too much,” she says. A case of plantar fasciitis forced the competitive athlete to stop running completely for eight weeks.

Beginners and old pros alike often make simple errors—like not respecting warning aches—and end up on the sideline rather than the start line. We’ve polled experts in the running  field to find the common mistakes soon-to-be injured runners make and fast fixes for every foible.

MISTAKE #1

You increase mileage too quickly.

Dr. Ben Kittredge, a marathon runner and orthopedic surgeon in Fairfax, Va., says stress fractures are “far and away” the most common injuries he sees in runners—and they’re almost always caused by a simple training mistake.

The culprit is running too much too soon. Kittredge recommends increasing mileage by no more than 10 percent per week and factoring walking and standing in your total. “If you walk 20 minutes, that counts as a mile. If you stand for 30 minutes, that counts as a mile,” he says.

Fast Fix: Keep a training log to track your runs, cross-training workouts (15 minutes equates to one mile), standing time and walking distance. Make sure not to increase your mileage by more than 10 percent each week.

MISTAKE #2

You don’t eat enough.

A combination of running and mindful eating is the perfect recipe for weight loss, but don’t overdo it. Restricting calories too much causes bones to weaken and may result in stress fractures, says Nancy Clark, a Boston nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “If you undereat, you’re not able to build muscle. And muscle is what makes you a better athlete,” she says.

Fast Fix: Even if your goal is weight loss, never shed more than two pounds per week. Weigh yourself on a regular basis  to keep your body in check and always refuel after difficult workouts.

RELATED ARTICLE: BECOMING A RUNNER

MISTAKE #3

You never rest.

Once you’ve been bitten by the running bug, it’s hard to rein it in. But perpetual motion is unsustainable. If you keep going and going, your body’s bound to blow up.

Taking a rest day after a hard workout, like a long run or speed session, is crucial to your recovery, says Victor Runco, a San Diego-based chiropractor specializing in running injuries. Advanced runners must take at least one day off per week, while beginner runners should only hit the pavement every other day. He explains, “In order to progress, you have to do less.”

Fast Fix: Depending on your experience level, plan to take one to four days off from running every single week. Listen to your body and take additional time if needed. Remember, even Olympians have rest days!

RELATED ARTICLE: RECOVERING FROM A BAD RACE

MISTAKE #4

You never cross train.

Andrew Rosen, orthopedic surgeon and staff doctor for the New York City Road Runners, says he often sees injuries crop up in runners who do nothing but run. “They believe that’s the only form of exercise that’s necessary,” he says. “So they abandon everything else and only focus on running.”

The problem with this tactic is that running strengthens some muscle but not others. Runners who make this mistake end up with some areas of the body that are too tight or too weak, which leads to problems.

Fast Fix: Mix at least one cross-training (swimming, elliptical, yoga, cycling, etc.) and one strength-training (weight lifting, circuits) session per week into your schedule.

MISTAKE #5

Your running shoes are worn out—or were a bad fit to begin with.

Kittredge says running shoes have a lifespan of 300 to 400 miles. Putting more distance on the shoes than they were designed to withstand may lead to aches and pains.

Fast Fix: Before you hit the streets, hit up a running store to be properly fitted for the right pair. Make sure you retire your running shoes when they’ve reached their expiration date—a maximum of 400 miles.

MISTAKE #6

You live in flip-flops and flats.

You might think high heels are the main culprit for havoc wreaked on your feet. But while heels might give you bunions, they aren’t a common source of running injury, Kittredge says. Instead, he cautions that hard-soled shoes, like ballerina flats and sandals, often lead to plantar fasciitis.

Fast Fix: Kittredge recommends seeking out shoes with cushioned soles for everyday use. Opt for brands like Rockport, Merrell and Keen to find footwear designed to be kind to your feet.

RELATED ARTICLE: RECOVERING FROM A BAD RACE