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The worst running mistakes

The worst running mistakes
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Running can be a great, low-cost way to stay active and possibly add years to your life. But it can also be problematic if you’re guilty of these running mistakes. Here’s how to hit the pavement safely and avoid the common pitfalls of running novices.

Setting unrealistic goals

Setting unrealistic goals
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It’s exciting to start a running routine, but you don’t want to set your sights too high. “Be smart and set the right goals,” says Meghan Kennihan, a certified personal trainer and running coach. Sign up for a fun run or a 5K first, before even thinking about a marathon. “Your goal should simply be to finish,” Kennihan says. “If you push yourself too much, you are dramatically increasing the likelihood of injury and not even seeing the starting line.”

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Stretching the wrong way

Stretching the wrong way
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Most runners believe they need to “stretch out” before their runs, so they put their legs up on a ledge to stretch their hamstrings, or they stretch their calves on a curb. “Static stretching is a bad idea before running because it actually hinders your running performance and can lead to injury,” says Kennihan. “It can actually cause a decrease in muscle function.” Instead of telling your body to relax before it performs, switch to dynamic stretching, which trains the muscles to warm-up and fire the way you want them to through a series of dynamic movements.

Not eating before a run

Not eating before a run
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It’s important to fuel your body with the right nutrients before going on a major run, but the timing matters as well. “A lot of runners carb-load for a 7 AM race at 6 PM the day before, giving the glycogen stores just enough time to actually burn off rather than be useful as fuel for the race,” says Amanda Dale, trainer and sports nutritionist. “Either plan a later dinner the night before a big race, or set your alarm for 2 to 4 hours before your actual wake up call, force down some complex carbs, and resume sleeping to make sure the fuel is fresh in your body.”

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Going too fast

Going too fast
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If you’re starting off your runs with a mad sprint, you’re going to get fatigued before your workout even kicks in. Start slow, aiming to ‘negative split’, ie running the last half of your run faster than the first half, when you’re just starting out, says Dale. In addition to helping you avoid early fatigue, slowing down your pace can also have positive long-term effects on your health. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that light joggers and moderate joggers had a lower mortality rate than joggers who ran faster than 12 km/h.

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Swinging your arms across your body

Swinging your arms across your body
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If you think of proper form only as it relates to the lower half of your body, that’s a big running mistake.” Think of your arms as oars next to your boat: they can either help push you along if they’re aligned, or completely slow you down if they’re out of sync,” says Dale. “Keep your hands and arms relaxed and swinging in a forward-backward motion next to the body, ‘chopping’ through the air, rather than moving horizontally across the torso.”

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Taking overly long strides

Taking overly long strides
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You might feel like Superman flying across the tracks, but if your strides are too long, it can actually hurt your performance. “Endurance running in particular relies on short, low, efficient strides, with no wasted muscular effort or vertical motion,” says Dale. “The ideal steps-per-minute pace is 160-170, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to actually count and compare your strides, and then work on speeding them up with shorter steps.”

Landing like a rock

Landing like a rock
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When it comes to preventing injury, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re landing on your foot. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the lighter your impact load, the lower your risk of injury. To prevent hard landings, the study suggests landing closer to the mid-foot, which tends to be lighter than landing on the heel, and increasing the number of steps you take per minute.

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Running through pain

Running through pain
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Many runners think it’s normal to feel soreness in their shins, IT bands, or knees when they begin, so they choose to ignore it and keep running. “The best thing to do when in doubt about whether you should ‘run through’ the pain is don’t,” says Kennihan. “Ignoring aches and pains is the best way to get injured.” If you do feel pain or discomfort, take some rest days, and tend to your injury by following RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Once you return to running, gradually build up your progress.

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Wearing the wrong shoes

Wearing the wrong shoes
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Wearing the wrong sneakers can ruin your workout routine. “If you have a history of running injuries, there is no easy answer without a trained professional (not the guy at the mass market shoe store) watching the way you run and making a recommendation,” says Kathleen Lisson, CMT. “Ideally, a mould can be made of your foot and a custom orthotic can be made.”

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