Running is one of the simplest forms of exercise; there’s no expensive equipment to buy or complex rules to learn. Despite this, there are a few common mistakes that many beginner runners make. Avoiding these pitfalls will help ensure that you start your running journey on the right foot.
Mistake #1: Too Much, Too Soon
Many beginners don’t like running much at first. They have to force themselves out for each run, and they’ll look for any excuse to put off their run until the next day.
On the other end of the spectrum are people like me, who fall in love with running right away. We immediately want to run as much as possible, and end up going out for runs nearly every day.
Unfortunately for people like me, running too much is actually counterproductive. As someone brand new to running, your legs need time to adapt and develop. Recovery days are an essential part of this process. If a beginner runs every single day, they’re likely to end up injured and slow their progress.
Complete beginners should generally avoid running on any two consecutive days. After a month or so, you can gradually start adding back-to-back running days. Everyone adapts at a different pace, so it’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself to do too much too soon.
Mistake #2: Running Too Hard
In addition to running too often, many beginners also run too fast. If you’re as out of shape as I was when I started running, your first month of running is likely to feel hard no matter what. After that initial transition though, most of your runs should actually feel easy.
An “easy” run can be defined in a few different ways. Some runners focus on keeping a moderate heart rate, while others use pace calculators to get a recommended “easy” speed. The simplest test to make sure your run is easy is to see whether you can carry on a conversation while running. Most of your runs should be done at this “conversational” pace.
The most common recommendation for dividing your runs is to devote just 20% of your mileage to running fast and the remaining 80% to running easy. This can change depending on your specific goals and upcoming races, but it’s a great starting point for new runners. In fact, new runners could keep all their runs at an easy pace and still improve their speed for at least a few months.
Mistake #3: Inconsistent Running Schedules
One of the keys to improving your running speed at any level is to keep a consistent running schedule. Unfortunately, many beginners overlook this.
If you run on and off every few weeks or months, you’re unlikely to see much improvement. Although you might get a little faster, you’ll start backsliding whenever you take time off.
Instead, aim to run at least three days each week. This is a solid, beginner-friendly baseline. The time commitment is still fairly minimal, but you’ll be running frequently enough to see real improvements in your speed.
Mistake #4: Staying in Your Comfort Zone
Many new runners are too quick to settle into a comfort zone. Each week they’ll run the same three days, always following the same 5k path around the neighborhood. This can lead to an early plateau.
If you want to continue improving your running speed, it’s important to regularly challenge yourself. You can start by adding additional running days to your week, or increasing the length of one of your runs. Other ways to add variety are to run in new locations or add in occasional interval workouts.
Not only will these changes help you improve your speed, but they’ll also keep running interesting. There’s nothing more boring than completing the same loop around your neighborhood for the hundredth time.
Mistake #5: Not Sticking With It
The final mistake that beginners make is quitting too soon. Starting to run is hard, and experienced runners might not acknowledge that often enough.
The first weeks or even months of running can be very difficult. Depending on your age and prior fitness level, it can take months before you’ll even be able to run a slow 5k.
A lot of new runners are shocked to realize that they can’t even run for a minute without getting winded. They assume that they were just never meant to run.
The secret though is that many of the experienced runners who are making it look so easy started in the exact same place. For most of us, learning to run wasn’t a question of natural talent, it was a question of stubborn persistence.
If you’re stubborn enough, you’ll make it too.