I had a math teacher my freshman year of college who loved telling my classmates and I when we did something wrong.

He’d just circle the incorrect answer on the paper and scribble “WRONG” in giant red letters across your work.

The problem was, he was awful at telling us how to do it right.

So right now, when I’m about to tell you that you’re probably not getting the most out of the time and energy you painstakingly put into your running and training, because you’re doing something wrong, I don’t want to be like my old math teacher.

I’m going to tell you what you are doing wrong, and hopefully what you can do to make it right.

Either that, or you can just quit reading now and tell me to get lost.  I’d understand.

So what is it that you are doing wrong every time you go out for a run?

In most cases it isn’t what you are doing, it’s what you aren’t doing that is the problem.


What You’re Probably Not Doing Right

1)  You don’t refuel properly after your workout.

The “refueling window” is not a myth.

If you aren’t taking in calories during those golden 15 – 60 minutes after your workout, you’re missing an opportunity to replenish when your glycogen replacement is fastest.

According to Registered Dietitian Jackie Dikos, “The goal is to consume a high carbohydrate meal or snack within 30 minutes of the workout or race. Eating a source of protein within this high carbohydrate snack will also help recovery.”

2)  You don’t run enough hills.

Hill running,

  1. Makes you faster,
  2. Builds leg strength,
  3. Builds upper body strength,
  4. Prevents injury,
  5. And improves your running economy.

Don’t believe me? Just check out this awesome infographic.  We all know infographics never lie.

Even if you incorporate hills into your route often, chances are you can benefit from running more.

Add hill repeats to the end of your workout once a week, or just go run up a mountain.

3)  You don’t have enough variety in your running speed.

Every run can’t be a hard run.  Or an easy run, for that matter.

If you are constantly training at max intensity, you are doing yourself a serious disadvantage.

Because your body can only handle so much stress at max effort, the key to successful running is to find the proper balance of slow, recovery type runs, and fast, high intensity workouts.  This mix allows you to continue to increase mileage while giving your muscles the opportunity to relax and recover.

4)  You don’t foam roll.

There is no magic recipe for injury prevention or quicker recoveries, but foam rolling comes mighty close.

As Matt Frazier puts it in his classic article Foam Rolling for A**Holes, “The purpose of foam rolling is to soften muscle tissue, to ‘iron out the kinks’ and keep it elastic and pliable.  Think deep massage.”

These days you can find a roller at just about any running store or online.

5)  You don’t drink enough water before your run.

It takes a few hours for your body to absorb water, so funneling bottles right before you take off running probably isn’t doing any good.

Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of H2O throughout the day will keep you from the dehydration crash during your workout.

A good baseline is to take Body Weight x .5 = ounces of fluid per day.

So if you weigh 160 pounds, that is 10 x 8 ounce glass of water per day.

6)  You don’t cross-train enough.

If you want to be a better runner, you should run.  A lot.

But running only works certain muscles, and having better all-around muscle fitness makes you faster.

  • Practice yoga to build core strength, balance, upper arms, and mental strength.
  • Bike to build strength in different parts of your legs and core.
  • Swim for a full body work-over (trust me, after an hour in the pool, you’ll find yourself with sore muscles you didn’t even know you had).

7)  You don’t run strides.

According to running coach Jason Fitzgerald of the site Strength Running, “Strides – or accelerations – are a staple of almost every high school and university track team. But the majority of recreational runners never do them despite a host of benefits.”

In my opinion, they are the running equivalent of shotgunning a beer: quick and dirty, with high return.

Jason goes on to say that strides:

  • Loosen you up,
  • Improve your running economy,
  • And prepare you to run faster.

The best part is, throwing in 4-5 strides only takes a few minutes, and isn’t designed to wipe you out like a track workout.

8) You need to wear minimalist shoes.  Or avoid minimalist shoes.

New research highlighted in the recent Running Times article Before You Bare indicates that minimalist or barefoot running might be wise for some runners, but not for others.

The article explains that if you’ve had issues with your Achilles, calf, or overpronation, you probably want to stick with a more traditional shoe.

But runners suffering from early onset osteoarthritis or knee issues can spread out much of the stress from running by going barefoot.

9)  Your GPS is holding you back.

It is tempting to track every single run on your GPS.  You like to know your stats, and maybe even share your stats.

But what if your GPS is actually holding you back?

If you’re so focused on your splits, heart rate, or current pace that you quit listening to your body, you might be missing something very important.

Listening to one’s body is a key skill for every runner.

It helps to avoid injury and overuse, and also allows you to push harder or run faster when the time is right.

10)  Your form sucks.

If you aren’t running properly, you’re not just risking injury, you’re also holding yourself back from major improvements.

I like to focus on one aspect of my form at least once a week.

During that run, I do nothing but break down what I’m doing wrong and focus every stride on improving the technique.

11) Your cadence is all wrong.

If you haven’t focused on your cadence before, it will feel very odd, maybe even counter-intuitive, when you try shorter, more frequent strides.

But running at what many call the optimal cadence between 170-180 steps per minute will dramatically improve your form, which in return helps prevent injury.

The shorter stride forces you to run lighter, lessening the impact of each step.

12)  You don’t mix up the terrain you’re running.

Varying the terrain you run helps to prevent injury, increase running economy, build strength, and increase speed.

As I brought up in a recent post about rethinking your everyday run, running is all about muscle memory, but your muscles only memorize what you teach them.  If you’re only teaching them one thing, they will be less responsive to new courses, distances, and speeds.

Variety works new muscles and teaches them how to handle new situations.

The Good News

The good news is that even if you are doing all 12 of these things wrong, for the most part they are easy fixes.

With just minor adjustments to your form, routes, and routines, you’ll begin to see major improvements in your running.

So don’t just sit there, like I did when my math teacher told me I was wrong, go out and take full advantage of all the effort you put in to the sport.

Photo Credit

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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3 thoughts on “12 Reasons You’re Not Getting the Most Out of Your Runs (And How to Fix Them)

  1. Good list Doug. On point #3, I don’t think the risk is runners running hard too often, as most follow the “hard/easy” philosophy. However, what I do see a lot of runners do is a lot of “medium” runs. These are the runners who always want to beat their PR on a specific route by a little bit, who are embarrassed to slog along on a recovery run. I think the danger of spending too much time in an “in-between” zone that doesn’t provide a ton of benefits is an insidious risk in many runners’ training. Medium days are OK once in a while, but leads to mediocrity if done too often.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Greg. You’re probably right that a lot of runners hang out in the middle zone, which like you said, isn’t a great place to be.

      What I was refering to is that I see some runners, who go out maybe 3 days a week, just run at full intensity each time. They have a workout that totally kicks their butt, every single time.

      My point with #3 was that variety is needed to really make yourself a well rounded runner and to stay injury free, which means not hanging out in the middle zone, or the full intensity zone either.

      I appreciate your feedback!

  2. Good stuff! To add to #12, if you don’t have easy access to a variety of terrain, mixing up your running shoes can also provide that variety to muscles. I run in everything from Hokas to Altras, and rotate through different shoes in a week’s worth of workouts. Though I have a LOT of shoes (occupational hazard), even a person who rotates two different pairs can reap the engaging muscles in different ways by rotating their shoes.

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