When I first started long distance running, I learned a lot through trial and error (big emphasis on the error part). To help other runners avoid learning similar painful lessons the hard way, here are some tidbits of wisdom:
Mistake: Ignoring warning signs of injuries.
Ignoring a sore calf muscle, I pushed through a hill workout and turned a minor strain into a pulled muscle. I ended up having to drop out of a half marathon about three miles into the race.
Try this instead: Don’t force strenuous workouts when you’re injured. Take a few rest days or cross train (as long as it’s pain-free) instead of running.
When I get into a running groove, I sometimes take it too far and increase my mileage or intensity too quickly. Inevitably, I end up with an overuse injury.
Try this instead: Play it safe and don’t increase your overall mileage by more than 10% each week. And give yourself a down week every few weeks where you actually take a step back in mileage, to give your body a break.
Mistake: Trying something new on race day.
The day before my first marathon, I bought a new shirt and running shorts, thinking that running in a new outfit would give me a little motivation boost. I spent a good part of the race adjusting my new shorts.
Try this instead: When it comes to clothes, shoes, food (both before and during races), drinks, and gear, stick with your “tried and true” favorites for races.
Mistake: Overhydrating before a race.
When my sister and I ran our first marathon together, we were so worried about staying hydrated that we were drinking water hours before the marathon and kept sipping water right up until the race start. The result? Our 26.2-mile journey included many stops in the porta-potties.
Try this instead: Hydrating before a big race or long run is critical, but you should cut yourself off at least 60 minutes before starting to allow your body to get rid of excess fluids.
Mistake: Not thinking about sun protection.
I ran the Boston Marathon in 2003, which was an unusually hot day for mid-April. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and, back then, the race started at noon, so the sun was already high in the sky. After a long, cold winter of training in running pants and long sleeves, I completely forgot about sunscreen. The result was one of the worst sunburns of my life, especially on my shoulders and the back of my neck and legs. (I was wearing a hat, so at least my face was spared.)
Try this instead: Use a waterproof sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15 and offers broad spectrum protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Stick formulations are good for runners’ faces because the sunscreen won’t run into your eyes when you start sweating. You should reapply your sunscreen if you’re running for more than two hours.
Mistake: Not wearing the proper size running shoes.
For a couple of years, I was wearing running shoes that were the same size as my regular shoes. My toes were jammed up against the front of my shoe, which led to a couple of black toenails during marathon training.
Try this instead: Your feet swell when you run, so you should wear at least a half size bigger than your street shoes to get extra room in your toebox. Go to a specialty running shop to get properly fitted for running shoes. Be careful if you’re wearing extra-thick socks in the winter because they could make your shoes tighter than usual.