With something like 400 races under my belt, I have learned a great deal how to screw things up. Fortunately, that is how you learn what you should do the next time as well.
While most of these are based towards the long distance runner, the tenets involved within can benefit any runner of any talent level. I come back to them often when things don't seem to be working out just right. Here's hoping they help you, too.
Building up mileage too quickly
Neglecting speed work
Without a doubt if you want to do well at long distance stuff, you have to run long distance. But there is just something about speed work. I touch on it here on my article on loving the track. Track workout, and sprints are like weight training. I have often said that long distance running and sprints are even the same sport and that is no knock on sprinting. It is a powerful, burst of speed akin to hitting the gym but also while running. Total win-win.
Running recovery runs too fast
As I have beat into the heads of the athletes I coach, recovery runs don't mean just 20 seconds slower per mile. That's hardly a recovery. Your body only truly recovers at rest and if you aren't doing that, it is a hole you are digging to even get back to where you were, let alone improve. Recovery runs should be just that: recovery.
Prioritizing a training plan over how your body feels
On Race Day
Going out too fast
There is no such thing as time in the bank. That is a bank from which you will not withdraw without serious penalties. If you are running a marathon you have 26 miles to pick up speed. Of course it is nice to feel good after months of training and the rush is in you and the blood is pumping. But it feels SO much better to run fast at the end than it ever will at the beginning.
Waiting too long to fuel
As a heavy sweater, no one needs to tell me to drink a lot and often. But many make the mistake of trying to play catch up and by then they are dehydrated. I now there was a lot of hoopla recently about hyponatremia and drinking too much. However, that is far less common than even the worst of those with fears about it would believe. Look, you don't need to drink a gallon at each aid station but a swig or two is great.
Also, master the pinch trick and you don't even need to stop running! Simply pinch the paper cup in the middle at the top, make a spout and pour the water down your throat. Voila!
Not adjusting pace to race-day conditions
Everything can go right in training and fueling and everything else but we have no control over the weather. It is a tough break if you get to the starting line and the day is not what you want. But you will not win over Mother Nature. If it is too hot, well, I am sorry but a slightly slower time on a planned acceptance is far better than a fast start and a trip to the hospital.
I know it has become beyond acceptable to make races more about the experience and taking selfies and whatnot but if you want to have your best race, then pay attention. You can have wonderful gabby training runs but when you put the bib on, you are there to race. So pay attention to our surroundings, to your body and to how you can make each step propel you forward to your goal.
Some runners like to break the race into smaller, more mentally manageable sections. I do this all the time with section I run at home. If there are 6 miles left, I think of a 1.5 mile loop I run all the time and think it is only 4 times around that loop. It is all minds games in long distance running and while it is nice to lose yours every once in a while, being in control of it is even better!
Overestimating your fitness
We all like to think that we are putting in hard work and long miles and as such are ready for the task ahead of us. Sometimes we have and we are. Other times, we are remembering runs that didn't happen at speeds we didn't run. It is OK to not be in the shape you are hoping for on race day. Unlike other sports, there are no timeouts and no teammates to hand off to. Not every day can be your best. So going in with a clear understanding of where you are fitness-wise on that day is the best way to arrive at the finish line in one piece. It is better to plan to how up ten minutes slower than think you can hit a time goal, bonk and show up two hours later, bedraggled, exhausted and swearing off the sport entirely.
Here's hoping these tips help you in your own training. Learn from my mistakes which is far better than experiencing them yourself!