Running is something we think we do naturally. However, because of our lifestyles revolve around sitting, it’s more natural to be in the fetal position than to be upright running properly nowadays.

Even though running doesn’t require a lot of equipment or technical work, I see people make these same mistakes at the start of the season … Every. Single. Year.

When we take bad habits from the treadmill out onto the trail, we make ourselves more vulnerable to injury or overexertion, cutting the running season short.

But, fear not, there are some very simple ways you can set yourself up for success.

Let’s admit it- there is no better feeling than the wind in your hair, the sun on your back, hearing the birds chirping, and taking in the scenery while you move. Running outdoors is just so freeing. On top of this, running makes us feel good mentally.

We find that the biggest mistakes runners make at the start of the season fall into three overarching categories: physical, biochemical, and mental.

The Physical

Even if you’re not chasing a new personal best or some kind of record, you still want to have as high-quality a run as possible. You want to be able to feel the breeze, see the flowers, and enjoy the sunshine without being distracted by a clicky ankle or pain in your lower back. This means doing a proper warm-up. Grabbing your ankles behind your bum to stretch your quad or swinging your arms back and forth are archaic techniques. (1988 called and they’d like their warm-up back!) They are NOT effective. We have examples of warm-ups that will benefit you far more but first, we want to stress how important it is to dedicate 5-10 minutes to your warm-up, AT LEAST. If you don’t spend a good chunk of time warming up, you’re going to feel like that fetal position calling STRONG halfway through your first kilometre and by then it’s too late.

You’ve been demanding a lot from your body and there are going to be consequences.

When we train our professional athletes and elite runners, there is one exercise we make sure to include: The Froggy. This warms up the internal and external rotation of the hip preventing hip immobility. Where the femur meets the pelvic joint there is a lot of microrotation happening when we run. Although running moves us forward and backward, within that plane of motion, the hip is actually rotating in a small oval shape. If that isn’t warmed up, the body is going to tighten and result in pain as a best-case scenario, tissue damage and serious injury as a worst-case.

The thoracic spine also needs a good warm-up before a run. A mistake we see people make often is assuming that running is an exclusively lower-body activity. This couldn’t be less true.

The faster your arms go, the faster your legs go so we’re actually asking a lot of our upper bodies. When we run we naturally want to be in a more flexed position so we are more aerodynamic but this can limit the mobility through the t-spine causing pain in the shoulder. I often see a LOT of overextension in the T-spine too putting too much compression on the lumbar spine. Engaging in a thoracic mobility exercise in your warm-up opens the chest and creates extension and flexion through the t-spine to help the upper body move much better.

The Biochemical

I also see mistakes that are affecting what is going on inside of the body. We poke fun at runners when they are doing a marathon but undergo … ahem … digestive stress (ie. they have to poop!) but it’s realistically not that funny. It’s an indication that something is off. Using and abusing caffeine is often a cause of that. Especially for people who are running races, the thought process is that the body needs to be awake and have loads of energy. The simple solution? Caffeine. But caffeine is actually notorious for loosening the bowels and it’s not what the body needs.

If you’re committed to your morning coffee, that’s fine but you then need to time your caffeine properly.

Ideally, you would have your cuppa after your morning run but if you really can’t, pair your cup with a healthy fat, perhaps a handful of almonds or some nut butter or a bulletproof coffee and make sure you wait at least 45 minutes - 1 hour before you tie up your laces.

Hydration is another common biomechanical mistake. I often see runners who hyper-hydrate and constantly guzzle down water. The problem with that is water on its own doesn’t give us electrolytes.

When we are lacking electrolytes, we’re not hydrating the body- we’re not even absorbing the water we’re drinking and instead are diluting the salts inside of the body.

This can cause hyponatremia. To avoid this, you can instead enjoy a high-quality electrolyte drink- ie. NOT Gatorade or those gel packs. I recommend a naturopathic-grade product like Endura to ensure you will be fully hydrated.

Of course, the flip side to this is people who don’t drink any water at all and are dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration are muscle spasms, mental fog, trouble sleeping, and lightheadedness. Especially in the summer when it gets really hot, this is something to be wary of from a biomechanical standpoint.

The Mental

From a mental perspective, we need to treat our bodies the same way an athlete would. Get in that mindset, there’s no reason to humble yourself. I find a lot of people are hesitant to call themselves “athletes” yet they are running 10-20km a week. That’s significant!

Thinking of yourself as an athlete forces you to take yourself seriously.

You’ll do your proper warm-up, you’re not eating bad foods, you’re not skipping any steps. This goes back to enjoying the run. When we don’t skip steps, the activity becomes sustainable- and more enjoyable!

This other mental obstacle will come as no surprise: I often see runners start the season going too hard, too fast. There’s an excitement that comes with the warmer weather and prepping to run outside but they keyword there needs to be “prepping.”

There is a huge difference between training on a treadmill or even training in the winter outdoors, and training on clean pavement and trails.

You have to build up to the big runs. This goes back to thinking of your body like an athlete would. They aren’t going to go too hard off the bat and risk an injury- they’re too valuable. Treat yourself that way, too! You’re too valuable! Have a progression plan in place. Ideally, you’re working with a professional who can help coach you and give you a proper assessment so you understand how your body is functioning. Remember, your body may not be the same as it was last season so the programs you’ve done before may no longer be relevant. Have the courage and intellect to understand that your body is always changing and you need to know what’s going on there.

In any given year 65 - 80% of all runners will be out of the race lineup with an injury. That is why we have created the Functional Runners Assessment as a 360° tool to help Ottawa runners not only avoid injury but learn more about how they move and what they can do to improve their running and beat their personal bests. We want to put you in the most optimal condition with this ultimate assessment. During the month of May, we’re offering FREE Functional Runners Assessment. Request yours today!