The 5 mistakes most runners make – according to a coach

Resident NURVV run coach Tom Craggs shares the top mistakes he sees runners make. And, most importantly, reveals how to fix them.


John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, said ‘A mistake is valuable if you do four things with it: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.’

As a runner, we shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. They are, in fact, critical to success.

When we make mistakes we learn, grow, develop and sometimes find our current limits. However, if we keep repeating the same mistakes, perhaps that learning isn’t bedding in. So here are my top five runner’s mistakes and what you can do to fix them:

  1. The mistake: being the cook, not the chef

Many runners are guilty of being a cook, not a chef. We can all blindly follow a running recipe. And, of course, generic plans and learning from other runners’ training can teach you a lot.

Often though, runners will simply adopt someone else's plan without adapting it to their lifestyle, fitness level and ability to recover. This can result in injury, burnout or a plan that just doesn’t work for you.

The solution: create your own running recipe

Try to recognise that there is no ‘right’ way to train. By all means learn from the success of others but remember to trust what works for you.

Take the key ingredients of training – speed work, long sustained efforts, easy and long runs, hill sessions and conditioning – and then work out your own recipe for success.

2. The mistake: the terrible toos

From total beginners to experienced racers, doing TOO much is probably the most common running mistake. Building too much training too soon, running too hard or too often is a rapid road to niggles and burnout.

The solution: focus on FITT

In any training plan you can control a number of variables:

  • how often you train (frequency)
  • how hard each session is (intensity)
  • how long each session is (time)
  • what type of exercise you choose (type)

Be careful when changing several variables all at once. Give yourself time to build slowly. You’ll start to notice sustainable shifts in fitness over the course of six weeks or so. Don’t panic if you’ve not become Mo Farah just yet.

You can use NURVV Run’s Training Load feature to keep an eye on the frequency and time of your runs. You’ll receive warnings if you’re at risk of overtraining or increasing your mileage too quickly.

3. The mistake: not being consistent

We all like quick results but in a world of life hacks we can miss the essence of endurance training. Short-cut plans that promise ‘six weeks to your best marathon' and four-minute HIIT workouts will not see you achieve your best in the long term

The solution: build firm foundations

Prioritise consistency by taking an honest look at your fitness and lifestyle and finding a pattern of training you can complete week in, week out. Don’t be rushed into upping your race distances too soon.

You‘ll likely find it takes several years of consistent, injury-free training before you start to see just how good you can be. As such, your process and training goals should be just as important as those final race times.

4. The mistake: cramming

Running is not an exam. You can’t cram your way to success, backfilling training you missed through illness or injury, or trying to squeeze every kind of running session into one week.

Bodies like ‘adaptive space’. We get fitter when we recover so those easy days and rest days between harder sessions are every bit as important as the harder sessions in a plan.

The solution: create space


Many training plans follow a pattern of hard day, easy day, hard day, easy day etc. However, if you’re training for a marathon or know you struggle to recover, consider planning your training over 10-14 days with 2-3 easier days between your harder sessions.

5. The mistake: neglecting the mind

Running is far too often reduced to terms such as ‘lactate threshold’, ‘VO2 max’, or running technique. These are all important, obviously, but no matter how physically prepared you are to perform, your mind is critical if you want to succeed.

Lack of dedicated and focused mental preparation can undo even the fittest of athletes.

The solution: adopt an athletic mindset

Mental skills training can involve developing self-talk strategies, personal affirmations and clear goal setting. Having a ‘higher purpose’ for why you run can also be important in getting you out of the door and racing hard.

Yes, race times and PRs are satisfying, but is that really why you run? In your next race, try dedicating each of the final few kilometres to someone important to you, see what a difference it can make.

So mistakes are part of the process of being a better, stronger runner … if you learn from them, that is. Consider keeping a written training diary noting down one or two key learning points each week to keep you on track.

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