Almost all of the time running is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. We tend not to think of running as a very intense form of exercise if we do it all the time but it really is. Like anything else, even good things we can veer into doing them in unhealthy ways.
As lots of new runners are out there on the road at this time of year it seems like a good time to go over the unhealthy habits new runners and old runners might fall into. If any of these apply to you being aware of them might be enough to get you to change your ways. For some if you find yourself unable to break the habit you might want to schedule a visit to the doctor to talk about it.
So what are the most common unhealthy habits that runners have?
Earning your calories by running
Psst… want to know a secret? If you want to lose weight exercise has little to do with it. It’s way more about controlling your food intake than working out. That’s not the whole story though there is great evidence that exercise is an important component in keeping that weight you lost off. It’s also a big part of being the absolute healthiest that you can be.
Lots of people on health journeys start into their weird trade off between calories in and calories burned. In other words if they burn say 500 calories on their run then they ‘allow’ themselves 500 more calories in the kitchen that day.
This is a bad habit because it sets running up as punishment and links food to exercise which is something that doesn’t need to happen at all. Instead work to get a nutrition plan that works well for you every day whether that’s a gym day or not.
On the side, start developing an exercise program that you love as a TOTALLY SEPARATE thing. If that includes running then set goals there that have nothing to do with food. That could be run a whole mile, run a 5k or all the way up that impossible hill. Exercise and diet are two totally separate things and linking them is a recipe for disordered feelings about both
Not taking walk breaks ever
Running really is just faster walking. Well, sort of. Every single runner out there needs a walk break from time to time. I will never be the girl that can drink water while running without choking and that’s okay! I also walk the odd hill and just take a walk break when I need it. Guess what I don’t even need an excuse!
Know that all the runners you look up to take the odd walk break even if they don’t post about it. When you are less experienced, the weather sucks or you’re just tired we all take more. Totally let go of the idea that if you’re walking you are failing because you’re not.
Ignoring your body’s signals
We are all a little guilty of this from time to time. Some days we head out to run intervals and our body says today is the day for an easy run. We might set out on a regular run and you have lots of steam, might as well do some speedwork.
But it’s bigger than that too. After a running break my knees tend to be mad at me when I return, usually for the first few km only. So Im okay with starting off slow and taking a walk when I need to.
We also have to pay attention to those pains that pop up and start with some extra rest and actually go to a doctor when it’s called for. Even if your training for something huge taking a few runs off is a way better option than skipping the event entirely.
It’s our job as runners to check in with our bodies once or twice each run and after and actually listen to the signals it’s sending us. After all no one else can!
Running on injuries
For the love of god DO NOT DO THIS! If you have been told that you are injured or if you have the experience to know that you are, do not keep running! As scary and stressful as injuries and weeks long breaks from running are, they are way preferable to those taking you out of the game for good.
Almost every single injury is minor and easy to deal with on the time span of a month or two. Ignore it and that’s when you’ll spend an evening deferring all your races for a season if not taking up cycling for the long term!
You might say “but I’m training for a marathon.” You won’t be for long if you are running on an injury! Did you even watch Britney runs a marathon? That could be you!
If you did the last section right and listened to your body then there is no reason to even get here with a few extra rest days. Even if the worst happens and you have to defer to next year training on an injury is a recipe to moving your dream race to the 5th of never!
Forgoing life to run
There is a very, very long list of things that are never, ever more important than a run. Things like birthdays, anniversary dinners and time with loved ones. I would suggest that if this is your main issue with running you don’t have a running problem, you have a scheduling and organization problem.
We all have to make sacrifices for our running that’s one of the hardest things about it. It’s also a sign you might be taking exercise too far and it might be becoming an addiction. No matter what you’re training for try planning for your runs more around your life than your life around your runs going forward.
Taking risks while running
There were times in grad school when I was going through it! On those late nights I sometimes used to run late at night from the lab downtown and around campus. In lots of cases like where my condo was then and where I live now running late at night is fine as long as you take certain smart steps.
On weekend nights there though running made me feel really unsafe. Mostly in the areas around campus there were a lot of lewd comments yelled at me from porches and the odd person who would chase me for a few steps. I don’t think those interactions were very likely to actually end poorly but they didn’t feel safe. Less often someone leaving a bar would grab me or follow me.
After a few runs, on certain days I just had to stop running. I didn’t really think anything terrible would actually happen but it just feel too risky for me.
Of course these aren’t the only risks you could face. Running along a dangerous highway, in icy conditions or through a tough neighborhood at night just isn’t worth it. Trust your gut, if you’re getting unsafe vibes listen and find a safer way.
Asking running to solve a problem it can’t
Lots of runners will tell you they came for the physical health benefits and stayed for the mental health benefits. That’s me! Really good scientific studies routinely show that vigorous physical exercise does wonders for your mental health. It has beens shown to be as effective as medication in treating both anxiety and depression. You can read all about that here.
But… you can’t ask running to solve all of your mental health or other problems. Until I was 30-ish I consistently turned to running when my life was harder. That’s true-ish now too but I have a regular running habit besides all the time too.
Running is a great way to give yourself a little pick me up but it can’t solve all life’s problems. Sometimes runners can fall into the habit of running rather than actually getting help with their problems. Even an ultra isn’t a substitute for therapy!
Running on old (or wrong) shoes
Are you lazy, frugal, busy or even just human? If so you might be running too long on the same pair of sneakers. Ever so often we might even buy a pair of sneakers that just aren’t suited to your feet. Generally running shoes are good for about 500 – 800 kilometers but in my experience they never really last that long.
I get about 600 km at most out of a pair of running shoes and I am a lighter road runner. If you are larger, land hard or run on harder surfaces your shoes might not last as long. I tend to ‘feel’ more as my shoes wear so I probably replace them before I absolutelyneed to. Many running apps have a milage tracker built in. If you tend to lose track, make sure you use it!
If if you think about it just say you retire your $200 shoes 25% early then you are leaving $50 on the table so to speak. If you go through one or even two pairs a year that’s less than $100 to always run in ’fresh’ shoes. I give you permission, buy new shoes, shoes your excited about and you can even skip a long run to go do it!
Not hydrating on the run
You know what’s great? A cold drink of water while you’re running! It’s not stoic or macho to not drink water while you’re running and no matter what you say you do in fact need it. It’s literally a free treat while you’re out there.
In all seriousness we tend to under estimate how dehydrated we are all the time. Yes, you need water when it’s hot but you still need it when it’s cold, even in the dead of winter. For years I thought I was too cool for water too and that it was too much of a bother to carry it. Let me tell you I was wrong! Nothing else made running feel easier than having water with me.
There are lots of options for carrying water with you. I use a belt system but handheld bottles are pretty popular too. There are also pocket shaped bottles that can fit almost anywhere on your person.
How to deal with your bad habits
In most cases just being aware of these unhealthy habits is enough for some people for most of these things. For others resolving to treat your self to new shoes, grab a water bottle and take a walk break every once in a while will work. In other words just resolve to think differently about a few things when it comes to your running. If you really are struggling with some of the more serious things on this list like crossing over to addiction to exercise by neglecting the rest of your life and doing harm to your body then it might be time to get some help. At the very least some deep thinking and a longer running break could be in order.
Running is something with a low barrier to entry that can improve your health, your mood and is an incredibly positive way to spend time enjoying nature. Keep an eye on your personal running practice to make sure it stays as positive for you as it can possibly be! This obviously isn’t every unhealthy habit a runner can have but just the most common. What other unhealthy running habits have you ‘run’ into? Which one tends to pop up the most often for you? Leave it in the comments below!
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