7 training plan mistakes to avoid

Author: Kate Sellers

Read Time:   |  August 2, 2022

Following a training plan seems easy, but there are some common running training plan mistakes waiting to befall even the most confident of runners. We get some expert advice on how to avoid them...

Whether you’re following a plan for your first 5K or training for a 10K PB, you want to get it right. But while following the plan itself may look simple, there are a few running mistakes that we runners often make which can hold us back, tire us out or even contribute towards injury.

We’ve asked for some expert advice on the training plan mistakes to avoid…

Running training mistakes to avoid

Training plan mistake 1: running too fast

This seems like a bit of a misnomer – surely, the faster the run, the better? When it comes to training for a race, not at all. In fact, research has suggested that a whopping 80% of your regular training runs should be done at an easy effort level.

How do you know if you’re at the right level? Generally, you’ll be able to recognise it from how you feel. If you’re feeling noticeably tired or out of breath as you run, having to force yourself through the miles, you’re probably going too hard. Being able to hold a conversation is another good way of knowing that you’re at the right intensity. And heart rate training can also reveal how hard you’re working during your sessions.

This allows your body to build endurance, adjusting to your new mileage without totally exhausting yourself. It also leaves some fuel in the tank for the other 20% of your training, which will be harder runs. Usually these will be hill or sprint intervals, or faster-paced tempo runs.

Training plan mistake 2: skipping your warm-up and cool-down

As you add more runs into your week, it’s easy to swap your warm-ups and cool-downs for running, especially when time is tight. However, it’s really important to do a proper running warm-up before every run – even short, easy ones. Your body needs to prepare for exercise so you can run safely. Warming up can also improve performance. Make it a priority, even if it means skipping a few minutes of the end of your run.

Cooling the body down is also important after a run, especially if you’re going back to a sedentary activity. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated – even a few minutes of walking after you finish the run can be enough to promote recovery and help your body to calm down after exercise. But if you’re not stretching after your run, make sure you’re taking time at some point to do some stretching for recovery. It can be in front of the TV or just before bed, but your body will thank you for it.

Training plan mistake 3: trying to run the distance before the race

This is more relevant for half marathon and marathon training plans, and especially if it’s the first time you’re tackling these distances. Most training plans for longer races will stop your long runs a few miles shy of the actual race length. And lots of runners panic about that (us included!), then try to add on mileage to their long runs.

Although it feels as though you’re heading into the unknown if you haven’t covered the distance before race day, doing so can actually cause more problems. Training plans are designed to get you covering much more mileage than your goal distance through a series of runs in the week. If you start running the full distance in your long runs, you won’t be recovered enough to take on your other training runs later in the week.

It’s also important to remember that there will be loads of excitement and adrenaline happening on the day. You’ll be having such a great time that running a few extra miles than your longest training run won’t phase you or your body – we promise!

Training plan mistake 4: not doing your cross-training

We know – we runners love to run. But not running is also a really big part of your training plan, and can have a huge impact on performance and injury risk.

Cross-training will differ from plan to plan, and some plans will leave it up to you to choose what you do. We can’t recommend strength training enough for runners. It helps to build muscle, even out any imbalances and prevent numerous injuries. Other great cross-training activities include swimming, cycling and yoga – just not more running.

Training plan mistake 5: missing your taper

For longer distances, you’ll notice that your mileage decreases significantly in the last couple of weeks of your training plan. This is really important, as it gives your body lots of time to recover ahead of your big race-day effort.

It can be a little bit scary letting go of your longer runs – it feels as though you’re losing progress. But don’t let that fear stop you from tapering. Your body has already adapted to the increased mileage, and it will sail through the distance even more smoothly if you’ve given it time to rest and prepare.

The other thing that can get in the way of tapering is missed training plan runs. It happens to us all – we can’t fit in a long run one week due to family commitments, or a bout of illness throws us off our plan by a few days. It makes us feel guilty and we feel as though we need to catch up. But that doesn’t mean you should replace your taper weeks with the skipped sessions. A few missed miles won’t ruin your race, but over-training beforehand definitely could cause problems. Try to trust the process and forget what has (or hasn’t) come before.

Training plan mistake 6: letting your training plan control your life

Whatever your distance, training plans can be quite demanding. There’s usually at least 3 runs a week in there, as well as cross-training, and that’s a lot to balance with work and family commitments.

Try to pick a plan that will work best for your schedule, and don’t beat yourself up if things go awry every now and again. It’s important to be committed to your plan, but not if it gets in the way of big life events, recovery from illness or even your period.

Remember that the plan is not set in stone, so you can move sessions around to suit you, or even combine a couple of shorter runs if there just aren’t enough hours in a week.

Training plan mistake 7: being afraid to change training plans

Once we’ve chosen our training plan, it’s easy to believe that this is the only training plan that we can follow from now until race day – especially if there’s a time crunch. But remember that your training plan has to work for you and your body. If you get a few weeks in and feel as though the mileage is too intense, the pace is too fast or there are too many sessions per week, you can absolutely change it. This is also true if the plan is proving too easy for you and you’d like more of a challenge.

You’ve already started building your mileage and your endurance, so this will translate to any other plan for the same distance. You don’t need to start at the beginning. Count back from race day on the new plan, and start there. If you’re moving to a more challenging plan, you might need to give yourself some time to adjust, so be more flexible with pacing and distances on those first couple of weeks.

Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Kate is our Senior Digital Executive and a keen runner. She's also a qualified Personal Trainer and yoga teacher, so she knows her stuff about workouts, cross-training and stretching. She loves to combine running and exploring, so you'll often find her testing out the latest kit in exciting locations across the UK and beyond. Kate champions exercising for enjoyment. "Most of the year, you'll find me running for fun and wellbeing," she says. "That being said, I do still love the thrill of training for a race from time to time!"

Meet the team

We use cookies to give you a better experience on womensrunning.co.uk. By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as set in our Cookie Policy.

OK, got it