10 Training & Racing Mistakes You’re Probably Making - And How To Stop Them

A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether
— Roy H Williams

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes.

And these are some of the biggest ones that are made in training and racing.

But rather than just list them, I've tried to provide solutions to help you stop doing them.


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10 Common Mistakes. And How To Stop Them

1) Setting Unrealistic Goals

I’ve talked about the importance of setting SMART goals before.

But many athletes, particularly beginners, set goals that aren’t realistic.

This can lead to disappointment and the loss of motivation.

Solutions

The key is to set yourself goals which are difficult, but achievable.

Having huge goals and dreams is definitely a good thing.

But you need to balance this with goals that are actually achievable.

One practical way of doing this is to set both smaller, short term goals and bigger, long term goals.

Another practical method is to set ranges for your goals, rather than just one figure. E.g running a marathon time of between 3:25 and 3:35, rather than 3:30.

Setting ranges has also been shown to make people more likely to pursue a goal.


People are more likely to continue pursuing a goal over a period of time if it is a range and not a single number
— GameEffective.com

If you’re not sure about what’s realistic, then you need to talk to someone with more experience than you.

Which brings me nicely to the next mistake...

2) Not Listening To Others With More Experience

I get it.

You’re the only one who knows your body.

You’re the only one who knows your history.

And you’re the only one who knows your specific situation.

Your highs and your lows.

And what makes you tick.

But this is the mindset that results in many athletes not seeking out advice from others with more experience.

Or completely ignoring advice from them.

The problem with this is that you miss out on so much information that you never knew existed.

For example, you might miss out on learning about different training sessions.

These might have helped you overcome specific weaknesses and taken your performance to the next level.

Solution

  • Actively search for other people’s opinions.

There are lots of ways to do this.

You can hire a coach. You can contact me if you’d like to find out more.

You can join a club. You can use online forums. Or you can find a buddy and start exercising with them.

Once you find someone, they might tell you that you’re doing the next mistake...

3) Doing Too Much, Too Quickly

This mistake is the one that causes the most pain and heartache.

You feel great in training.

And you feel great in practise races.

You feel so good that you start to increase your training workload significantly.

And then you get injured. Or burnt out.

It happens to everyone. Even the most experienced athletes.

After more than 10 years, I still have to fight myself to stop doing that extra ‘easy’ run this week.

Solutions

  • Learn that pain isn’t the objective

Understand that your body doesn’t need to be screaming in pain at the end of every session.

In fact, that’s a very bad outcome.

Lots of your sessions need to be easy.

Some advice says that 80% of your training should be at a low intensity, with just 20% at a high intensity.


Elites spend 80 percent of their miles going easy.
— Matt Fitzgerald (elite running coach)

  • Give yourself more time - plan better

One of the reasons athletes try to do too much training is because they attempt to do a race too quickly.

I've heard people say they want to do a marathon in 6 weeks. With no experience.

Setting realistic SMART goals is the key solution here.

  • Use the 10% rule of thumb

Aim to increase your training distance or intensity by around 10% each week. E.g don’t jump from 30 miles in week 1 to 50 miles in week 2!

4) Not Resting Enough

This is by far the most common mistake, especially among more experienced athletes.

And it’s the one I’m most guilty of.

A lot of people seem to think that rest is a sign of weakness.

What they forget is that rest is actually the time when you improve.


Allowing yourself time to recover is what makes it possible for you to come back better next week, next month, next race
— Kevin Vincent, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Florida Running Medicine Clinic (quoted in Runner's World)

Solutions

  • Plan rest sessions

Create specific times in your training week for rest sessions.

You will then start to treat them like any other session - long runs, tempo sessions or hill work.

It’s good to give yourself rest weeks too.

I often plan to decrease mileage and intensity significantly once in every four weeks.

  • Don’t do two hard days in a row

You should try and avoid doing two very difficult workouts in a row.

For example, don’t do a speed work session one day and then a long run the day after.

There are some very specific exceptions to this, that experienced athletes can use.

But most people will do better by following this simple rule.

5) Not Being Specific Enough in Training

Many athletes don't train specifically enough for their main race.

This could be that they don't train at the right pace, use the right nutrition, or train in the conditions that are likely to happen on race day - for example, temperature, hill work, etc

By not training specifically, you will end up getting surprised on race day when you come across things that are unexpected.

And this could result in a poor performance.

Solutions

  • Practise race day scenarios

You should use specific points in your training plan to practise things that will matter the most on race day.

This could include...

What specific nutrition will you want before and during the race?

What clothes and equipment will you use?

What is the pace you need to achieve to reach your target?

You should even plan 2 or 3 workouts in your training plan where you’ll treat them as if it were race day.

This could mean that you eat and drink the same foods that you will use before your main race.

You practise waking up and having breakfast at the time you will do for the race. 

And you use the equipment, clothes and food that you will during the race.

You could even plan ‘B’ races where you can practise in a real race scenario.  

6) Making Up For Missed Sessions

For whatever reason - injury or other commitments - you miss a session.

And then you try to squeeze an additional workout in.

Or add distance to another session.

And then you get injured.

Or you end up doing lots of bad workouts because you're trying to do too much.

'Chasing sessions' is a big mistake that can have a massive negative impact on your main race.

Solutions

  • Create ‘buffer’ in your plan

You should make sure that you have time in your training plan where you can put additional workouts, if needed, without overtraining.

This takes some very strong planning in the early stages. 

But don’t replace rest periods with additional workouts!

  • Don’t ‘chase your sessions’

You need to treat previous sessions as though they are in the past and you can’t get them back.

In gambling ‘chasing your losses’ is when you keep trying to recover money you’ve already lost.

So I’m going to suggest that you don’t ‘chase your sessions’.

Instead, just focus on the next session.

7) Disrespecting The Taper

Most of us have been guilty of doing too much hard work too close to our main race.

This can be due to misunderstanding what a taper actually is.

Or it can be because we use the taper as a chance to catch up on missed sessions.


Tapering is a time of rest and reduced workouts prior to a race. During this time, your body rebuilds, refuels and recovers from the weeks of hard training you have completed
— Active.com

The problem with doing too much in the taper is that your performance won’t actually improve much this close to a race.

And you won’t recover quickly enough from these tough sessions to be at your peak for the race itself.

Solutions

  • Plan a specific taper period

When creating your training plan, the taper period should be one of the first things you put in.

It should go in immediately after you’ve inserted your main race.  

Read my Ultimate Guide To Create Your Own Training Plan, for more detailed information on how to plan for a taper period.

  • Treat tapering like any other session

This is similar to how I recommended that you treat rest sessions.

By treating it like a speed session, hill work or anything else, you're more likely to stick to it.

8) Making Major Changes Too Close to An Event

The time immediately before a race is an odd period.

No matter how well training has gone, or how good you feel, you will always question your preparation.

You’ll suddenly be very sensitive to every tiny change in your body.

And you’ll get ‘ghost’ injuries that you wouldn't notice usually.

Then you see new kit and equipment that looks better than yours. Or that others are using.

So you buy a new bike two weeks before the event.

You buy new running shoes at the race exhibition.

And you try some new food on race day itself, because someone else told you it was better than what you'd been using.

And then you get a bad injury, stomach problems or just don’t perform as well as you should have in the race itself.

Solutions

  • Research what the race will provide

Most races will provide food and drink at aid stations.

So it's vital to know exactly what will be there so that you can practise with those specific brands in training.

If you can get your body used to those foods, it will usually be better for you. 

Because you won’t have to carry as much of your own food.  

And, if times are desperate in the race and you need to grab something from the stations, you know you’ve practised it. 

  • Be specific in training

By replicating race day conditions in training, you prepare yourself physically and mentally for exactly what to expect.

Then you won’t feel the need to change anything immediately before the race.

  • Don’t change anything major in the last few weeks before training

Sometimes you aren’t able to practise using the exact things that you'll get during the race.

If this is the case, I would suggest sticking with what you have practised with in training, rather than switching to what the race provides.

This means that you may end up carrying a bit more food than you'd planned. Because you can't rely on aid stations.

But it will be more beneficial to do that than try nutrition which you haven’t tested in training.

The same rule applies to kit.  

One of the most extreme examples I’ve seen is people going to the expo the day before an event and buying new kit to wear for the race.  

A new sweatband or commemorative t-shirt is fine.

But don’t buy a new pair of running shoes or socks and expect to run comfortably on race day and achieve your goal.

If you've avoided making all the previous mistakes. Well done! You've got to race day in great condition.

But now you're excited and you might be one of the people who...

9) Set Off Too Quickly in A Race

You’ve got a well thought out pacing strategy. And you’ve practised it repeatedly in training.

And you’re fully confident in it.

But then the starting gun goes off and you find yourself going a lot faster than your target pace.

You’re feeling great!

‘This is easy!’ You say to yourself.

But then it slowly starts to get worse...

You slow down a bit...

 ... Then you slow down a lot...

... And all of a sudden you’re crawling along much slower than your target pace.

And you end up missing your goal.

All because you got caught up in the hype as the starting gun went off and didn’t stick to your game plan.

Solutions

  • Plan a race pace strategy

If you have a time-based goal for your event, you should know what your average target race pace should be.

And you can use this to break down what time you should be at specific milestones. For example, each kilometre, 5k, half way, etc.

You can claim your FREE race pace strategy tool to do exactly that.

Simply sign up with your email below to claim it, now!

Note - The race pace strategy tool is in the 5th email of the series.

  • Track your pace

This is a simple, but very effective method.  

If you use a GPS watch whilst competing, you should have it on a setting which means you can easily track how fast you’re going.  

Being able to easily see what pace you’re averaging means you can adapt if you are going too fast or too slow.

  • Write down your target splits

One trick I’ve used for pacing is to write down my target race splits on my forearm.

So for a marathon, I’ve written down my target time for every 5k.

It means I don’t need to remember what splits I need to hit or do calculations in the heat of a race.

  • Start slow, get wuicker

The most common problem with pacing is starting too quickly. Very few athletes start too slowly.

So one strategy I advise people to use is to start a race slightly slower than your target race pace.

Then aim to get quicker throughout the race.

This uses the idea that a negative split is the best way to execute a race.

A negative split is when you do the second half of a race quicker than the first.

Some of the fastest running times in history have been negative splits.


Whether you’re planning to cross the finish line in just over 2 hours or trying to break 4 hours for the first time, there’s a tried-and-true racing strategy you can use to run your best marathon this fall. It’s called negative splitting, and the concept is simple and straightforward: Run the second half of your race faster than the first.
— Mario Fraioli on Strava

Here's an example of how a negative split might work.

If your goal race pace for a marathon is 7 minutes per mile, then aim for the first few miles to be at 7 minutes 5 seconds. 

This technique does depend on a few other factors. For example, a hilly start may mean you need to start slower. 

10) Doing Too Many Races

Over-racing isn't really a problem if your main goal is to simply enjoy running, meet new people or generally get fit.

But for lots of us, races are the main reason we put ourselves through the hard miles in training.

Breaking a PB, completing a new distance or simply collecting a finisher's medal makes us feel great.

But those factors do make it very easy to enter too many events.

And that can lead to burn out and poor performances in the most important races.

Solutions

  • Plan A and B races

If you want to have the best chance of achieving your goals, you have to be selective about what races you do.

Your training plan should include your main event (your ‘A’ race) and a small number of less important ones (‘B’ races).

Your ‘B’ races are opportunities to practise different things. For example, your nutrition, pacing, equipment, pre-race build-up, etc.

This is so that you know what works and what doesn’t before you get to your 'A' race.

You shouldn’t be worried if you're not at your peak physical condition or setting PB's in your ‘B’ events.

By being strategic about which races you enter you'll be better prepared for the events that really matter to you.

What Are the Biggest Training or Racing Mistakes You’ve Made?

What difficult lessons have you learnt during training and racing?

And how have you used them to improve your performances in the future?

Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this blog, on the Contact Page or on social media below. 

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