Like all athletes—and, well, humans—runners are guilty of a whole slew of bad habits. We sometimes opt for buttery pancakes instead of egg white omelets after a long run, and we'd rather go shopping (for new running gear, obviously) than spend time stretching. But while some quirks are NBD, other mistakes can seriously damage your health and your running. Here are eight of the worst mistakes you can make as a runner. Take notes, and start fixing those bad behaviors!
1. You sit around in your post-run clothes for too long.
It's tempting to get back from a steamy summer run and to want to lay in the grass for a while or chill out with an episode (OK, fine, or a binge) of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But the longer you wade around in your damp shorts and soggy sports bra, the more likely you are to develop all kinds of infections (think yeast infections, breakouts, and more). The most vulnerable area? Anywhere there's hair. Fungus can hang out in the follicles, causing a deep skin infection.
2. You don't shower immediately post-run.
After you've ditched your sweaty garb, get thee to a shower, pronto! Sure, you're tired, but a post-run shower will ward off icky germs and bacteria that were lingering in your shirt, shorts, and shoes. And be sure to wash and dry your feet and in between your toes to prevent Athlete's foot. Get squeaky clean, and then snuggle up with some Netflix.
3. You fail to refuel within 30–60 minutes of finishing a run.
There are generally two types of runners: those who are ravenous after a run, and those who don't even want to look at food, let alone ingest it immediately. But failing to take in an ideal mix of carbohydrates and protein after you've finished a workout can lead to a bonk later in the day, and can slow or delay your body's recovery efforts. If you're not ready to slam a burger, go for a protein shake, smoothie, or glass of chocolate milk right after a run. (Confused about pre-run, mid-run, and post-run fueling? We've got you covered.)
4. You don't hydrate enough.
Not drinking enough on the run, especially if you're planning to be pounding the pavement for a while, can lead to dehydration. And with that comes a whole host of complications, like headaches, fatigue, and diarrhea. Don't make the mistake of waiting until you're thirsty and panting—sip water at regular intervals before, during, and after your run to ensure proper fluid digestion and recovery. (Pro tip: You should weigh the same before and after you run. If you weigh significantly less after a run, you haven't had enough to drink.)
5. You forget to plan your route.
Part of the joy of running is being able to head out the door and go wherever you want. But consider the safety risks involved. Before going for a solo run, consider telling a friend, relative, or neighbor where you're headed (at least the general area or direction) and when you expect to be back. You can also sync your phone to an app like Strava, Nike+, Runkeeper, or MapMyRun, so your friends can see that you're out on the roads.
6. You compare yourself to other runners.
So your friend Emily just started running last year and is already faster than you, or your "I swear I'm just a sprinter" buddy decided to try her hand at a half-marathon on a whim and totally crushed it. It's normal to feel discouraged when other runners show natural talent or massive gains while you're jogging along at the same pace you've been for months. But let their fire fuel yours, and remember that all runners have great days and bad ones. Celebrate your good days, and ignore what everyone else is doing.
7. You ignore nagging pain or other signals from your body.
That old "listen to your body" adage is no joke. Runners tend to have high thresholds for pain (we choose to run marathons, after all). But there's a difference between a little post-workout soreness and a nagging soon-to-be injury. Runners are especially prone to IT-band, knee, and foot pain, so tune in to your body's signals, and if you ever have sharp, shooting pain or pain that refuses to let up, stop running and see a doctor. (Promise?)
8. You don't give an injury ample time to heal.
Congratulations! You went to the doctor and he diagnosed you with a minor stress fracture. The worst thing you can do in this situation is ignore your doctor's advice. We've all done it. We want to get back on the roads and back to our training. But failing to give your body the time it needs to heal will only land you back in the same spot—or in a boot or on crutches. Recover smart and stick to doctor-approved cross-training so you can come back even stronger.