Some things that a runners should never do (and how to avoid doing them)

This is a post inspired by my own stupidity. I run quite a lot and it is all too easy for me to forget to do things that help to keep me up-and-running: things that I know I should do, but don’t. So today, when I got back from my run, I decided to start listing the things that us runners should never experience and what to do to avoid these pitfalls. What do you think? Do you have other pitfalls that us runners should avoid?

1) Chafing

Skin rubbing against skin or fabric plus moisture equals sore, red chafing and even, in some cases, bleeding. Whether the location is inner thighs or arm-pits, chafing can be very distracting during a race or a training run and potentially very painful afterwards. In extreme cases, it can be too painful to keep running or to get out for a run the next day. Probably the worst time to for an area of chafing to develop is mid-race where there is little or nothing that can be done about it. In a race, distractions are bad and so the burning and stinging from some skin rubbing raw, can sometimes mean missing a target time or even not being able to finish.

The answer: there are a few options here. My top tip and favourite product for this is BodyGlide. Available from many, many running outlets and online retailers, this product, which is applied in the same way as a solid deodorant, has meant that I have never had issues with chafing when I have used it, including during a 78km mountain race where I was running for 10 hours continuously. BodyGlide is not the cheapest product in the world and some people swear by good, old Vaseline as an alternative. I tend to find that Vaseline can ‘melt’ after a while and that then leaves the skin exposed and vulnerable to chafing, but it’s probably better than nothing.

Another option is making sure skin doesn’t come into contact with skin. Tights and cycling-style shorts (minus the chamois) are an option to keep inner-thigh chafing at bay. Arm-pits are more difficult, although a long-sleeved top will usually do the trick.

Finally if the chafing is due to fabric rubbing against skin, the best way to minimise the risk is by not wearing baggy clothes which can ruck-up and rub and making sure what you do wear is a wicking material that doesn’t absorb and hold on to moisture.

2) Black toenails

A badge of honour or a sign that the runner is too stupid or mean to replace shoes that are too tight? There is only really one reason that runners get blackened toenails and that is because their toes are touching the end of their shoes. During a marathon the average runner takes 35,000 to 40,000 steps in a marathon and if your toes nudge the end of your shoes everytime, the cumulative effect is to lift the nails a little thousands of time. Et voila! Black toenails.

The answer: quite simply, buy shoes that fit. That is not entirely as simple as it sounds, but it is the answer. My advice, at least to start off with, is to visit your local running shop when you have been running. I have done this a number of times and because a runners feet can easily swell by a full size on a long run on a hot day, it is worth thinking about. That way, the shoes you try on will not fit when your feet are at their normal size and then suddenly end up too tight at mile 20 of your key race.

Other things to think about include making sure your toenails are cut short to avoid the nail over-hanging the end of the toe and catching the inside of the shoe. And when you try on a pair of running shoes, wear the sock that you will run in; cushioned socks or double-layer anti-blister socks are almost always thicker than every day socks so you should be wearing the thicker socks when you try on your shoes.

3) Dehydration

Dehydration is really bad for performance. If you don’t drink enough you will NOT run as well as you are capable of. Believe me. I know. In the London Marathon 2010, I was hoping for sub-2:40. It was warm and I didn’t take on more fluids than usual. By mile 13 I was dry. By mile 18 I was in big trouble – head spinning, unable to breathe properly and incapable of keeping my 6 min/mile pace. I ended up walking through a water station. And guess what? After two full bottle of water and a bottle of Lucozade from an aid station, I was back up to speed within seven or eight minutes and finished in 2:43. Obviously I was pissed off that I had missed my target, but I learned a very, very valuable lesson about dehydration.

Fast forward to 2012 and I was racing the same race and again it was going to be warm. But this time I made sure I was well hydrated before the race and drank sips at every water station. End result? A PB with 2:38.

This is really easy to get right. Make sure your pee is light yellow or straw coloured at all times. Then when you have a key session or a race, get some fluids in before the race and sip something throughout, especially if like me, you tend to run hot and sweat quite a lot.

4) Post-run stiffness

This is an interesting subject, because I believe that hard training will result in some stiffness – if you are training for a marathon and running 70 or 80 miles a week like I have and expect that you will not feel stiff, you are deluded. However there is a difference between a little stiffness that eases up a few strides into your early morning run and the type of stiffness that puts you off going out to run at all! That needs to be avoided.

The answers include making sure you are hydrated. Stretching after every run (and that does mean every run). Using a roller or some massage from time to time when you feel stiffness coming on. Getting enough rest. Drinking green tea (OK that might be a bit spurious, but it is a proven antioxidant which reduces free-radical damage). Making sure your recovery runs are just that – recovery. Stretching… after every run. That’s about it. Apart from stretching after every run!

5) Boredom

I sometimes hear people complaining that one of the problems they have with running is boredom. Well, I struggle to understand that, although I do sometimes find running on my own to be a little less than inspiring. So I try to run as often as possible with other people. Sunday runs, when speed is not all that important, is a good chance to get a group together and go at an easy, conversational pace. That is a brilliant way to stay motivated to go out running. I also am lucky to have some training partners nearby which means I can do some of my recovery runs with other people. It is most definitely worth making the effort to go and meet others to run with.

I also think that within reason music or podcasts can have their uses. I worry about people who feel they cannot run without music, but from time to time, I use my iPod shuffle to give me a little boost. And if you have to do long slow runs on your own, a podcast can be a great way to pass the time and learn something along the way!

Just don’t ever race with music. The motivation is NOT going to come from the latest chart hits or whatever else you are listening to. Get into the spirit of the race, feed off the crowds and your fellow competitors and concentrate on what you are doing!

So that is a list of five things that I think all runners should be able to deal with. There will obviously be other answers to these common problems, so please feel free to add your suggestions and if you can think of any other complaints or issues and ways they can be dealt with, please post them in the comments below.


  1. I’m not convinced that consuming anti-oxidants reduces damage by free radicals. I don’t see how the mechanism to allow them to do this works. Green tea does taste nice after a long run and that’s reason enough to drink it.

  2. There are of course other anti chafing preparations available. Muller stick, Sportslick are 2 that spring to mind, both of which I’ve used successfully.

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