Running Mistakes

Ah, we live and learn and on our journey to the ultimate race high or the lifestyle PB, we are bound to make some valuable mistakes along the way. Some errors, however, are best avoided. Learn from those who have gone there before you.


No such thing as an irrelevant niggle. Repeat aches and pains are there to pre-warn you of something more sinister. The best thing you can do when a niggle comes along is to stop, take a few days out of your running shoes, and return gently. If the niggle prevails, see a physio or other specialist.

Brigitte Melly (Cape Town): "I started a marathon with an ITB niggle from the start line (literally!). THEN I tried to take a few painkillers/anti-inflammatories thinking it will go away once I warm up. Then I waited for it to kick in, all the while hobbling along with searing pain. Eventually pulled out at the half way mark, 21 km too late and 4 months later I'm still battling with it. Fail."

Zoe Papakakis (Durban): "I twisted my ankle in a silly skateboarding accident but did not want to miss out on training so I did not tell my coach and pushed through the pain and went on to run an ultra-trail run and two day stage race before it gave out. Three months of no running and two more of running five Kms every other day. I had to pull out of a race I spent a year training for and had to shift all my goals forward by a year." Moral of the story? Listen to your body and rather take a few days off. It is far better than being forced to take months off!

Race Week Rules

Many runners will tell you horror tales of poor choices made in the week leading up to a much-anticipated race or on race day. Never try anything new in race week, or during a race. Just because it’s on special, works wonders for another runner or was available at registration, does not mean it’s for you.  Gear, nutrition, treatments and pacing should all be tried and tested before you line up.

Damien Schumann (Cape Town): "The only time I was on the ball enough to get a massage before a race I got rubbed too hard, caused deep tissue inflammation in my quads, and that was my race done. The last 20kms of hobbling also sparked a new injury in my Achilles. Was out for weeks."


Do it for YOU

Training, racing and your entire running experience should be centred on what works for you, as well as your own goals. If you fixate on the fears, goals or strategies of everyone else, you’ll inevitably let yourself down. Some runners thrive on high mileage, others need far less. Figure out what gives you the best results, and maximum enjoyment along the way.

Sabrina Kondelis (USA, currently in Cape Town): "On my first 'big' race I fixated too much on others instead of believing in myself, which lead to a massive blow up and ultimately a DNF. I’ve learned the hard way, you have to get your head right and your legs will follow."


Don’t Wait

There isn’t a right time to choose a goal and go for it. We should be running to learn and experience new places all the time. Bucket lists, dream books, intention boards… fill them up and get going! None of us know when our running days might come to an end, and until the knees and / or doc says we really can’t any more, well, we really must!

Tommy Gibson (Benoni): I started running late in life at 63 (long story) and created a bucket list of races I had to do as I know I have a limited number of competitive (against myself) racing years left. I have ticked them all so no real regrets. However included was to complete a staged trail run which I did in 2017 at 67 Golden Gate and this was such an amazing experience that I switched to trail in 2018. Now at 68, a small regret is that I discovered Trail too late. I did manage Wolkberg and Monties and a whole bunch of shorter distances as well in 2018. Would love to have tried some biggies in the Cape (my home town a long time ago). So I guess my biggest regret is that I did start my running late in life and in particular trail. I absolutely love it; the mountains, the fresh air, the camp "Gees" and vibe.

Move On

Mistakes will happen, and very few runners will end their careers with a log book that has no anguish or heart ache on its pages. But, with the lesson learned, it’s best to move on swiftly rather than wallowing in regret.

Leigh Allinson (UK): "I'm a firm believer that life is never about regretting what has gone before. Sure I've made some poor decisions, had failures, tried to push too far or tried to come back from injury too soon. Those experiences are what define me as a person and have helped me identify areas of weakness in order to realign future goals. So rather than calling them regrets, refer to them as lessons, from which strength, determination and direction can be drawn."

There you have it, some great advice to keep in mind as you plot and plan your next race or running adventure. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Words: Kim Stephens