5 things we can learn from Olympic runners

If you are like me, you caught as much of the running at the Olympic Games as you could. When I sat down to pen this, Mo Farah had just defended his 5000m Olympic Gold medal, which he won in 2012 at the London Olympic Games.

Whether it be on the track or the marathon course, there is no end to inspiration from watching the world’s best do what they do best — run fast.

Sometimes it can feel demoralising to watch these amazing athletes seemingly effortlessly run fast lap after fast lap, but it can also be incredibly motivating. I find, after watching them, I just want to get my shoes on, push hard in training and discover my running limits (with the occasional commentator’s voice calling me every stride).

In addition to inspiration, Olympic runners also provide us with insight into what boosts running performance.

Here are five things we can learn from watching Olympic runners:

  1. Be consistent. Running fast requires consistent training. Olympians get their amazing running form from many years of consistent training. I once heard Australian Marathon legend Steve Monaghetti say that running fast required him to run twice a day for 10 years. There was no luck, just genetic talent mixed with consistent work. Running fast takes more than volume and more volume.
  1. Time off can hurt. Olympians will typically take, at most, a week or two of reduced training over the course of a year of running. In contrast, many recreational runners will take months off from running. Interestingly, the ups and downs of long breaks provide room for injury. Keeping workout loads constant throughout a year can be injury protective. The cycle of complete rest and starting back up from nothing can be problematic. Be careful to increase mileage carefully if you take this kind of time off.
  1. Strength train. To run fast and avoid injury, runners need to perform some form of strength training regularly. As a physiotherapist, I have long been a fan of runners completing small amounts of strength training regularly throughout a week. This does not necessarily mean joining a gym, much of the exercise I prescribe can be completed in 10 minutes from home. The more you run, the more regularly you should strength train.
  1. Rest. Olympic runners avoid training fatigue. This is a key difference between professional athletes and recreational runners who are training while holding down work and family duties. As a recreational runner still seeking my best performances across the marathon distance, juggling a busy physiotherapy practice (POGO Physio), and a growing family (now two girls), I find getting the ideal rest between sessions incredibly tricky. Running fatigued can hurt your form and increase the likelihood of developing ITB and knee injury.
  1. Listen to your coach. Olympic runners pay attention to their coaches. Accountability helps anyone looking to improve performance. You will always hear a successful Olympic runner pay homage to their support crew — quite often beginning with their coach. If you are a recreational runner looking to improve your running performance, now may be the time to look for coach and discover your new limits.
Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.