Truths About Running That Only Top Athletes Understand

What separates a great runner from the rest of the pack? We sat down with an Olympic athlete to find out.

Truths About Running That Only Top Athletes Understand

Here’s a fact: the number of runners in Australia has more than doubled since 2005. Not coincidentally, events like Sydney’s City 2 Surf fun run have seen their popularity soar, with last year seeing over 80,000 people cross the iconic Bondi finish line.

But what separates a great runner from the rest of the pack? Physical attributes? Mindset? Recovery time? Diet? Warm up?

These are all great questions. Unfortunately, given our propensity to skip training sessions in favour of a Cadbury binge session, we felt ill-equipped to answer them. So we hit up Courtney Atkinson—an Olympian and endurance athlete, who is also currently gearing up for the charity Wings For Life World Run, to find out.

Here’s what he had to say.

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Warming Up

You buy flashy kicks, monochrome shorts and 1980’s socks, look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself a wink. But then, disaster strikes: you remember your attractive, yoga pant loving neighbour (don’t pretend you don’t know who we’re talking about) always runs by at this time of day.

Your confidence deserts you in a trice. What if she sees you rolling around in the grass, stretching your poorly-adjusted lumbar? What if she notices your inflexible hamstrings? What if she comes past as you are jogging on the spot like an absolute Pelican?

You decide to skip the warm-up.

While it doesn’t take an expert runner to know this is a bad idea, only true greats appreciate the true extent of its folly. And as observing the habits (and injury rates) of amatuer runners shows, knowing something is very different from implementing it.

As Courtney Atkinson points out: you can’t just roll out of bed, slow-jog the first ten metres, and think you’re good to start rattling off intense shuttle runs.

On the other hand, you don’t need to make it too complicated either: “Easy… just start off very, very easy. Walk the first 50-100m, maybe do a few walking lunges then start jogging very slowly for first few hundred metres and increase pace throughout run as the legs warm up and build pace throughout the time you have to run.”

“Maximize the use of the time you have. And bang for your buck in run terms you can get plenty of fitness out of solid build over 30mins.”

“Even if I was to do a very intense fast run session,” Courtney continues, “The first 20mins would be warming up following this pattern.”

Using Technology To Your Advantage

While many old school runners reckon fancy-pant gadgets are more of a distraction than a tool, Courtney says they can be really useful for keeping track of your progress and motivating you to achieve greater distances (and faster times).

“I’d use the Strava app on your phone. Using the GPS in your phone this will track your speed, distance and route in real-time and then even better compare these metrics to other runs you’ve completed over the same route which helps monitor improvements. With the addition of your favourite Spotify playlist or current podcast, you’ve got what you need.”

“I’m currently running to the Umbrella Academy Playlist… a bit of old, bit of new and some good rhythm run tunes.”

Analyse Your Rest

How do you know how long you should leave between workouts? Do you wait until all soreness has gone, or does it depend on your goals? These are hugely under-rated questions that all runners—from novices to pro’s—should be asking themselves, particularly as there is no set formula.

As Courtney tells us, “At the elite end of running this is very individual and there are times when you would change frequency and intensity depending for specific races. But in simple terms, think of it as STRESS + RECOVERY = IMPROVEMENT.”

“The key here is to make sure to recover enough from hard work.”

“As a general rule of thumb; taking a day of recovery and just jogging easy in-between a day of faster running or a long run is a safe training structure to follow,” he adds.

Keeping Mentally Sharp

According to Courtney, this can be broken down into three points:

  • Join a like-minded group. It’s enjoyable, can challenge your running and also adds accountability to turning up.
  • Have a race or time goal that you’re working towards.
  • Think about the environment in which you’re running. Sometimes a run in nature away from the hustle and bustle of roads and city can change the perspective on how good running can feel.
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Another day running in our backyard 😉🇦🇺 @redbullau #InJust7Days pics: @boenferguson // #redbull

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Look After Yourself While Running

Courtney breaks this one down into three points, too.

  • Don’t over think it. Running should have flow and rhythm.
  • When it gets tough I like to break it down to the short goals to take the focus away from the how far is left. I use counting 10 steps on the left leg then 10 steps on right leg repetitively and aim to make those 10 steps the best I can.
  • Adjust your mindset: the focus moves from how far is left or how much it’s uncomfortable to how well can I execute the short process I’m focused on.

Make Sure You Recover Well

Again, Courtney is on hand with three insightful pointers.

  • It’s better to make sure you’re adequately recovered than short-changing yourself.
  • Consume some energy asap after finishing running, “To kickstart muscle and glycogen recovery.”
  • Get hands-on: “Some like massage and similar to help with recovery, for me I use rollers… to gentle rolling out my quads, calves and back daily. Not only for recovery but also for maintaining range of motion as I age.”

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