It does not matter how talented you are or how hard you work—if you’re constantly nursing injuries, you’ll never reach your potential as a runner. The best runners are talented, hardworking and resilient. Resilience is the ability to stay healthy, endure hardships and find inner toughness. With that in mind, here are eight ways you can become a more resilient runner.
1. Emphasize Quality Over Quantity
The first rule of being a resilient athlete is to understand that quality matters more than quantity. These are words that need to ingrained in your mind. The reason you need to get this in your skull is that athletes tend to be obsessed with doing more. Although we often glorify athletes who spend hours upon hours training, more does not automatically equal better. More reps are not always better. More distance is not always better.
The point is that you don’t need to fall in love with “more.” When I was competing as an Olympic sprinter, I learned quickly that three amazing reps are better than eight mediocre reps. You’re not going to win any races just because you performed more reps than your competition. You’re going to win races by performing more quality reps and taking care of your body. The goal is to get better.
2. Know When to Be Tough
Toughness is an interesting concept for athletes. If you’re “too tough” during your training, you can increase your odds of getting injured. But if you don’t have enough toughness, you’re never going to reach your potential. Failure and success as an athlete demand some levels of toughness, but it is a balancing act.
If you’re prioritizing toughness above all else, your mindset becomes denying the truth and ignoring red flags, which can cause long-term damage. It’s great to be tough at the end of a long season, but trying to be the toughest athlete in the world 24/7, 365 can lead to injury and exhaustion.
Think about it like this—if you go for a run and your shins hurt, but you just tough it out and don’t do anything to address the issue, the problem will only get worse. There’s being tough, and there’s being dumb.
3. Recover as Hard as You Train
The harder you train, the harder you have to recover.
Recovery is the most important thing you will do as an athlete. The reason training seven days a week is crazy is because you never have a day off to just let your body relax and recharge, both mentally and physically.
There are a lot of ways to go about actually attacking recovery, and we will talk about some of those in later points. The key here is to understand that intense training will only truly benefit you if you take your recovery just as a seriously.
4. Build Your Sports Med Team
You are never going to be able to maximize your resilience if you’re not healthy. To stay healthy, you need to build a team of people who can help you do so. The reality is that you can do some stuff on your own, but self-care will only take you so far.
Kho Health is a website and app you can use to help you make these connections. Kho will help you find a local health care provider to build the team you need. You don’t need to use these people every day or even every month, but having an established physical therapist, massage therapist, chiropractor, etc., can be a key part in your approach to being a resilient runner over the long haul.
5. Eat Right at Least 80% of the Time
You don’t need to cut out all sugar or go on some crazy strict diet to maximize your health and resilience. What you do need to do is eat well the majority of the time. The reason I say this is because it is more realistic. To tell someone they have to cut out all junk food forever just isn’t a realistic approach for most people.
Stick to eating clean 80% of the time, however the 20% of time you splurge should not be enough to sabotage your overall strong nutrition habits.
6. Sleep Like Your Life Depends on It
Eating and training right is like buying good, sturdy materials to build a new house. The problem is that those materials still need to be assembled, and that’s what happens with great sleep. When you’re asleep, your body is building.
It’s not just about lying in bed for a certain number of hours, either. It doesn’t really matter if you were in bed for nine hours if you woke up every couple of hours and spent a good amount of the night tossing and turning or staring at your phone. Quality matters. With that in mind, here are simple rules for better sleep quality:
- Don’t bring your phone into your room if you can help it.
- Block all light sources.
- Use dark curtains.
- Stop looking at screens within an hour (or even better, two hours) of bedtime.
- Have a bedtime routine you follow consistently.
- Meditate before bed.
- No TV or computer in your room.
Doing these simple things will not only get you more sleep, but the sleep you do get will be of a much higher quality. Laptop, tablet, television and iPhone screens are one of the biggest killers of quality sleep in our modern society due to the type of light that they emit.
7. Limit the Stress in Your Life
Stress is stress no matter if it comes from hard training, schoolwork or family problems.
Since you are an athlete, you are going to stress your body. The key is not to get overwhelmed by stress on a daily basis and to limit the sources of stress in your life. If you’re constantly feeling stressed, you’ll suffer a drop in resiliency at some point.
A 2011 research study found that members of the 2011 University of Missouri football team were at greater risk of injury during weeks of school that had high stressors, such as midterm exams, final exams and vacations. Athletes were three times more likely to sustain an injury during those time periods than they were during training camp, despite the physical load being higher during training camp.
Becoming a more resilient runner is about the lifestyle you live. A little extra mobility work will help, but it won’t be nearly as fruitful as taking collective action across your training, recovery, nutrition and sleep habits.
Photo Credit: Dmytro Aksonov/iStock