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Olympic Fitness: Steeplechase

Fitness, General, Human Interest

This blog is one in a series about how watching the Tokyo Olympic Games can inspire your own fitness and fun.

Like its namesake equestrian sport, steeplechase is a timed event that combines running and jumping with barriers and water features. Though it is sometimes less familiar to Olympic audiences than events like swimming and gymnastics, steeplechase is well-known to Adventist Health Portland’s Ashlyn Howie, a family nurse practitioner at our Troutdale primary care office.

Ashlyn got her steeplechase start in college. Her coach encouraged her to try it because she had a background in gymnastics. “It was a rough start learning how to hurdle without a water pit and barriers to regularly practice with, but I eventually figured it out,” she recalls.

With the Olympic steeplechase finals about to begin, Ashlyn agreed to give us a behind-the-scenes look into the sport of steeplechase.

Inside steeplechase

While many athletes compete in cross-country and track as early as middle school, most don’t start steeplechase until later. Ashlyn says that, while some high schools host the event, steeplechase is primary done at the collegiate level and higher.

To reach the elite level of the Olympics, athletes rely on entire teams dedicated to their constant improvement and rehab. “It truly takes a village,” Ashlyn says. She adds it also takes great sleep, nutrition, training, low stress, recovery and, especially, mental fortitude.

Competitive runners don’t really have an off-season, according to Ashlyn, but there are general phases of the year. During her competitive years, summers were for building up, fall was for racing, followed by time for recovery and winter indoor track before starting to build up again.

That process of building means more than just running. “Steeplechase is an endurance sport as much as it is an explosive/power sport,” Ashlyn explains. “Running workouts and doing specific drills to help with technique is important, but most of the power comes from the weight room.”

Interestingly, mental strength matters a lot too. Ashlyn points out, “You cannot have doubt when running this event. Doubt causes tension and will interfere with performance.”

Things to learn from steeplechasers

Although this isn’t a beginner sport and should only be pursued by athletes in great running shape, there’s still a lot to learn from steeplechasers.

“It is important to visualize your race in a positive light, picture success and move with confidence,” Ashlyn shares. “This can of course be applied to any race, hobby, event, etc.”

She adds that anyone can increase their running longevity and help prevent injury by adding strength training at least twice a week to their exercise program. She recommends lifting higher weight with lower repetitions.

“My advice for starting anything new — not just running — is to start with small, actionable goals,” says Ashlyn. She suggests coming up with three to five goals but making sure at least two of them are almost too easy to achieve. The others can require more effort, but they should still be doable. “This way, right off there is success,” she explains. “My philosophy is that just getting started is success no matter how that looks.”

If running particularly interests you, Ashlyn says to make sure you have the right gear. “You can’t just run in any pair of shoes, and you should be properly fitted by someone who knows how to do a gait analysis,” she warns. After that, find a beginner’s training plan to get you started.

Also, remember dedication matters more than motivation. “Honestly, motivation is a small part of what gets me out the door,” Ashlyn admits. “I don’t just wake up every day excited to train. In fact, there are sometimes many days or weeks where I feel ‘meh’ but do it anyways. That is dedication.”

That said, you have to give yourself grace and stop if you’ve worked hard all week and then have a run you’re not feeling good about. “One key to success and reducing injuries is listening to your body and keeping stress down,” Ashlyn says. “This method has worked well for me and helps prevent burnout too.”

If you want to put your best foot forward in running or any other new activity, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care provider. If you don’t have your own doctor or nurse practitioner like Ashlyn, give us a call at 503-261-6929. We’ll help you find one that fits your goals and your location best.