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Olympic Fitness: Distance Running

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.

Few sports are more classically Olympic than distance running. In fact, distance running was one of the original competitions of the ancient games in Greece.

The Tokyo Olympics distance running includes 5000m and 10,000m races, plus the marathon. With a careful eye, you can a learn a lot by watching these races.

Adventist Health Portland primary care provider and internist Dr. Brittney Mensen — pictured here — competed in distance running at both the high school and NCAA Division I level and continues to love running. She offered to share ways to appreciate this elite sport and learn from watching these events no matter your fitness level.

What does it take to run long distances?

Dr. Mensen says Olympic distance runners typically start in high school or even younger. They frequently compete in college before turning professionals, although a few exceptional high school athletes move into elite sports directly.

Competitive distance running takes a year-round commitment. Training doesn’t stop between competition seasons. “It has a different focus — training to prevent injuries or treating existing injuries,” Dr. Mensen says.

Running long distances requires strength as well as endurance. That means top runners understand the value of weigh training and rest in addition to cardio-focused runs.

Learning from distance runners

People of all fitness interests and levels can learn from watching the Olympic running events. First, you’ll likely notice that elite runners work with coaches. Although running is often seen as a solitary sport, it’s a good idea to have the support of someone who understands your body.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to check in with your primary care provider before you begin a new activity. As you begin or continue running for exercise, be sure to let your doctor or nurse practitioner know about any pain or injuries before they become something more serious.

If you’re new to running, read up about walk-to-run programs. Gradually introducing your body to new movements and stresses can help you avoid injuries. “For patients who are not used to exercise in general, I am a big fan of starting out in the pool, as there is minimal impact in the water,” says Dr. Mensen.

Dr. Mensen also says to be sure to set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. “Running is also not for everyone,” she warns. The impact on joints is especially hard on people with severe osteoarthritis.

If the Olympics are inspiring you to consider new activities, schedule a visit with your primary care provider and make a plan for success. If you don’t have a provider, give us a call at 503-261-6929. We will help you get scheduled with Dr. Mensen or another provider who fits your needs and location.