High ambition, high caution: my new running motto

One of my favourite running gurus has a saying about running that goes like this: performance is the result of who can run the most miles without getting injured. This comes from David Roche, who knows more than most when it comes to injury prevention and training methods, having coached some of the world’s best athletes.

As I enter a new phase in my running career and take on a cautious approach to dedicated training, I find myself balancing the line between all of these crazy ambitions I have within my running career, and accomplishing those ambitions in the most cautious ways possible.

Take speed and intensity control as an example. Historically, like most young runners do, I often ran intervals as fast as I could possibly go, until I couldn’t walk. Being in a team environment at the university level is great on the one hand as you get friends that can push you to be your best. On the other hand, it’s terrible because you get friends that can push you beyond your best. Suddenly you end up running too fast for what your body (or anyone’s body) is theoretically ready for, and end up overtraining.

My university team always had some of our top guys out injured, and this is likely a big reason why. Our workouts were insanity, but we were also pushing ourselves beyond the scope of what we were physically capable of, all for the ever-so-slight confidence boost ahead of the next race.

Nowadays, it’s not only that I “cannot do speed work without getting injured” (you know the saying). But I also don’t even have a strong desire to do much in the way of speed work. I don’t have an emotional investment toward faster races like half-marathons and 30k’s. Instead, I get my joys from running long, running slow, running hills, and strategizing over how I’m going to accomplish those feats efficiently. So knowing where my passions lie, I’m able to control my intensity to appropriate levels that will actually be beneficial to my body in the moment.

I’ve wrestled with this recently, with the thought of trying to build speed work for a race that I don’t ultimately care about. I would be doing this for the fact that I can’t do anything well if I simply don’t care about it at all. So I might as well care and try and build some speed. But again, with controlled, hard efforts, I’m able to cautiously go about this in a way where I’m not then needing two days to recover. Instead, I’m able to take two days to recover within my current injury rehab scheme, from my own choice on the matter.

This is not to say that I’m never doing anything hard or fast. In fact, right now that’s almost all I am doing in my three days of running. I’m focusing on “quality” and “intention” behind my workouts and making every session race-specific, just as I would when coaching other sports like soccer and making exercises “game-realistic”.

Since most of my work now is done fast and hard, the caution has to be in place all the more. That comes with listening to my body, ensuring I’m fuelling and hydrating well enough during, after and days after runs. That comes with the recognition that I don’t have to power walk 8×16 floors of stairs on my rest day if I’m starting to feel my shins ache, and can do 6×16 floors of stairs instead.

That also comes from the recognition that I need to focus on sleep and stress management. Work will always be stressful, and I’m doing better at managing the moving pieces and not letting it overwhelm or consume my life.

Importantly, I’m continuing all of my injury prevention work from yoga to foam rolling to strength training. This level of thought, care, dedication and attention, is what truly allows the ambitious acts that I have in place to manifest. It’s not the training itself, but how I’m recovering from the training that matters.

For anyone looking to be cautious within their ambitions, this is the key takeaway. Adaptations don’t come from hard efforts. They come from recovering after those hard efforts. The best life lesson I’ve ever had on this matter came just before my plantar fasciitis blew up, where I followed up an intense workout with an incredibly stressful few days, a lack of sleep, and a lack of proper nutrition. It’s no wonder why it all culminated in my demise at precisely that moment.

I never want to let myself get to that state again. I know how tough injuries are on my psyche. Even though they can be lifechanging, eye-opening and amazing learning experiences, they also suck. Training opportunities and the fulfillment of goals at races can also be lifechanging, eye-opening, and amazing learning experiences. So that’s what I want to focus on. In doing so, I need to continue to be cautious.

But I can’t let caution be the only thing thrown into the wind. If I’m too cautious with my training, and never willing to run hard, fast, uphill, downhill, everything in between, I simply won’t get anywhere near where I want to be with my running journey. I also have to keep my ambition, and a clear idea of what I am working toward. Without that ambition, running would simply be less fun, and less powerful.

Thanks for reading & see you soon!

Strava Profile | Rhys Desmond


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2 responses to “High ambition, high caution: my new running motto”

  1. Such a great post! As a professional athlete, one of my goals is to stay away from injuries as well, and taking care of the body & mind is crucial. Some parts got my attention e.g. when talking about pushing yourself over the limits, that can also be great so you know where your limits are. However, realizing that quality should be the focus and every workout should have a purpose is golden. Good read!


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response! I definitely agree with your sentiment. Sometimes I will push faster or farther in a workout than I thought I could, and that is completely okay so long as I’m managing the stress on my body and recovering effectively afterward. Thanks for reading!


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