During the 1964 Olympic 10K race, I was inspired by Billy Mills. Mills, a Native American and an unknown in international distance races, launched a dramatic finishing "kick" down the final straight to win the gold
I had met him earlier in the year and was impressed by his quiet strength. He didn't let the faster times of other athletes intimidate him. He trained hard for that moment, and he didn't give up. Many times when a run got boring, I would re-create his dramatic victory and use that inspiration. Eight years later, I was running in Mills's event in the Munich Olympics because I moved from last place in the mile to a second place at the finish at the Olympic Trials.
More: How Top Marathoners Succeed at the U.S. Olympic Trials
Whether you've run a marathon
or struggle to cover a city block, you can use the inspiration of Olympians to improve your fitness and find a level of competition that's right for you. After I heard from more than 250,000 members of my Galloway training programs, running retreats, running schools or e-coach/consulting clients, I've come to understand that there is a competitive drive inside each of us--even those who deny it.
The secret is to use this motivational push without pushing too hard. If you aren't running much lately or have not been running fast, don't start too fast or go too far. Slow and gentle running with walk breaks can make you feel good while reducing the chance of aches, pains and injury.
More: How Competitive Are You?
If you're coming off the couch, gradually increase to three runs a week (runs every other day) to 30 minutes each. To avoid injuries, use my run-walk-run method, available at www.jeffgalloway.com
. Avoid huffing and puffing on these runs--even at the end--and take walk breaks from the first minute.
When you can run (and walk) comfortably for 30 minutes on three weekly runs, increase the distance of one run a week by half a mile. This long run should be one to two minutes slower than the other runs, with more walk breaks.
There is an excellent reality check called the "magic mile" at www.jeffgalloway.com. Follow the instructions and set a realistic pace for your current level of conditioning. It's always better to go slower on a given day.
More: How to Increase Your Speed Comfortably