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Here’s what runners can learn from Lionel Messi

Three key takeaways from Messi's magic

Lionel_Messi_WC2022 Photo by: Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re a soccer fan (football, to anyone outside of North America) or have never seen a game in your life, you’ve probably heard about Sunday’s thrilling World Cup final between France and Argentina–a game sports pundits are calling one of the greatest athletic events in history. Argentina’s Lionel Messi was the star of the brilliant finale, and we can all learn from his legendary career. Here are a few takeaways for runners.

Consistency over time

Despite how natural Messi’s skill on the pitch looks, he’s been a hard worker in the sport for decades. “I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year,” Messi has said. “It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight sensation.”

Messi began his professional soccer career in 2004 and played at his first World Cup in 2006. The 2022 Cup was his fourth for Argentina, and the first time his team has won. The athlete, now 35, began playing when he was five in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. That’s 30 years of dedication to reach the pièce de résistance of his career.

As a runner, you’ve probably heard consistency touted as the key to becoming better–putting in the work, day after day, is what will elevate you to greatness (or simply help you nail your goals). Messi has had many games over the years where his performance was less than a “sprinkling of sorcery” as UK commentator Sam Matterface described Messi’s magic at Sunday’s win.

Similarly, there are no real running shortcuts: putting in the time and effort to head out the door and log mileage day after day is the real secret to success.

Lionel Messi celebration 2022
Photo: Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

Master the art of the slow run (walking is OK too)

We know, we know, runners hate slowing down, but research shows it’s good for you. If you’ve tried 80/20 running (80 per cent of your runs are easy, 20 per cent harder) long enough to experience the benefits, you’re probably a convert–if not, maybe the fact that one of the GOATs of football spends much of his time on the pitch in a very slow run or walk will convince you to give it a shot.

Against Croatia, more than half of Messi’s total metres covered were in Zone 1–which FIFA defines as speeds between standing still and moving at 7 km/hr (4.3 mph), The Athletic reported. He’s estimated to be in that slower zone up to 85 per cent of the time; when he needs to move quickly, he does that extraordinarily well.


The New Yorker’s Jody Rosen calls Messi “soccer’s great ambler” and adds that “his penchant for walking is not a symptom of indolence or entitlement; it’s a practice that reveals supreme footballing intelligence and a commitment to the efficient expenditure of energy.”

Running slowly most of the time helps you maintain fitness and build mileage without wasting energy or accumulating a large toll on your body–when you need to run fast, in speedwork sessions and on race day, your body will have the energy to put forth the hard effort.

Photo: Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

Resilience and mental grit are essential

Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone disorder (GHD) when he was 11. GHD is treated by daily injections of human growth hormone (hGH) and Messi’s family was unable to afford the expensive injections long-term.

Despite being smaller than his peers as a child, Messi’s hard work and dedication on the pitch earned him a spot with La Masia, FC Barcelona’s (his long-time team outside of World Cup play) youth academy, who also agreed to cover his medical costs. At 5′ 7″, Messi is never the tallest player on the field, but he’s known for using his lower centre of gravity to his advantage.

All runners, new or experienced, road-based or trail fanatics, must overcome challenges to become the best runner they can be. Mental grit and resilience are developed when you face obstacles head-on, learning how to bounce back despite setbacks.

Accepting where you are at and navigating challenges to the best of your ability builds tenacity and mental toughness, preparing you for running hard races and facing inevitable obstacles in life.

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