I’m passionate about a lot of things – one of them is learning more (and sharing what I’ve learned) about aging gracefully. Hell yeah, I’m not afraid to admit I’m a little bit obsessed with learning about extending not just my lifespan, but most importantly, my health span. So, in future articles I’m going to discuss this topic in more detail.
Today though, I’m going to get down and dirty with some simple, quick tips for the aging runner who wants to keep performing at a high level. These are for any of us who are obviously past our physiologic prime. 40+ 50+ Or, if you’re like me…creeping up on 60!
If you’re happy running slower and slower, these tips probably aren’t for you. But…if you want to see what you can do to fight father time and keep challenging the status quo, then keep reading!
Before I get to the tips themselves, there’s one thought worth considering: We’re all in a different place in our own journey as runners. Some of us have a chance to PR in our 50s (especially if we started out running in our 40s or 30s). Others of us, like me, will never see a PR at an older age. We’re all on a different path. That being said, I believe we can all get more from our aging body and age (and race) gracefully, regardless of where we are on the path. I hope you believe that too!
It never gets easier – you just get older.
The science is clear, there’s a depressing litany of things that happen as we runners age: declining VO2 max, reduced strength, increased body fat, reduced flexibility, reduced lactic acid clearance, declining bone density, and more. Not to mention the chronic disease which seems to creep up on many of us.
The fact is, the calendar is changing and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, I’m here to tell you we CAN impact how we feel and perform regardless. I say, let’s fight back! You with me?
The key to how much success we can have? It’s this: We MUST be willing to change how we approach our training. We can’t do it the same way we did it and have the level of success we hope to.
So, in no particular order…here we go.
- Once per week, do a workout (or 5k race) at your 5k intensity: while they hurt, few distances offer a better overall quality training session than does the 5k.
- Consider thinking of your training “week” as a 10-day block, rather than the traditional 7-day block: this makes it much easier to get an extra day or two of rest in between higher quality sessions.
- Forget about total mileage run: we know that total mileage is never a good indicator of fitness or performance regardless of your age, but as you get older, less is definitely more. I’ve cut my normal weekly mileage in half and feel much more rested for the quality sessions.
- Once per week, do some short interval work at faster than 5k intensity, focusing on maintaining or improving leg speed: we lose max running speed at increasing amounts as we age. Fight it by including these short segments on a routine basis. (Plan on completing fewer “reps” than you might have when you were younger. Less is definitely more).
- Consider cutting out completely (or severely limiting) very easy “recovery” running, except for warm-up and cool downs: I put the word recovery in quotes because there really isn’t any such thing as a “recovery” run (despite what many people think), even for younger runners. The best options for recovering from quality run training are things which are NOT running: swimming, cycling, yoga, going for a walk, napping, etc. Slower “easy” running creates fatigue and contributes to the general slowing down that you’re trying to fight. And makes it less likely you’ll have the oomph you need to do the higher quality work.
- Occasionally vary the type of running shoe you wear: aging runners often prefer a slightly more cushioned shoe than they did when they were younger. And that’s fine, except that more cushioned shoes reduce how much sensory input is received through your feet to the rest of your body. To counter this effect, run occasionally in a much less cushioned shoe that would be ideal for shorter, faster run segments. Also, spend more time when you’re not running, barefooted, to maintain foot strength and sensory input.
- Mix up the terrain: you can easily get the same quality workout on grass or trail that you would on the road or track. The variety in terrain is exactly what you need at this point in your running life.
- Of course, you need to spend more energy and time on staying or getting stronger and on maintaining or improving flexibility and mobility. To put it simply, on moving well. Those really are a given. And as you know, those are the things I spend most of my time thinking about and writing about (I bet you were waiting for me to mention those, am I right?)
If you’re not healthy, none of this matters.
All of the above recommendations assume you’re healthy and not injured. I mean, if you’re nursing an injury or “tweak,” you can’t run fast, even for short periods of time, you know?
And that is damn frustrating.
The fact remains, the biggest destroyer of running fitness, performance, and ENTHUSIASM, is an injury or series of injuries, all of which prevent you from DOING the kind of training I’ve outlined above. All of it begins and ends with being durable, first and foremost.
If you’re injured, I may be able to help. Consider reaching out. If you’re healthy but just not running as fast as you would like, consider implementing some of the above tips into your routine. Just keep in mind that you don’t recover as quickly and that less is always more at this point in your running life.
To your success,