July 16, 2018

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By Alan Culpepper (Top US marathon runner, Olympian, coach and author) via competitor.com

As we age, we become set in our ways when we train and race—and tend to focus on those facets that come easiest. When we do so, we unknowingly slide into patterns of neglect, which lead to less than optimal performances. Training and racing in our post-prime years is not always glamorous but it can still be just as satisfying. The keys are maximizing the effort you put in, and knowing that you must adjust your training.

Mistake 1: Overemphasising Aerobic Work

One of the wonderful benefits of age is that we become aerobically stronger. This is one of things I appreciate most about running. Everyone, no matter their ability level, has the potential to improve their aerobic conditioning and thus improve their performance. I am certain that some of you could share stories of the miraculous improvement you have made from when you first started running until now. However, there is a threshold for those benefits, and there comes a point where you are shining up the same old engine and not adding any new horsepower. It is staggering how easily a master’s athlete can maintain their aerobic strength with much less emphasis on it compared to when they were younger. Longer tempo runs, steady long runs and marathon pace efforts are all good but we should minimize them as we age. Don’t slip into the trap of running the same type of high-level aerobic efforts over and over and losing out on the opportunity to actually improve your fitness through other means.

Mistake 2: Fear Of Speed

Some masters athletes fear speed—or rather, they fear injury, feeling awful or sore, or just being out of their element. Faster sessions can feel awkward and hard, so many masters runners just focus on marathon paced workouts. As we age and lose the snap and responsiveness in our muscles, we need to focus more on the muscular system. By speed, I mean quicker pacing than half marathon pace, lasting no longer than eight minutes at a time. The limiter as we age is not our lungs but our legs; your muscles deteriorate quicker than your oxygen-carrying enzymes. Without the inclusion of faster work you will find that you get really good at running one pace. Speedwork adds muscular strength and this positively impacts racing at any distance even the marathon. The key is to be smart, integrate gradually and allow your body time to adapt.

Mistake 3: Neglecting All The Other Workouts

Along with speed work, other cross training can have very positive impacts on training and racing as we age. Masters athletes must adopt a full-body approach to stay injury free and constructive. Pilates, yoga, weight training, core work, biking, spin class or swimming are good examples. And just like with faster workouts, a little goes a long way: working on these different muscle groups even just a few days a week will prove effective. Lastly, don’t forget about stretching! It’s the easiest and most effective way to stay injury free, but is often the most neglected.