I grew up in an age when once you reached a certain age (30 or 40, perhaps?), you scaled back your exercise regimen. You took up golf, tennis or bowls, not running. My parents called our neighbour mad because he ran every day. He was probably all of, what, 45?
Haven’t times changed. Now not only are more people running than ever before, but they are running into their later years and in greater numbers. And many are only taking up the sport in . Not only that, runners are often holding their times - and sometimes getting faster as the years progress.
However this can be hard to pull off. And hard to accept when you just aren’t clocking the times that you used to, despite disciplined training.
A running friend in his late 50s asked recently whether it’s possible for him to get faster rather than slower, which is what’s happening. He’s training for a comeback marathon, having completed more than a dozen over his lifetime with a sub-3 hour PB. And while he’s not expecting to relive those glory days, it’s frustrating him that training isn’t delivering the pace rewards it used to.
Generally if you want to run faster and farther, you've got to improve your running economy, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen. The less oxygen and energy you need to run at a certain pace, the longer you can go.
But according to athletics coach and owner of runnersconnect.com Jeff Gaudette, running economy doesn’t change much in older runners and in fact can be maintained into your 60s if training is targeted properly.
“Some decrease in performance is probably inevitable with increasing age,” he says. “But the drop in race times is much slower than you might think: about 1-2 seconds per mile per year for medium-distance races (10-15km) and 4-6 seconds per mile per year in the marathon.
“Much of the decrease in race performance with age can be explained by decreases in oxygen uptake, upper and lower body strength, flexibility, and muscular [explosive] power,” says Gaudette.
Therefore, older runners should adapt their training to focus on these areas.
Interval workouts will improve oxygen uptake, weights training and strength exercises will improve muscular strength and power, and flexibility will be enhanced through quality stretching and/or yoga.
“It makes sense to shift your focus from racking up big mileage as a younger runner to getting in and recovering from high-quality workouts and ancillary training sessions as a masters runner,” Gaudette says. “Incorporating more weight lifting and stretching into your routine will guard against the effects of ageing on your muscles.”
Gaudette also advises marathoners to do shorter races, as studies show you might “age” slower at 10-15km than you do in the marathon.
“Take heart that all runners tend to age slower, biologically speaking, than their sedentary counterparts.”
Sydney sprint and strength coach Rod Clarke (runfasthq.com) believes improvement can be made in all events for all ages, depending on an athlete’s background.
“If we are talking about untrained athletes then improvement should take place at any age especially with a good training program.
“If you’re a trained athlete then improvement could be more difficult, especially if you have a good training background. However, it’s not impossible,” Clarke says.
“When applied to 10km - marathon distance runners, you can't go past classic interval training methods. Try 10 x 400m with a 1 min rest or 1-3km intervals off 3 mins rest. You can then play around with the variables of distance, speed and recovery.
“With the above methods you need to be kept accountable by getting yourself are good coach or keeping accurate rest times with a watch.”
Do you have the secret to not slowing down?
Follow Pip Coates on Twitter.