Masters Running: Do I have to slow down as I age? (And can I still get faster?)

Masters Running: Do I have to slow down as I age? (And can I still get faster?)

This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time. I started running rather late. I started in my late 30s and I’ve only been running for about 7 or 8 years. So just when I’m at the point where I’m consistent (mostly) in my running, I’m really enjoying it and I’m getting confident enough to try new races, distances etc., I’m faced with the fact that I’m getting old.

I’m only 44. I don’t think I’m old, and I don’t feel old, I just know it’s happening. I’m a master’s runner. Now is the time we start to lose upper and lower body strength, flexibility, muscular power and oxygen uptake… I’m not ready for that yet. That sounds depressing. I don’t think I’m as fast as I can get yet. I still have so many goals – what to do?

Well, I’ve started doing research – and no doubt I will do a lot more. And I will most likely change my mind many times about what are the best methods of training. And although there are quite a few articles, there weren’t as many as I would hope.  What did I find? Well, unfortunately not the magic easy fix that I was hoping for.

 I did, however, discover that it’s not quite as depressing as it seems. The decline is slower than you might think. After 40 we slow 1 – 2 seconds per mile per year for medium distance runners (10-15km) and 4 – 6 seconds per mile per year for marathoners. (Since I started late, I’m sure I have time to improve before my times start declining – I hope)

The article that I found most interesting was in Runners’ World on what we long distance runners can learn from sprinters. Apparently our stride frequency remains the same as we age, but our stride length decreases. By adopting the training methods that sprinters use, we can maintain our stride length, thus slowing the decline in our performance. According to the article, an added bonus to working on your fast-twitch muscles with speedwork, drills, plyometrics and weight lifting? A great sprinters butt. ;o

Some articles suggested, that when we enter the Masters category, it might be a good time to move our focus from big mileage to doing more high quality workouts and then onto proper recovery from those workouts. Stretching can also play an important role in minimizing the decline in our performance as we age. So, as a Masters Runner, training smart over training volume seems to be the most important thing.

And take heart, we runners tend to age slower than our sedentary counterparts, so, no matter what, we’re ahead of the game. 😉

The Toronto Waterfront Marathon  was my first marathon. That was the day that Ed Witlock broke the age-82 world marathon best by running 3:41:58 (he came in over 47 minutes ahead of me). I guess that answers my question. 🙂

Have you read any good articles on aging while running? What’s your best advice for the Master Runner?

– Jackie –Jackie

I’m a Master Runner! Graduating to the Masters running category

Running as a “masters runner” can be a bit of a difficult transition to make. I only began running when I was 37, but now at 42 I’m figuring out that there are modifications you need to make as you age. Like, for instance, I learned the hard way this past weekend that you can’t sprint 1.5km down a snow covered mountain (-87m elevation) without spending 2 days not being able to move your neck and back. Here’s a few of the things that I’ve had to change or focus more on over the last few years:

  1. Gear is even more important – Running in “expired” shoes wasn’t something that I used to worry about, but now I notice right away when my gear is past its’ prime. Since it seems to take longer to recover from injury now, I make sure I’m wearing the proper shoes. Plus, I just think we should totally have the hottest gear. If you spend all that time running and you look great for your age, you should definitely have some nice tights, a cool running top and some flash shoes that you look great in.
  2. Form is important – This is something I still have to work on. Proper posture and keeping your core strong will help keep you injury free and help you be a more efficient runner. I have to work on my core, because as I run I tend to hunker down earning me the running nickname of Truckasaurus – yep. I love this picture from the Laurier Loop this summer because, first of all, I’m in full “Truckasaurus mode” and secondly, everyone in the picture is a masters runner. In fact, the lady in the green shirt was in my age group and blew past me at the finish line finishing second in our age category and giving me the third place medal. Fun race!                                                                                     lauriergroup2013
  3. Being a masters runner doesn’t mean you can’t get faster – I ran a couple of 10k races in the fall, one where a lady in the 60-69 category came in ahead of me, and the next where I came in slightly ahead of her. The second race I was wise enough to stay close to her and I found that she ran a perfect negative split race. Each km got progressively faster and at the end I had enough steam to run my last km under 5min. Now, I already knew that this was a good way of doing it, but doing it my own way first, and then doing it her way and getting a better time was what I needed to decide to focus on it. I also found out from her that she is still getting personal bests. That is very encouraging to me because I enjoy improving, even if only by seconds.
  4. Modifying training schedules is important – I’ve run a couple of marathons in the last year and a half and I tried following schedules that had me running 5 – 6 days a week. I found this very difficult to do. Recently I started reading the book “Run Less Run Faster” that encourages 3 key runs a week and 2 days of cross-training. Although it is geared to runners of any age, I think that this could be beneficial for Masters runners who find that during training they are having trouble recovering, are getting injured or are just plain exhausted.
  5. Use your energy for important training days – If you are finding you are more tired use your energy wisely, perhaps on your long runs, speedwork and hills, so that you are getting the most out of the days that you can run.
  6. Going to smaller races is fun as you age because you have a better chance of medaling in your age category. I don’t care if there are only 3 people in my age category, coming home with a medal is cool no matter what. 😉
  7. Try new things – When improving your time isn’t as big a goal, changing up the kinds of races you do can be more fun. Doing trail races, races with huge hills, relays and difference distances can keep the sport from getting stale and can keep you from getting discouraged if you are slowing down a bit. When you are not so concerned with getting a PB every time you go out, it opens up a bunch of new races to enjoy.

Being in the masters category has made me even more happy that I am running. When I look at some of my non-runner friends and think back to my parents’ health at my age, I’m glad that running is a regular part of my life. I feel pretty good for 42, and sometimes I forget how old I am and that there are things that people my age don’t do. (Like running – or as my husband imagines, flailing – down a mountain in the snow). Making a few adjustments has made me less anxious about trying to reach some speed goals before I’m “too old”. Instead I’ve switched my focus to the long term and how I can enjoy running for the next 40 years.

How has being a Masters runner changed you?

– Jackie – Jackie