Training tips for older runners

[00:00:00] Getting older. It’s something that we all, hopefully, eventually face. Not to be too morbid right off the bat here, but it is something that we have to address when we want to think about how do I stay running for the long term? How do I increase my longevity in the sport and keep my performance at a high level?

[00:00:28] If you haven’t been with me here before, I’m Jesse Funk. This is a show I call Runner’s High where we talk about everything running and endurance related, so if that’s up your alley, hit that subscribe button. Stick around for more videos every Tuesday and Thursday.

[00:00:43] Today, I want to talk about getting older. It’s something that I think I’ve thought more about probably when I was younger, probably early twenties, thinking, you know, I’ve got this timeline and I can only go to about 35 and then I won’t be fast anymore and then I’ll just have to give it up and just become old and slow. Some of that is, I guess, a little bit true, but as I now approach 35, I realize that some of that is not necessarily true.

[00:01:15] There’s a lot of speed you can maintain over time, but it is more difficult because you become more susceptible to injury, i.e. you don’t recover quite as quickly as you did when you were younger. And importantly, past 30, your VO2 max decreases by roughly 10% per decade, so your ability to use oxygen is not as good, meaning your top end is not going to be as good, which is why you don’t see 90-year-olds competing with the 20-year-olds. It’s not just for a lack of wanting to be out there, but there are things that you can take into account and you can keep your speed up.

[00:01:58] I want to give a shout out to Jonathan, who I sure will never see this video in a recent race I did. He’s kind of the older guy that everybody knows. He’s 48 at the time of this video, still running some 5:30 pace and kicking a lot of people’s butts, including mine, for this particular race. So it is possible to keep up your speed. There’s plenty of people setting new master’s world records all the time right now. So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of adjustments you need to make as you get older.

[00:02:29] The first adjustment is really an overall philosophy, and that is quality over quantity. If you remember at the beginning of the video, I said, as you get older, you’re not going to recover quite as quickly. And that means that putting in junk miles is probably not your best bet. It means that you need to focus on the quality of the workout, not just how many miles did I get in? What that means in practical terms is likely moving to less days of speedwork, more days of long runs, which may seem counterintuitive that just said don’t do junk miles.

[00:03:15] But then also adjusting that as you’re continuing to get older through decades. It depends on your personal fitness level, your background, as well as to exactly how you’re going to do that. But I know for me, like one day I still swim. So I do like a hard day in the pool, which gives me something harder than aerobic effort without the pounding on my joints.

[00:03:38] And then I have a speed day for specifically for running. And then I have another three days of easy runs and an off day. I’m 33 at the time that I’m shooting this video, and that’s probably a pattern I can maintain for actually a couple of decades at this point. If I got a little bit better run fitness, we could probably move to some weeks of doing to speedwork to speed workdays at this point in my life.

[00:04:04] But as I get into 40s, 50s, then backing back off into just one speed day, and that speed day is going to depend on where you are in your schedule. We’ve talked about this on here on the channel before. So subscribe. If you don’t know about periodization, you can go look that up here in a minute. But the big thing is making sure that you’re not putting in miles for miles sake unless that’s your specific goal. So you’re running Ultra, so then you need to put in the miles.

[00:04:33] But being very diligent with what your plan is, why you’re doing it in a specificity of it is more important because you don’t recover as quickly. You can’t get away with doing too much extra when you’re susceptibility to injury increases.

[00:04:52] Second tip for as you get older, it becomes more important to warm up and start slowly. There are people that suggest that you should start out like way, way slower than what your long run pace is. So if you’re a long run pace, say my case. I’m just over seven minute pace, like 7:15 most days. I noticed that has decreased for me, despite my speed work still being at a higher level than where that would have been when I was younger. People would suggest, say for me, maybe starting out at like ten minute pace and building that up.

[00:05:28] That’s definitely been true for a friend of mine who’s about the same age and pretty similar competition level, competitive level, competitiveness, something like that. In any case, he definitely starts out much slower and gets warmed up. And that’s again more important as you get older.

There is I wish I could remember the guest. There’s been so many episodes, a guest from the Smart Athlete Podcast, the other show I do on this channel on Fridays. So subscribe you can get it from the horse’s mouth. I remember a guest saying to me that as they got older, their mantra basically is The number of minutes that they warm up is equal to their age, or that’s how long it takes them to really feel warmed up.

[00:06:15] Now, I think there’s a grain of truth to that. But obviously if say you’re running when you’re 90, hopefully it doesn’t take an hour and a half for you to get ready for your race because you pretty much are going to put in all the miles for your race by the time you get warmed up.

But knowing that it does take longer and you want to build a pre warm up routine which we’ve talked about on this channel again too, hopefully I’ll link to that video at the end of this “How to develop a warm up routine”. Part of that involves doing plyometrics and some strength work before you get running so that you’re activating those firing patterns in your muscles before you ask more of them by running.

[00:06:59] The whole process of warming up is always important, but more important as you age again, in large part because of that susceptibility to injury, but also because you have sustained damage which may or may not be fixable over time. Thus, you need more time to warm up and get things into that kind of optimum range for performance.

I remember reading an article about the gentleman who in the last couple of years had set a new master’s world record in the Mile. I can’t remember whether he was in his fifties or sixties, but still running like 430 pace or mid to low fours for his mile. And he said his secret was basically not getting injured.

[00:07:51] So my third tip is really extra recovery periods. Erring on the side of recovery rather than on the side of mileage is probably going to be to your benefit. Now, if you’ve been running for decades, it’s going to be tougher to do this because you already have the mentality of putting the miles put in the time, but you have to make a little bit of a shift and go, I need to be probably more recovered than I need to be fatigued. You’ve built up your base over the time that you’ve been running, or if you’re newer to running when you’re older, you’ll get it in. You’ll get your time in if you’re consistent.

[00:08:32] But there’s a saying about how a well-rested but undertrained athlete will always be an overtrained but fatigued athlete. And I think that plays a role here when we talk about taking that extra rest. It’s pointing to the idea that if you are rested and recovered, you’re more likely to have a better performance on any given day than if you’re overly tired.

[00:09:02] So when we know, again, because that large those large components like we talked about in the beginning takes longer to recover. Your VO2 max goes down. Getting to that optimal range takes more effort. Since you can’t recover as fast, you have to take more recovery periods. And sometimes that means taking a day off or like me incorporating cross-training into your schedule. I did triathlon for nearly a decade and kind of maintain some of that swimming. I don’t personally care for all the cycling, at least right now in my life. 

[00:09:35] But adding that cross training in because to get you some aerobic work count as recovery from the run keep you competitive in terms of building that aerobic base, but not increase your injury risk because of the running. So it may mean a day off or it may mean a cross training day. Again, it depends on you, your schedule, your skill level, all that kind of thing. But knowing that you need more recovery is absolutely an adjustment you have to make as you get older.

[00:10:07] Keeping in mind that all of these things are basically a race against yourself, there are some things that may get better with age, and there are. There’s a reason that you see, especially in the ultra community, many people winning in their forties because it’s taken that long to build up such good base, such good aerobic engine, to be able to go for that long distance and be competitive. So it isn’t all doom and gloom to say everything’s downhill once you’re not in your twenties anymore.

[00:10:42] It’s not true. But I’m sure if you ask those runners, they’re making smarter decisions than they were in their twenties because they’ve learned what didn’t work for them and then figured out how to tweak and make things work for their own body. So a lot of these things are general guidelines, but then you have to figure out how to compare them to yourself and make your own personal adjustments.

[00:11:06] I can’t do that for you. Well, I mean, it could if we sat down and I knew more about your history, but I can’t via video here, so you have to know this is where I’ve been. This is where I’d like to go. This is how my body is reacting and how to take these things into account. So my last suggestion for you, if it’s not something you already do, is strength training. Keeping up your strength training or beginning a strength training program is paramount to the longevity of your running. And this largely has to do with overuse syndrome.

[00:11:42] So we do the same thing over and over and over when we run, right? Step, step, step, step at varying speeds. But we take thousands and thousands of steps, making our muscles far in the exact same patterns. By strength training, we can localize, focus on and strengthen particular groups so that they have a higher capacity.

The way I like to explain this, and I’ve explained this for a long time, is our goal is to increase the top end capacity of our legs, in this case ore body. If we’re talking about core, because your core is important, if you increase the top end capacity and then now you go at a long run or an easy pace that at that same speed is now lower. What I mean, it’s at a lower capacity of your overall total capacity now.

[00:12:34] So when you work on your strength training, not only is it basically pre rehab for injuries that may or may not occur, you know, your personal tendencies, the things that you typically have problems with, but you’re also helping increase that high in capacity so that the efforts you put in are a smaller percentage of the total capacity that your muscles can handle. 

[00:12:57] These two things, both pre hab and increasing that capacity I think are the main components in why strength training so important over time for anybody, but especially as we age because VO2 max drops and total muscle mass drops over time. So maintaining a higher amount of strength is a preventive measure for the long term. We will continue to lose strength, but spending time in the gym helps lessen the amount that we’re going to lose.

[00:13:29] So do you have any questions for me about running, about training, anything in particular? Leave them in the comments below. I hope to see you on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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