Here’s what I’m learning as a master’s athlete (i.e., an old man), there isn’t a lot of room for error. All those things coaches have been telling you for years (nutrition, strength training, stretching, rolling, recovery), if you don’t do them now, or try to skimp, like you did in your 20s or 30s, you will get injured or see impacts to your performance.
So far, the biggest impact to maintaining speed and fitness as I age has been to increase the focus and consistency of my strength training. I think I’ve finally hit on a formula that doesn’t make me dread going to the gym to lift.
The second biggest impact has been a return to the track and consistent speed work. It doesn’t have to be the gut-busting, lung burning intervals of high school or college. I’m learning that consistency over intensity is also a key to success as a master’s athlete.
The benefits are hard to argue. A 2009 study found that sprint training led to “significant gains in maximal and explosive strength and improvements in force production during running.” Translated that means track work can help us rebuild our stride, recapture our speed, and maintain both as we age.
Here are three simple track workouts that our master’s running group has done this season which can help ease you back onto the track if you, like me, have been neglecting the speed work.
This is the shortest workout and the one that you’ll likely go the fastest. It’s therefor really important to warmup completely for this one.
- 15 minute warmup (includes 4 x 15 seconds strides + 1 mile @ tempo)
What are strides?
According to strengthrunning.com, strides are about 100m accelerations where you start at a jog, build to about 95% of your max speed, and then gradually slow to a stop. One stride should take you about 20-30 seconds.
- 8-10 x 200 progressive sprint intervals (Progressive is a sneaky way to say each one faster than the last!)
- 200 jog/walk recovery
- 15 minutes cool down
This workout is all about learning to change gears, surging and running fast on tired legs. Deceptively simple, but also deceptively hard. Don’t go out too fast! As a master’s runner, it’s more important to listen to your own body than try to hit a specific pace. Push yourself, but keep it sensible. Pick your own times and paces.
A good starting structure might be [2-3-4-3-2].
You would go 2 min hard, 2min easy, then 3 hard, 3 easy. Up the pyramid then back down.
Try a range of paces, going hardest on the shorter intervals at the start and finish.
If one pyramid set is not enough, overachievers can always double it.
5k Quarter Repeats
This workout is a specific one for those training for a 5k, but could be adapted for longer races, as well.
- 1 mile easy jog
- 6-8 x 400 meters (1 lap) at 5k pace with 1 min jog/walk recoveries
- 1 – 2 miles jog, plus dynamic stretching
According to Jeff Gaudette slacking off or ignoring speed development impairs your ability to generate explosive muscle power, which results in the decline of running efficiency and economy and, eventually, form starts to break down. This loss of speed is even more pronounced with age, as studies show speed is the first of your abilities to deteriorate as you get older.
I think my move toward longer distances in my 30s ultimately led to my form deteriorating and contributing to my knee arthritis. Don’t let it happen to you. The weather is nice, spend some time at the track and improve your running efficiency, break up the boredom of a training cycle and keep that speed up!