As much as I struggle to accept it, I’ve now entered my middle ages. I’m 47, and there’s no denying it. It looks bad on paper but it doesn’t have to feel that bad in life. Thanks to a lifestyle of running and fitness and the blessing of health I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. And I’m running the fastest I’ve ever run. I’ve just returned from the Comrades Marathon in South Africa having achieved my running dream off the back of some key changes to my training and racing strategy. If my health allows me to continue running, these changes will help keep me running long into my twilight years, or here’s hoping! I think these key changes can help anyone no matter how old or young. See what you think:
One of the founding members of Striders, Gabriel Petrie has been on at me for years about the importance of core strength. Gabriel is a supreme example of this. Gabe has always made an effort to ensure that he has a strong core, putting in the effort necessary to maintain a high level of core fitness. This has sustained Gabe over a range of sports and keeps him in rude health. After having Gabe in my ear for a few years I finally bit the bullet a year ago and started a daily regime of core strength work. A 24hr access gym membership through Jetts has helped me maintain this daily ritual even when away working. Even without gym access core can be done anywhere, all you need is a wall and a floor and perhaps a chair. I’m currently running the fastest by a significant margin at everything from 5km through to ultra marathons. The connection to an elevated level of core strength is hard to deny. Thanks Gabe, you were right!
Another issue Gabe has been in my ear about is stretching. Gabe works in horticulture and whenever peers are having a smoke break Gabe is having a stretch break. Gabe is supremely flexible thanks to constant stretching, enabling his body to sustain high levels of training and racing (currently cycling) without significant soft tissue injury. The older we get the more important stretching becomes for recovery from efforts, a means to prevent injury and critically to maintain flexible muscles for more efficient running with uninhibited strides.
Settling on a good balanced diet that means you aren’t exactly a monk but you are nevertheless fairly strict means that you aren’t going to be fighting against yourself constantly, training hard but eating poorly and therefore marking time. I’ve stopped weighing myself, and I now go by sight as to how I think I’m doing (your belt notches never lie either!). Being strong and healthy is more important to me than being light. However, carrying excess weight into races doesn’t help at all. There is a happy medium and for each its different but we cannot attain it without good discipline.
The older you get the smarter you become at pacing in races. I watch people shoot off in front of me at races knowing full well that I’ll catch most of them. Even pacing or negative pacing is the smart way to race and in distance running smart running is usually means fast running and good results. You can be as fit as you want to be but if you don’t run smart you may as well not have trained.
5. Knowing your body
The older I get the more likely I am to have a morning off if I’m too sore, or the more likely I am to finish a training session early if I have a twinge. I’m more careful about what strain I put my body under. The result is more rest days but fewer injuries and better recoveries. Learning to say “No” or “enough” is a critical running skill.
6. Train when you train, race when you race
I notice that a lot of people don’t run all that faster in races as they do when they train. On their weekend long runs their pace is way faster than what I can handle in training, yet I run significantly faster than them in races. I put my maximum speed effort into interval and hill training during the week. On the weekend I do long slow distance. When I get to a race I let the dogs out. There is little sense to me in killing yourself in your weekend long training. Train when you train, race when at races, not before.
7. Running relationships
Running with other people and the enjoyment from the relationships and companionship that develops is important. It keeps you honest for training, you gain advice (and share advice) and you share the adventures. It helps keep you motivated and looking ahead to new challenges. Encouragement from others helps you keep focused when otherwise you may have given it all in. That’s why South Pine Striders was started and it works for many people. We celebrate each others achievements and commiserate during our injuries! I’m as excited and keen about running now than I ever have been and my running buddies are a big part of the reason for that.
What keeps you going and what keeps you going faster?