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Canadian Running: Six training hacks for masters athletes to crush spring workouts

Published on May, 30th 2017
By Greg Wells

This article originally appeared in Canadian Running Magazine

Don’t let your age work against you. Here are some tips for the over-40 runner.

May 26, 2017 | By Sinead Mulhern

Kevin Smith remembers the moment when he realized that his training needed to change. His story is similar to many. He’s a lifelong runner, but right around his fortieth birthday, he realized that the nagging injuries he had been experiencing more and more into his late thirties weren’t going to go away if he didn’t adjust his training. “I used to be a high level runner in my twenties,” Smith explains. “Once in my thirties and through my thirties, the injuries came more often and they were more severe.” He had an epiphany. Smith realized he needed to be strategic not just about the window spent training, but also during the hours away from workouts.

Currently, Smith is the head coach of Marathon Dynamics running club in Toronto. As such, he regularly works with masters athletes. We consulted with him and well-respected physiologist Dr. Greg Wells to find out how runners over 40 can make real improvements during their sweat sessions. If you’re in this age category, take any of these tips to make a real break-through in your training.

Rotate between a wide variety of workouts

“Really varying the workouts makes a huge difference,” says Dr. Wells. Masters athletes need to make sure that their schedule covers all the bases. Four boxes you need to tick are endurance, speed work, strength and flexibility. “Make sure you cover all four bases as your age,” says Dr. Wells. Failing to do so means you’re not properly maintaining type one and two muscles fibres and your mobility will suffer.

It’s time to shell out on that yoga pass

“Looking at the research and the data, stretching is incredibly important, especially as we age,” says Dr. Wells. “We lose mobility as we age.” Keep the body limber and ward off stiffness that occurs in many an aging body by devoting time and effort to stretching or yoga. Include dynamic stretches before a workout and also know that a quick post-run stretch isn’t going to cut it. Masters athletes are going to want include at least one or two dedicated sessions, says Wells. A 2014 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons further echos this sentiment. Upon examining senior athletes, they found that musculoskeletal decline that has been thought to an inevitable outcome of aging can actually be slowed. How? A combination of endurance work, resistance training, and… you guessed it… flexibility exercises was proven to keep athletes feeling younger.

Be active outside of the scheduled workout

It’s not enough to work hard in the hour or two you spend at the track. Pay attention to the remaining 23 hours of the day. As Smith points out, much of our time is spent sitting– even if you’re fit. From your desk job, to evening dining, to catching up on Netflix, that’s a lot of chair time. Smith got more active outside of his regular workouts by opting to walk more often and going for strolls in the evening. “Make it part of the fabric of your being,” says Smith. “It’s not an option, you have to move.” Not convinced? Consider this: before including the long walks, a good half-marathon time for Smith would have been 1:18. Now, 1:14 is more like it.

Speed workouts are your friend

Dr. Wells emphasizes the need to run fast workouts. “We just need to do it,” he says. “That’s something we get away from as we age.” By pushing to a pace outside of your comfort zone, Wells explains, runners activate type two muscle fibres (often known as your fast-twitch muscles). It also generates lactate acid and activates the nervous system. Get on the track and avoid the classic masters runner error of skipping out. Smith suggests including speed work every week be it intervals, tempo or fartleks. “I’m a big proponent of strides,” Smith says. Adding in a few strides after a run will not replace a speed workout but it’s a great way to include more speed training. Wells also notes that scientifically, the body of an aging runner does not respond differently to workouts than that of a younger one. Just pay attention to how you’re feeling and remember that it’s all about relative intensity.

Skipping strength work is not an option

“You’ve go to get into the weight room,” says Dr. Wells. “It’s extremely important as we age– especially for women because of the osteoporosis issue.” For aging men, he says, a good gym workout will keep testosterone levels where they need to be. Smith suggests it could ward off age-related injuries, particularly in the lower leg. After seeing more runners in this age group experiencing injuries below the knee than, say, runners in their mid-twenties, Smith had them include exercises that target areas like the feet, ankles and calves three times a week. This is a preventative measure so as not to be saddled with an injury later on.

Become motivated by age group categories

“We’re really in a different place right now where masters athletes are performing at world class levels. The previously perceived notion that you peak in your twenties has been blown apart,” says Dr. Wells. One of the great things about the sport is that there’s no age limit. If you do find yourself plateauing, don’t fret. “When that happens, there’s this whole other world of age-grading and competing in categories.” Take advantage of the fact that road races give participants this category to up the ante.

 

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