Masters runners now represent more than 50% of all marathon finishers.
A person is actually considered a “masters runner” from the age of 40 on up so I’m now officially part of that classification.
However, I would say that there are a number of physiological differences between a masters runner in their 40’s and one in their 60’s.
Some races actually break down the masters category more with 50+ being grandmasters and 60+ as senior grandmasters. There is a push to make another category called veteran grandmasters for ages 70+. The questions that we’d like to tackle have to do with runners in their 60’s.
Tips for Older Runners
Here are two listener questions we collect from our Q and A podcast episode . . .
How would you adjust Marathon training for an older runner(60’s) versus training for younger runners? -Wally Zahler
I’m a runner in my early 60’s but I’d like to think that I have it in me to complete many more races. Training for a marathon really takes it out of me. I follow plans culminating in 22 mile runs. Given my age should I concentrate on running for say 3 and a half hour long runs rather than distance? Any other tips for someone my age? Thanks, love the show. -Dave Glover Chipping Norton, England.
I’m not going to get into the physiological changes that come with growing older. But we’ll include links in our show notes to a couple good articles on our blog about this topic:
As we age our body structures certainly get older, but a great thing about aging is that you become mentally tougher and usually have more wisdom and common sense when it comes to training. That means that you’re less prone to mistakes and injuries due to trying to do too much or take on challenges without training.
With age most runners find that their pace eventually starts slowing down (but of course this depends on the age you started running). This can result in long runs of 20 or more miles requiring a lot of time and taking a bigger toll on the body. As we age it takes longer for the body to recover and it’s wise to modify your training to fit your needs. A few things I’d suggest include:
1. Balance easy and hard:
Many master’s runners find that running every other day during marathon training can help to reduce the effects of high impact exercise and give your body more time to recover. Make sure the majority of your training runs are done at an easy pace so that your paced runs are high quality. Spend extra time warming up before running and cooling down afterward. Another way to balance easy and hard is to use a 10 day training cycle instead of the typical 7 day cycle.
2. Run for time, not distance:
Many older runners find that spending 5 plus hours on a long run simply wears them down too much. Studies show that there is little aerobic benefit of doing a run longer than 3 hours. There are benefits to time on your feet for building the support structures of the body. But for the master’s runner you have to weigh the benefits versus the risks of doing long runs greater than 3-4 hours.
3. Cross train intentionally:
Intersperse your running days with low impact cross training like swimming, rowing, cycling, yoga, and strength training. That way you’re still reaping the benefits of exercise but keeping other body systems strong and flexible. In particular, regular strength training is an absolute must for master’s runners who want to improve and stay injury free.
4. Strength train intentionally:
Here is a helpful excerpt from physical therapy doctor Ben Shatto about the benefits of strength training. It’s long but worth including here.
“Strength training (focusing particularly on large muscle groups with appropriately heavy loads) has been proven to improve growth hormone levels and has a positive effect on insulin levels. This weight bearing activity (along with a proper diet) is an excellent method to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Strength training is also the best method to slow the age related decline in fast twitch (Type II) fibers. The stronger you are, the more resistant to injury you are. Your training plan should include lower extremity strengthening to help maintain running speed and to insure adequate muscle strength to support the joints of the body. Strengthening of the upper body also supports running form and speed as having adequate strength to maintain posture and proper arm swing is very helpful (particularly, when running uphill). Strengthening of the core area (the abdominals and back extensors) helps to manage and/or prevent low back pain. Strength training has also been proven to help maintain the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood. It can improve tissue vascularization by stimulating the body’s ability to grow more capillaries. This is true in skeletal muscle cells as well as cardiac tissue.”
5. Focus on recovery:
For the master’s runner it’s important to dial in and maintain an effective recovery routine. This may include things like foam rolling, compression gear, regular massage, plenty of sleep, a balanced healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and regular rest days. When it comes to rest days you may find that you need two days per training week instead of one. The key is to avoid things like heavy yard work on rest days so that you get the full benefit of recovery.
6. Consider Working with a coach:
If you’re finding that your routine is no longer working, if you’ve been dealing with injury, or you’re unsure of how hard you should be pushing yourself, a running coach can help you dial in your training with personalized workouts and recovery. To get a spot with one of our fabulous MTA Coaches see this page.