Speed Training for Masters Runners

By Rick Morris

As a masters runner, I have no doubt that you have put in many miles on the road and countless trips around the track, performing speed or interval training. Now that you are a masters runner do you need to change anything? Is it absolutely necessary to make adjustments for your experience level or can you just keep doing what you’ve been doing? The only absolute in running is that there are no absolutes. Running isn’t one size fits all. While there may be cases when continuing with the same speed training techniques might be a good fit, I think that making some minor adjustments to your speed training routine could improve your results. I have discovered these little training tweaks through my years ( more that I would like to admit) as a masters runner. Here is speed training for masters runners.

If you feel your current speed training program is working well, then my all means continue. On the other hand, if you think your speed training is not quite up to par, here are some suggestions on speed training for masters runners.

Get in Touch With Your Feelings

No need to get out your hankies. This isn’t going to be a touchy-feely tear fest. I’m talking about running by feel. Most speed training for masters runners done on the track is very time oriented. It’s hard to find a runner doing interval training on the 400 meter oval that isn’t constantly checking their running watch to be sure they are right on pace. That type of specific pace training works, but do you really need to be a slave to your running watch? I don’t think so, especially at the masters level. First of all, you have been running and racing a long time. I have no doubt you have an excellent feel for your various training paces without relying on your watch.

Second, as a masters runner you are probably past the point of setting new PR’s. I can be a discouraging thing to watch your watch and find your speeds are dropping. But, there is not much you can do a about that. You can take steps to slow down your speed declines, but some reduction is your pace is inevitable as you age. Instead of staring disgustedly at your watch, just enjoy your speed workout and go by feel.

Finally, running by feel makes you a more holistic and well rounded runner. It makes you more a pure runner and almost certainly a happier and healthier runner. So toss the watch and get in touch with your feelings.

Righteous Recovery

You already know that the three components of speed or interval training are the distances of your repeats, the number of repeats and the recovery between each repeat. Most competitive distance running plans call for a very specific recovery time, type and pace. As you move into the masters category it becomes more important to pay attention to how your body is reacting rather than blindly following a pre set plan. I think that the most appropriate level and type of recovery depends upon what you are training for. Here are some suggestions.

  • 800 meter to mile – Go for 75% to 80% recovery between repeats using passive or complete rest.
  • 2 mile to 7K – Try to reach about 60% to 75% recovery using passive or complete rest.
  • 8K to Half Marathon – Rest until you are about 50% to 60% recovered using active recovery or very easy jogging.
  • Marathon or longer – Shoot for25% to 50% recovery using active recovery or very easy jogging.

Quality Not Quantity

When I was a young runner I always thought more was better. If a 20 mile long run was good a 30 mile long run was even better. If 10 x 400 meter repeats worked well, why not go for 20 x 400 meter repeats. Walking that fine line between hard training and over training can be a risky venture. With young, fresh muscles you can probably get away with that. You have a lot of miles on your body. Your muscles and joints have taken a beating of the years and they don’t always react well to excessive training. For that reason try to concentrate on the quality of your speed training for masters runners sessions rather than the quantity. Make sure you run each repeat with full focus and impeccable running mechanics. That will help you get the most out of your training session while avoiding injury and over training. If you reach the point where you are mentally or physically having problems hold good form and positive attitude it might be time to cool down and go have  a cold one.

Compound Interest

In keeping with the quality versus quantity suggestion, I think it’s important for a masters runner to get the most bang for their buck. That means squeezing the most training benefits possible into the least amount of training. One good way to do that is by performing compound sets in which you combine various training paces into one repeat. For example you might want to combine speed training, lactate threshold training, positive split training and negative split training into one workout. A good 5K training session for that would be 5 x 200/300/400/100 meter repeats in which you begin with 200 meters at sprint pace, 300 meters at a very hard pace (close to 5K pace), 400 meters at a moderately hard pace ( about 10K pace) and 100 meters at sprint pace with no recovery between the distances. Recover between each compound set with complete passive rest until you are about 50% to 75% recovered. You can design similar compound set workouts for nearly any training goal.