Successful Masters Running – Go to the Extreme

By Rick Morris

As a masters runner, I am often asked how to maintain a high level of performance in masters running, stay injury free and enjoy running more as an ageing athlete. There are many adjustments a masters runner can make, but my initial response to that question is that a masters runner should go to the extreme. You may be wide eyed and ready to call me crazy to suggest a masters runner should engage in more extreme running, but before you call for a straight jacket, let me explain. I don’t mean that an ageing runner should go out and run up the steepest and toughest hill they can find at a sprint pace. While some masters runners may be able to do that kind of extreme training, it wouldn’t be a great idea for most of us. In this case, I’m not referring to extremely hard training; I’m talking about extreme ends of the training spectrum.

As younger runners we tend to follow the middle way approach with our training. We did most of our training within a middle range of speed, intensities and distances. We performed a lot of up tempo lactate threshold runs, moderate paced long runs and threw in a fast paced track workout once in a while. We did that with a minimal amount of rest and recovery. The needs of a master runners is just a bit different. Two of the primary challenges you face as a masters runner is maintaining your VO2 max, which naturally and unavoidably decreases as you age, hanging onto your muscular strength and power, and avoiding injury to both your muscles and joints, which have become a bit more fragile after all those years of running.

The best way to hold onto your VO2 max is by including hard, high intensity runs on a consistent basis. Strength and power is best maintained through consistent strength training. Injury resistance is improved by maintaining those hard runs and the strength training in combination with more rest and recovery time. That is where the extremes come in. I believe that, as a masters runner, you need to engage in a training program that includes a lot of those extremes of hard, intense workouts and full rest and recovery. You still need some moderate paced distance runs and long runs to maintain your endurance, but you already have an excellent base of both of those attributes thanks to your many years of training, and they are much easier to maintain than the strength and VO2 max. During your weekly long run you may need to consider backing off on your pace a bit. That will allow you to maintain your endurance while saving your muscles at the same time.

Here are some of the extremes of running.

Hard and Easy

As I mentioned above, one of the best ways to maintain your VO2 max and speed endurance is by performing hard interval training. On the other end of the spectrum, you should consider decreasing the pace of all, or at least a portion of, your weekly long run to take some of the stress off your muscles and body.

Long and Short

During your high intensity interval training you would be well served to play the long/short extreme game by decreasing the distance or number of repeats you do while also increasing the duration of your recovery intervals. The decrease in repeat duration and increase in recovery time will allow you to maintain a very high level of training in your interval session.

Consistently Inconsistent

This extreme is obviously an oxymoron, but it’s one that works well for masters running training. You should consistently follow a routine that includes high intensity running and strength training combined with consistent rest, but don’t get trapped in a box. If your plan calls for one day of rest, but you are still fatigued, take another day or two. Be consistent but flexible at the same time. Follow a more holistic approach and train by feel to stay strong and healthy.

On and Off

Strength training is critical for a masters runner. Muscle loss is one of the most performance and fitness sapping problems associated with ageing, but is also one that is avoidable though consistent strength training. There may have been a time when you could do strength training everyday without over training problems, but as a masters runner you need more recovery. So, turn the strength training on and off. That is one day on and two days off. Many strength training routines call for one day on and one day off, but I would suggest opting for a bit more recovery to keep your muscles fresh and strong.