Veteran runners, foot speed

Veteran Runners: improve your foot speed

Lyle Swanson of Norwich writes, "When you give training tips for improving speed and endurance, you should also consider the older runner. For instance, I'm 56 years old, and my running pace for a 10K is 10 minutes per mile. When I run a half-marathon, I can manage just 10:30 per mile, and the marathon goes by at about 11-minute pace. How should I go about improving my race speeds, particularly in the 10K?"

That's certainly a good question - and one that younger runners can also relate to. Distance runners of any age can improve their performances dramatically by upgrading aerobic capacity, economy, lactate threshold, flexibility, range of motion, speed, strength, and power. The latter two factors - strength and power - are particularly important for older runners, since muscle mass tends to decline with ageing. Regular use of the three exercises recommended by Walt Reynolds in issue 43 of Peak Performance (April 1994) is a tried-and-true way to preserve muscle mass and build strength. Once greater strength is attained, an emphasis on hill training and the use of a weighted vest during short, fast intervals and swift uphill assaults will help take care of the power requirement.

To improve 10-K times, some additional specific running workouts should be employed, in addition to the ones which enhance aerobic capacity, economy, threshold, and power. To understand how to conduct specific training, let's focus on Lyle's needs for a moment. Since he wants to run faster than 10-minute miles in his 10Ks, he should consider the following specific sessions:
1) A two-mile warm-up, followed by two one-mile repeats in 9:30 each, with a five-minute recovery in between, and then cool-down jogging. The logic here is that since Lyle can manage 10-minute pace for over six miles, he can certainly manage the 5-per cent faster tempo of 9:30 over one mile. This 9:30 tempo can also serve as his goal velocity for a 10-K race later in the year. 9:30 is the specific, faster pace which Lyle wants to master.

But completing two one-mile intervals at the faster pace is just the 'starter' to the harder work which must be completed. Once this basic workout (2 X 1 mile at 9:30 w. 5-min recovery) is completed, Lyle can then progressively make the session more difficult. The way to do that is not to increase the speed, since that's the specific goal, but to add more intervals and shorten recovery time - making the training session more similar to the specific demands of his goal race.

So, Lyle could advance to three one-mile repeats per workout, and then four, five, and even six, at which point he would be covering practically his entire race distance at his goal pace in a single workout. Then, he could begin paring down the recoveries between intervals - first to four minutes, and then three, and finally two. Chances are quite good that after Lyle progresses to the two-minute-recovery mode in this workout, he will be ready to run his goal 10-K at 9:30 pace (or perhaps he will already have done so).

When you are getting ready for a specific race (and you have a goal time for that race), it's good to carry out this type of session on a weekly basis, although you don't have to progress to a harder workout each week. If Lyle could barely manage four one-mile intervals in 9:30 each during his training session, for example, it would not be wise for him to move on to five intervals the following week. It's best to stick with a particular workout until it begins to be manageable! If it's a near-death experience, it's not wise to move on to something tougher.

2) A second approach would be to use a treadmill. For example, since Lyle can handle 10-minute miles in his 10Ks pretty well, we know that he should be able to complete a workout consisting of six one-mile intervals on the treadmill at that familiar 10-minute pace (with five-minute recoveries), with the treadmill inclination set at 1 per cent (the inclination which permits treadmill effort to roughly equal the exertion level of normal-terrain running at the same pace).

You can probably guess what's coming next. Lyle should run through the same workout (6 X 1 mile in 10 mins. w. 5-min. recoveries) - but with the treadmill inclination set at 1.5 per cent. Once he can handle that, it would be nice to move to 2 per cent, and then 2.5, and then even 3 per cent, if the Lord and Lyle are willing. These inclined workouts will definitely be tough, but they will also provide a big boost to Lyle's running economy and power. And they will also make Lyle's regular efforts at 10-minute pace on flat ground feel like piece-of-cake running. Remember, too, that once he gets good at the 2-, 2.5-, or 3-per cent inclination, of course, he can play the pare-the-recovery game by reducing recoveries to four, three, and two minutes as time goes by and fitness rises.

Shifting our attention from Lyle to the entire universe of runners, please bear in mind that it doesn't really matter whether you're now at five minutes per mile in your 10Ks and want to progress to 4:45 or 4:50 per mile, or at seven minutes and want to improve to 6:40 to 6:45, or - like Lyle - you're at about 10 minutes with the thirst for 9:30. For your specific track workouts, the idea is simply to choose a goal pace which is 3 to 5 per cent faster than your current one, and begin your work! For your treadmill workouts, you can use your current pace, but stiffen the session by inching up the inclination. You can alternate back and forth from week to week with these two types of exertions (track one week, treadmill the next), or - if you don't like the treadmill - you can just stick to the track-type toughies at faster than current pace.

If you utilise these specific sessions, before long your previously 'impossible' goal intensity will seem more familiar and comfortable to you, and you'll have the coordination, confidence, and underlying physiology and power to run at your PR pace!
Owen Anderson

(Editor's note: as always, make sure you get your doctor's consent before attempting any of the workouts recommended in Peak Performance.)

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