Practical training

Two workouts that will help you pack more punch with your race pace - even at age 56

Recently, Lyle Swanson of Manchester wrote to PP, setting us the following poser: 'When you give training tips for improving speed and endurance, you should also consider the older runner. I'm 56 years old and my running pace for a 10k is just nine minutes per mile. When I run a half-marathon I can manage only 9:30 per mile, and the marathon goes by at about 10-minute pace. How should I go about improving my race speeds, particularly in the 10k?'

That's certainly a great question - and one that younger runners can relate to as well. Distance runners of any age can improve their performances dramatically by upgrading running velocity at VO2max, economy, lactate threshold, flexibility, range of motion, strength, and speed. The last two factors - strength and power - are particularly important for older runners, since muscle mass and overall neuromuscular function tend to decline with age.

To improve 10k times, some specific running workouts are needed in addition to those which enhance vVO2max, economy, lactate threshold, and power. To understand how this might work in practice, let's focus on Lyle's needs for a moment; since he wants to run faster than nine-minute mile pace in his 10ks, he should consider the following specific sessions: a two-mile warm-up, followed by two one-mile repeats in 8:30 each, with a five-minute recovery in between, then cool-down jogging. The logic here is that since Lyle can manage nine-minute pace for over six miles, he can certainly manage the 5% faster tempo of 8:30 over one mile. This 8:30 tempo could also serve as his goal velocity for a 10k race later in the year.

But completing two one-mile intervals at the faster pace is just the entre to the harder work which must be completed. Once the basic workout described above is completed, Lyle can then make the session more difficult in progressive fashion. The way to do this is not to increase the speed, since that's the specific goal, but to add more intervals and shorten recovery time, making the demands of the training session similar to those of his goal race.
So Lyle could advance to three one-mile repeats per workout, and then four, five, and even six, by 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, then three, and finally two. The 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 10k at 8:30 pace (or might even have done so already).

Stick with a workout until it's really manageable
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 8:30 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! Whenever a session is a near-death experience, it's not wise to move on to something tougher.

A second approach Lyle might consider would be to use a treadmill. Since he can handle nine-minute miles in his 10ks pretty well, he should be able to complete a workout consisting of six one-mile intervals on the treadmill at that familiar nine-minute pace (with five-minute recoveries) with the treadmill inclination set at 1% - the inclination which roughly equates to 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 nine minutes, with 5-minute recoveries) but with the treadmill inclination set at 1.5%; once he can handle that, it would be good to move to 2%, then 2.5%, then even 3%, 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 make his regular efforts at nine-minute pace on flat ground feel like a piece of cake. Remember, too, that once Lyle gets good at the steeper inclinations and his fitness improves, he can gradually raise his game still further by reducing recovery intervals to four, three and two minutes.

Shifting our attention from Lyle in particular to the entire universe of runners in general, please bear in mind that it doesn't really matter what your actual pace is and by how much you want to improve it. For your specific track workouts, the idea is simply to choose a goal pace which is 3-5% 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 could alternate these two programmes on a weekly basis or - if you don't like the treadmill - stick to the track workouts at faster-than-current pace.
If you concentrate on 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 PB pace!

Owen Anderson

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