If you listen to your body and take the right approach, you can certainly run fast over 40. Whether that means hitting new paces in your next race or just getting to the next fitness point, that’s up to your own discretion.
We spoke with Megan Kuikman, a registered dietitian, sports nutritionist and a 2:47 marathon runner to get some ideas for over-40 athletes on how to enhance the benefits of your next training block. We paired her advice with that of Dr. Greg Wells–scientist, broadcaster, author, coach and athlete. Kevin O’Connor, one of Canada’s top masters runners, also chats about how he resets after a big race in the story’s featured video below. Need some advice? We walk you through it.
Plan your target race or goal fitness date well ahead of time
Whether you want to do a shorter road race, like a 5K or 10K, or a longer event like a half-marathon or marathon, it’s critical to plan out your training as early as possible. Understandably, the closer you get to the event, the tougher it is to get in enough training to succeed in your goals.
Wells typically sets up a block–a period of training building up to a target date–in three cycles:
This is a foundational block of training, where you don’t worry about specific workouts too much. The idea is to focus on the big picture and what you ultimately want to accomplish at the end of your season. It’s when you get in shape without any pressure or restrictions. See it as the base for all your hard, intense work that will come later. For masters athletes, this phase is even more important because layering in a big base helps prevent injury.
This stretch can be two-to-four weeks long, when you want to improve in a specific area–say a summer 5K or a tune-up 10K race in order to figure out how fit you really are. Here, you’ll want to focus on one or two harder weekly workouts to prepare for a peak effort.
This final component to your training is essentially the one-week blocks with one specific focus aimed at helping you towards your end goal. This allows you to work on specifics, whether that’s speed or upping mileage, while also keeping in mind the greater picture.
“The major shift as we age is that as the older we get, the less time we can take time off from training,” Wells says. “Gains are harder to achieve.” He suggests setting up a training program, with perhaps two or three training blocks per year, with a coach or by using an online program.
Listen to your body during training, and after a big goal race
“Give the body the tools, and time, it needs to recover,” Wells says. Specific signs that you may need more recovery include a higher resting heart rate when you wake up (and if you don’t track your resting heart rate, you should start), poor sleep or finding your sleep pattern is disrupted, as well as rapid weight gain or weight loss.
“After working really hard, it’s fine to have a little bit of a treat after your goal race,” Kuikman says. “Don’t get too worked up about any increased body weight and rather focus on your hunger signals.” Kuikman says that one can break nutrition down with periodization where racing weight can be achieved during the “competition period,” after weeks in the off-season and pre-season phases. In terms of racing weight, Kuikman notes that it’s best to look back on your personal history to see when you were feeling and training the best. And don’t compare yourself with others. “Everyone has a different one so don’t base it off someone else.”
The four ‘F’s
For masters runners, Wells uses the four ‘F’s: fitness, fast, force and flexibility, to cover strength training (force), variability, in terms of speed and distance, in training (fast), fitness (through running itself as well as cross-training) and flexibility. “Those four components have to play a role and the final piece is recovery and regeneration,” he says. For training recovery, Wells suggests hot/cold contrasts, massage therapy, cold immersion and focusing on sound nutrition.
How Canadian masters record holder and Kevin O’Connor resets in the off-season
“As we age, the focus of training should shift towards consistency, variability and recovery,” he notes. You don’t necessarily need to run 12 months of the year or seven days per week as cross-training, like swimming and cross-country skiing for example, can provide complimentary means of staying fit.
Train your gut
If you’re doing a half-marathon or marathon, or any distance in which you take mid-race nutrition, Kuikman emphasizes the importance of training your gut for the big day. “Five to 10 weeks out, it’s important that runners practice their nutrition strategy during their training runs,” she says explaining that that’s key in ensuring that there’s no surprises that come during a time when it matters most. If you take gels during the race, practice the strategy on your longer runs.
Final words of advice
The final two tips that Wells provides is to plan out your schedule with a coach and, secondly, listen to your body and pay attention to how you’re feeling, mentally and physically, and if you’re able to adapt, you’ll end up in a good place.
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