How to run at your best when you’re 55-64

Illustration by Spencer Wilson

If you’re one of those people who is never happy with your race results, this might be a good time to start acknowledging the successes you’ve already had. ‘I am appreciating my past times more than I did when I ran them,’ says Suzanne Ray, who in 2014 set the 60+ course record at the California International Marathon with a 3:24:01, aged 62. ‘The key to longevity in running is joy,’ she says.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t still continue to strive for improvement. Running, according to Ray, is more about meeting your own goals than it is about beating others, which means the drive to constantly seek more from yourself should be ‘almost essential’.

Meanwhile, you will need to make some training changes. One is to recognise that just as masters runners don’t recover as easily as open-class runners, older masters runners don’t recover as quickly as younger ones. You have to become more adept at monitoring and judging your recovery, not relying on timing rules or other runners’ experiences. ‘The key is only to do the next workout when you’re recovered,’ says Cotner. ‘In some cases it’s only a day or two longer than when you were in your 30s and 40s. Sometimes it can be a whole week.’

Running coach Mark Cleary adds that this is a good time to start taking extra rest days (even if that means having two or three days off in a row) if you feel a warning twinge. ‘I’ve learned that being in the game is more important than trying to push and not being able to compete,’ he says.

Tom McGlynn, founder of the online training programme Runcoach, has devised a rule of thumb he calls 60/80. It applies to runners of all ages (McGlynn is in his 40s) but is particularly important to older masters runners worrying about their inability to put in the high volumes they once did. What the 60/80 rule means, McGlynn says, is that even massive cutbacks in training don’t slow you down as much as you might fear. ‘I can do 60 per cent in terms of volume and intensity and still be 80 per cent as good,’ he says. However, to make this work, he says, you need to be careful not to increase your speedwork in an effort to compensate for reduced volume. ‘A lot of people do 60 per cent of the volume and then they train so hard they wind up with Achilles tendinitis and other problem,’ he says.

Priorities

Make allowances for every year of ageing.

Try cutting back on overall weekly mileage to reduce injury risk.

Become expert at monitoring your recovery; no single formula works for everyone.

Take advantage of established fitness to maintain performances with less effort.

Keep on running

Get strong to run strong. A 2013 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that masters runners following a maximum strength training programme for six weeks showed a six per cent improvement in running economy compared with those who chose a moderate resistance plan or just ran.