Age-Adjusted Training Plans

Most training plans suggest an incremental buildup in mileage and intensity as you close in on your target race. This is particularly important for a longer distance, such as a half or full marathon. These training plans generally assume an average recovery period, incorporating a hard-easy regimen of workouts. Also good!

The problem with standard training plans is runners come in all shapes and sizes with varying running and fitness backgrounds, as well as having unique injury and other physical issues to address, not to mention the ebb and flow of daily living. Bottom line, the proposed schedule for a particular runner may not neatly fit the timeline prescribed for a target race.

Also, and this is the topic of this post, runners are different ages. Everything above pertains to master runners. In addition, there are cumulative effects of aging to factor in. Let’s look at that.

First we should define what age we’re talking about. Research shows that after age 30 measurable declines are seen in VO2max, muscle strength and quality, and what Tim Nokes in Lore of Running calls the “capacity to absorb landing forces” due to wear and tear on tendons and joints. According to Nokes, a key variable is how long a person has been training at an intense level. For example, a 50-year old who started running seriously at 35 may now be faster and more resilient than a high school classmate who won the state cross-country title and has kept training and racing.

Bundling all of this together, runners over 50 and certainly those in their 60’s and beyond need to build in more recovery than most training plans allow for. Recovery can be in the form of lower intensity running but ideally some activity besides running two or three days a week.   Active recovery in the water, on a bike or elliptical is generally much better than taking a day off from physical activity.

Such age adjustment may contradict a training plan that calls for 50 miles in six days for a particular week. However, just as there are age-grade tables that compare athletes’ times at different ages, training plans can likewise be viewed through an age lens. For example, a 60-year old runner may observe that running more than four days a week leaves him/her stiff and not refreshed for a solid training effort. The plan then needs to be scaled to accommodate this. Since there are no widely-accepted tables for doing this, at least that I am aware of, each runner needs to assess what’s working, what’s not, and then determine needed changes. As with all things, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize, in this case to build toward an enjoyable and successful target race or level of running.

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