Did you know you can still run faster over 50?
Imagine as a 50 or 60 year old you can still charge up the steeps and fly down the down hills without pain!
I certainly didn’t feel that way when I turned 50. You see, my midlife crisis then was a heart attack and triple bypass surgery! But I recovered from that and went on to run over 50 ultra marathons in the next 10 years. But those 10 years took their toll. I was constantly stiff, sore and plagued with injuries.
My real crisis was when I turned 60. Suddenly I was facing getting old and slow. Some of my friends were already quitting racing and running altogether. They were just feeling too old and beat up to carry on. But I didn’t want to stop. “There’s got to be a way to keep doing this”
So I dedicated the next two years implementing the latest in training techniques for running, building strength and fueling my body. As a result, I lost that extra 10 pounds I’d been carrying around for the last 20 years, got stronger and faster. In my last race, a tough skyrunner marathon, at the age of 62, I had the second fastest time in the 50 year old bracket!
What I found… is the #1 secret for running fast and injury free as you age, and that secret is to reduce stress!
How can reducing stress help your running performance?
You know what stress is, you can get it from work, from relationships, or worrying about money. That's emotional stress. But how you train your body for running can produce anaerobic stress, inflammation and mechanical stress. All three of these are very common in most runners and addressing these stressors in an aggressive way will make a big difference in your overall health, your running performance and your happiness!
So how can you reduce stress in your training?
Well first you need to throw away all those printed training plans and start listening to your body in a more holistic manner. You see, many things you are doing now in your daily life and your running are creating stress. Lack of sleep, dehydration, too much sitting, training too hard and your diet are some of the big ones.
Specifically, I found five areas where reducing stress in your training will allow you to run fast as you advance in age from your 50’s, 60’s and beyond. They are:
Rebuild your Aerobic Engine
Support Your Body
Eat to Burn Fat
Build Body Mass
While there are several steps to the process, here is an overview of the 5 areas where you can reduce stress and run faster as you get older.
Your aerobic engine is the powerhouse of your "slow twitch" muscles, which use stored body fat as a nearly unlimited fuel source. These aerobic muscles provide over 98% of your energy during a marathon. Your aerobic muscles are fatigue resistant and provide the main support for joints, bones and indirectly all soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments.
This is important to understand, because we've all been brainwashed to think we need to work those "fast twitch muscles" to be a better, faster runner. The reality is, the more you train your "fast twitch muscles", the more you enable your anaerobic system, the one that burns mostly sugar, inhibits your aerobic system and triggers the release of stress hormones. This is the common reason for injury, over-training syndrome and even chronic ailments like heart disease!
To get off the training stress roller coaster, I learned the Maximum Aerobic Function developed by Dr. Phil Maffetone over 40 years ago. By training exclusively at your maximum aerobic heart rate(MAF), thousands of runners including elite athletes increased their aerobic capacity, burned more fat and ran faster, just by focusing on reducing anaerobic stress.
To incorporate MAF training into your running, you first use a simple formula to find your maximum aerobic heart rate. Then you do all your runs, below that heart rate. As you build your aerobic capacity, you will find your pace increases while your heart rate remains low. This is measured by a monthly assessment. This is the way to run faster, without triggering those stress hormones and craving for carbs (sugar).
When you adopt MAF training, your initial runs will be painfully slow. Instead of complaining or getting board, this is the time to start listening to your body and improving your form.
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Step #2 : Support your body
What I mean by supporting your body, is that you need to start listening to your body pains and start doing some daily maintenance. One of the first levels of prevention is to improve your running form. This reduces the mechanical stress of striking the ground too hard and out of alignment with your support structure.
As a marathoner, I was a long striding heel striker. I thought the longer my stride, the faster I could go. It wasn't until I got into trail running that I found I needed to shorten my stride and run more on my forefoot to manage the uneven terrain and stay under control. What I found was even though I was running more miles on more challenging terrain, I wasn't getting injured as much. You see your running form has a big effect on your efficiency and injury rate. Now there's a debate that how you run is naturally the best way your body has figured it out. But I think you can do better. After all, look at swimming. We all took swimming lessons as kids, but if we ever wanted to compete, we would need to learn the correct form to be as efficient and fast as possible. So there are whole dedicated programs on proper running form, such as the Pose Method or ....But by just concentrating on a couple of items, you can become more efficient, faster and reduce stress on your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Big effect on efficiency and injury
Easier if you have mobility
If you are having a tough time settling into a proper running form, you probably have some muscle imbalances and mobility issues. In the next section, we'll talk about this important step to reduce stress and help you run faster.
There is nothing better than a soothing, relaxing massage to clear your head and loosen up your body. But go to a good sports masseuse who locates all those tight muscles and trigger points and the session is nothing to laugh at. You see our body's muscular/skeletal structure is a complex system wrapped by a wetsuit like layer of facia. Any injury and imbalance in one spot can affect another in a totally different area.
Use functional stretching
Realign muscle strands to reduce inflammation
Full body stretches
remove imbalance and Build body mass
Step #3: Eat to Burn Fat
I am not a dieter, but I do follow proven guidelines for a healthy, fat burning lifestyle. After my heart attack, I took a serious look at what I'd been eating. Although I thought I was pretty good about what I ate. I found that I was still eating too much sugar and processed carbohydrates. I'm sure you've heard of the nasty sugar cycle: eat sugar, raises insulin, burns quickly, creates more sugar cravings. But did you know that by continuing this cycle, you inhibit your body's ability to burn fat? That's why many runners don't lose weight even though they run a lot. Do you eat a bagel before you go for a run or a race? You're Guilty!
Don’t eat junk
What you eat affects everything
Eat whole foods
Step # 4: Build Body Mass
One of the biggest problems we all face as we age is loosing muscle mass. If not addressed, every year, you loose strength. The proven way to build muscle is to lift heavy weights. As a long time runner, that always scared me. I stuck to the low weight, high rep method to "build strength without bulk". But that didn't work, I didn't get stronger.
There is a right way to build muscle mass without increasing your stress level. And lifting heavy is relative. Lifting heavy for you may just be body weight exercises, or olympic weights. To start off, I recommend 4 simple body weight exercises:
From there you can progress to weighted squats and dead lifts.
It doesn't matter where you start with strength training. It's just critical that you start now!
Once you've built up your strength, it's time to get your muscles firing on all cylinders by sprinting!
Step # 5: Sprint!
I'm sure you've heard the benefits of HIIT training. You get a profound improvement of fitness compared to a normal, long workout. Just one set of sprints per week will improve your speed, muscle mass, bone density, cardiovascular strength and aerobic capacity. I addition, sprinting stimulates Human Growth Hormone production after the workout, increasing your caloric burn and slowing down the aging process. Combined with weight training, it preserves those hard earned muscles while burning fat in the process.
Run Faster over 50!
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