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Running for Veterans
Training Programmes for Veteran Runners

Age need not limit your performance levels

The aging process affects us all and runners are no exception

Whilst it is true that age will eventually catch up with even the fastest of us, there is no reason why performance should fall off dramatically once you reach a certain age. Some veteran runners actually set PB's in their 40's and 50's, while others experience no immediate decline in speed and endurance.

For proof, you need only look at the veteran's world record lists to see that age need not be a bar to world class performances. Eaman Coghlan the Irish 5,000 metre world champion was the first veteran runner over 40 years old to break the 4 minute mile. If he can be that fast at over forty there is hope for all of us!

All runners must accept a certain deteriorate with age, including a decline in maximal heart rate and a consequent reduction in aerobic capacity. And our muscles and joints become stiffer. However muscle fibre density and capillary volume hardly change. The reason some runners fare better as veterans than others may be connected with their genes, but it is more likely to be the result of training.

Quality is important - not quantity

As they grow older, most runners try to maintain training volume at the expense of training intensity. This is a mistake. Research has shown that by slightly increasing, or at least maintaining, "quality" training the veteran runner can limit the age-induced loss in aerobic capacity to 4 or 5 percent per decade rather than the "normal" 10 percent.

Quality training refers to running which is carried out at faster than lactate-threshold speed. This term refers to the point at which the body is no longer able to cope with the dispersal of the lactic acid that accumulates in the working muscles during exercise and is about 15 seconds per mile slower than one's current 10km race pace.

This philosophy is not new. Many years ago, runners were not training every day - many only trained four days a week. Peter Coe and Roger Bannister have both said "it is not how much training you do, but the quality of the training". That's why, as a veteran, you can cut down on the quantity but still keep the quality training, and your times may not slow down for some time.

Many runners start as veterans

A lot of runners do not start running until they are veterans, so their running just keeps improving until their early 60's. Paul from Run in the Sun ran against a veteran who was in his late 50's, and unfortunately he was quick. At the time he was running at 6:15 minutes pace but was hoping to get back to 6:00 minutes pace, and Paul has no doubt he did!

He, like many older runners, kept away from the shorter runs - anything less than 5k. This is because if you want to be quick over anything shorter than 5k, you need speed work over 400 metres and longer. These are obviously quick runs of about 74 seconds, and if you do 300 metres intervals, they are going to be about 54 seconds.

Reduce the risk of injury

The point is this - when you do this method, your muscles are pushed very hard, very quickly. If you do not warm up beforehand, muscles will be pulled. You could take the first 3 or 4 slower, but then there are always some members in the club who won't take this on board, and the remainder will be taken along quicker than they would like.

To reduce the risk of injury it is essential to incorporate regular stretching sessions into your warm-up and cool-down. A good book on stretching is by Bob Anderson, although Yoga can be just as effective. You may wish to incorporate cycling one day instead of running. The advantage of this is that your body will recover quicker from a non-running activity, thus decreasing the risk of overtraining and all the problems that causes.

The right method to maintain fitness

Remember - Train don't Strain.

Remember - Train don't Strain.

"Run hard, be strong, think big!"
Percy Cerutty

The purpose of any training, especially for an older veteran is to slow down the aging process. The right method can maintain an excellent level of fitness and athletic capability until you have had enough. In fact there are some people still enjoying the sport at 70 and 80 years old.

There are more opportunities now than ever before for the older runner, such as the world masters championships 2007 - indoor and outdoor, the European masters championships, British veterans championships, Scottish veterans championships, etc.

To conclude, as you get older - the specific age only you know - you should reduce the number of days you train and introduce other activities to cross train. You could try swimming, cycling or a day at the gym. This will give your body the time to recover.

Read our Running Programme for Beginners...

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