As an aside, I got myself in a bit of trouble again when I objected to a 3-great-workouts post, calling it “crap” and noting for I don’t know how many times that a workout in a vacuum is useless and that runners should (as I’m pretty sure everyone who reads this blog knows) build an overall training program based upon knowledge of the basics of training. I chose not to patronize beginner or slower runners by prescribing simplistic work and praising-without-cause. I don’t know what the point of having a blog or commenting on a blog is if you don’t take these things seriously.

The basics are the starting point. Today I came upon a thread on LetsRun that began in 2006 entitled “Basic Speed For Older Runners.” It’s a good thread worth a visit. I take from it a quotation from a piece by John Kellogg (pdf) from (LetsRun has an article by Kellogg and translated for the masses by RoJo.) My plan is to go through this carefully and apply some of its principles.


Owing to the “running boom” of the late 60s and early 70s, a large proportion of the country’s running population is now in the masters (40 and up) category. In fact, in most road races, many of the top finishers  (sometimes even the overall winners) are masters! If you are an over-40 athlete who is pushing yourself to remain competitive, it’s important to remember that your workout regimen should differ from that of younger runners. While those in their prime require higher base mileage and stricter periodization to reach full potential, masters usually perform better by focusing more on shorter training cycles and by staying in touch with a short-distance and middle-distance component year-round.

When considering training guidelines for the over-40 runner, it behooves us to examine some of the physiological changes that take place with age, how those changes affect running performance, and what can be done to keep those negative effects of aging to a minimum.

Problem: Your pituitary gland releases less growth hormone as you age. One upshot of this is that you find that you lose your raceworthiness (anaerobic tolerance and speed) incredibly quickly following a competitive season and that it’s a shocking battle to get that sharpness back.

What you can do about it: Use multi-tier training. This utilizes small training pyramids which begin with slower, longer endurance work and which build through faster-paced training stages to a moderate-intensity, reduced “peak”. Then the process is repeated, with each stage performed at a higher intensity (faster average pace) than before.

Most young runners focus on six-month “macrocycles” in which they do long, slow to moderate distance for two or three months, tempo runs and long intervals for a month or two, then hone up with hard speedwork, time trials, and races. This general approach is preferred for those in their prime, but as a master, you need to shorten those macrocycles to weeks rather than months. That is, emphasize longer endurance training for about three weeks, ease yourself into faster tempo runs and stamina-oriented intervals for a few weeks, then introduce the harder anaerobic intervals, sharp speedwork, and time trials for three or four more weeks. This general cycle can be repeated several times per year, with more time or more intensity devoted to the anaerobic phase during the times you wish to approach peak racing shape. In a non-competitive season, you should still use the fast anaerobic training stage, but the intensity should be made deliberately lower, as  though you were just “going through the motions”. More time and emphasis in the off-season can be devoted  instead to relaxed tempo running and endurance-directed intervals with short rest periods. [Note: the multi-tier  approach is not as effective for young runners as is periodization. Young athletes (particularly preteens and teens)  cannot tolerate (and do not need) a profusion of stressful anaerobic training. Too much killer track work will  burn youngsters out quickly and may harm their future running careers.]

Problem: Blood vessels begin losing elasticity and capillary density tends to decrease. You fatigue more quickly because the blood supply to your working muscles simply isn’t as high as it once was.

What you can do about it: Run at a “sub-threshold” pace 1-3 times weekly during an “endurance training” stage and occasionally during the faster training phases. “Threshold tempo” refers to the pace which, when exceeded, will cause you to experience a sharp upsurge in lactic acid production. This pace is actually slower than most runners realize. It can be estimated as the pace you could run for one hour in an all-out, evenly-paced effort. After about 20 minutes at this pace, subtle changes (and often some not-so-subtle ones) take place in your breathing pattern, muscle fiber recruitment, and access of fuel sources. This makes running continuously for significantly longer than 20 minutes at exactly “threshold tempo” a less-than-optimal workout for maintaining or improving your ability to run using aerobic metabolism. If you slow the pace by 15-20 seconds per mile, however, you can accumulate up to an hour of running time which works almost exclusively on your ability to maintain a decent pace aerobically. This sub-threshold running is often referred to as “steady state” training, since no significant changes occur in your effort level at those speeds. Most runners will be exhaling once every six to eight steps while running in a steady state of effort. If you find yourself exhaling once every four or five steps, chances are you’re going too fast for this type of workout. Staying in complete control allows you to spend enough time at a “high-end aerobic pace” to extend capillary beds.

Problem: The ability for motor neurons to contract muscle fibers is compromised, meaning that you will never be as fast (sprint-wise) as you were in your teens and twenties. This decline in nervous system transmission is ultimately a result of reduced DNA replication.

What you can do about it: From a nutritional perspective, eating one-third less than you did in your 20s will forestall the process of lowered DNA replication. Of course, this means that you must also keep your training volume somewhat in check (although running more does simulate eating less, so the more you run, the more you get to eat!).

Obviously, eating healthy foods ensures you get the most from your food intake! You should also take a good multivitamin supplement with your meals, and (particularly in hot weather) a colloidal mineral supplement may prove useful, as many minerals are lost through sweat.

From a training perspective, do something about your speed! This ties in with the multi-tier training approach.

Using shorter training cycles guarantees that you will always stay in touch with some faster running, even though it won’t be quite as fast during a non-competitive season. It’s a good policy, though, to add some light, relaxed strides or buildups to your daily runs 2-3 times per week even during a “long, slow distance” stage of your training. These pickups should never be hard; they should feel loose and smooth and should just be fast enough to provide some variety in your routine. Hills and drills also work different muscle fibers, maintain joint strength, and prevent boredom. Again, these should be fairly easy during the off-season.

There’s no need to go hard on all of your hill workouts; if you use the correct form, the hill will work the proper muscles even at a medium pace!

Problem: Maximum heart rate (HR) decreases with age. This is also mainly due to a drop in nervous system transmission.

What you can do about it: During an anaerobic training period (and possibly during the end of a pre-anaerobic phase, as well), push your HR up near its maximum by running at “VO2max speed” one or two times per week. Another hard day during the week can perhaps be devoted to a “steady state” effort or a difficult anaerobic interval workout. VO2max speed is roughly the speed or pace at which you could run for ten minutes in an all-out, evenly-paced exertion.

If you run 3,200 meters in 10:00, for example (an excellent time for a master), your VO2max pace would probably be right at 75 seconds per 400. The best results from training at VO2max pace come by running 8-10 repeats of about 2 minutes each, with recovery jogs of just under 2 minutes. Time trials of 7-8 minutes at the same pace (virtually all-out for a workout atmosphere) are also effective training devices. Spending some time at VO2max pace will slow down the rate at which you max HR declines over time. It also helps you maintain a high stroke volume (a principal determining factor in VO2max), so that more O2-carrying blood is pumped to your muscles with each heartbeat.

Problem: Testosterone levels are lower (in men), resulting in fractionally lower hemoglobin and myoglobin levels, with a corresponding reduction in oxygen transport capability. Women will tend to slow down less later in life than will men, owing to the fact that their already low testosterone levels do not exhibit this sharp decrease.

What you can do about it: Running hard, fast workouts regularly will keep your testosterone levels higher provided you don’t run hard more than three times per week. Your body needs time to “absorb the training”, as famed Australian coach Pat Clohessy says.

The best training procedures for stimulating androgen production in over-40 runners appear to be time trials of 2 minutes to 10 min. in length; in other words, hard short-distance to middle-distance running at VO2max pace or faster. Tough anaerobic interval sessions (such as 8 x 400 at 3-5 seconds per lap faster than mile race pace, or 5 x 600 at mile race pace) and pure speedwork outings are also productive. Remember, though, that no single workout stands alone; a proper balance of hard work and recovery is necessary in order to maximize training effectiveness.

Problem: Tissue repair capacity is lower. This is also mostly a result of lower androgen levels.

What you can do about it: Since your ability to repair tissue is lower than it was in your 20s, your mileage levels will probably also be lower as a master. This is particularly true if you were a serious runner earlier in life and piled up 100 or more miles per week. It’s very tough to do that much past age 40 and stay uninjured! The more volume you can tolerate, the better you will run (and the less you will have to rely on multi-tier training), but chances are you’ll break down trying to train like a 20-year-old.

A healthy diet is as important as any training technique as far as injury prevention is concerned. Avoid additives and refined sugars in particular, as these are the main culprits in connective tissue deterioration.

Some supplements (such as glucosamine, fish oils, chondroitin sulfate, gelatin, and MSM) have helped many people retain cartilage and synovial fluid, thereby easing stress on joints.

Returning to the issue of training volume, remember that high mileage days are more important than high mileage weeks. Even for younger runners, high mileage blocks of three to five days provide ample stimulus to the aerobic system. We tend to operate on a seven day cycle, but that’s not always necessary as far as running training goes! For example, you might build one of your higher training weeks around a Saturday long run by going very short on Friday and Sunday, then going higher on Monday through Thursday. A short, easy swim or bike workout could be substituted for running on Friday or Sunday or both. Where aerobic fitness is concerned, five high days out of seven are just about as good as seven out of seven, and the two low days can actually be somewhat therapeutic.

Running on soft surfaces (grass or trails) about 50% of the time is invaluable as an injury prevention measure.

You don’t want to do all of your training on soft surfaces; if you did, you would be more injury-prone if you began racing on the roads. However, the well-cushioned impact afforded by grass or trails certainly goes a long way toward preserving (or possibly increasing) joint integrity. You may have to go slower on a soft surface, but pace shouldn’t be a concern on most easy runs, anyway, and your legs will probably thank you later for the off-road running!   Your easy days must usually be extremely easy to ensure full recovery. Don?t do a hard workout (or a long run) unless you feel fresh; otherwise, you probably won?t be going fast enough (relative to your comfort level) to achieve the desired results. Take a day off at any time if needed.

In summary: Masters need a wide variety of training procedures year-round in order to prevent injury, maintain a high max HR, keep hormone levels up, preserve capillary density, reduce boredom, and retain speed. The 40-and-up crowd appears to benefit most from an 8-12 week training cycle which features a 3-4 week stint of extremely hard training 2-3 times weekly (with particularly easy recovery days). Varying the running terrain is helpful, especially during a slower stage of training. Taking time off occasionally (or cross-training) can also be crucial to allow for optimal recovery. A healthy diet is essential as well in order to keep feeling young and to have a long, enjoyable running career.

Source (brackets in original)