Thoughts on Training for the Experienced Runner

Being out of the sport for 3 years has had its downsides (namely the elliptical). On the other hand, it's also been a chance to learn a bit about what my body has held onto over a period of 3 years of not running, and what it lost.

1. Aerobic strength has been least affected. A month or so into my return, I was able to run 10 miles at a strong pace, close to the paces I ran at my top fitness. Of course I couldn't do it day after day, but it was surprising to me how easy it's been to get back to running 70+ minutes.

2. Muscle strength/resiliency has been most effected. While the aerobic engine is still strong, my tendons and muscles -- the chassis to the aerobic engine -- have been slower to adapt to the demands of training.

3. Sustained "hard effort" running is coming back steadily, but slowly. My ability to run faster paces and intervals, from marathon pace to 5k pace is increasing week to week. It's fun to feel like I'm on the improvement curve there, but as always it sort of works from plateau to plateau, with occasional days where I feel off.

I think there are lessons here for the older, experienced runner.

Base-building: So much of what we hear about training is about running easy mileage and building an aerobic base. This is truly essential for younger or less experienced runners whose bodies are still developing and are more reactive to training. It lays the foundation of strength that will carry you through the sport. 20+ years into the sport, the engine is not going to change much, even if you throw a lot of miles at it. Older, experienced runners are probably better off running moderate mileage at easy paces to maintain the engine and putting their efforts at getting faster in other areas. Also, swimming or biking can do this stuff while putting less strain on the body.

Care of the chassis: neuromuscular stuff. If my experience is indicative, this is the capacity that is first to go and that requires the most care as we get older. We need to retain resiliency in our muscles and our overall strength. It's easier to get injured, and harder to recover. Restraint in building mileage, taking preventative days off, making our hard running count, doing strides and other athletic activities besides running.

Hard training: This is where more experienced runners have an edge over our younger more impulsive former selves. We need hard training, but we have to have patience and maturity to see the effects. If our goal is running fast times, we have to get after it on the track or on the roads. There's still only one way. However, we have to take the long view and not get out over our skis in training. One workout supports the next. We run hard and take the time to recover. There's less margin for error with the hard stuff, but we can compensate for that with wisdom. As William James said: "The strenuous life tastes better." When it comes to suffering, we are connoisseurs.

Finally, the best thing about being in the sport a long time is that there's a lot of young bucks out there who could use a steady hand. Seek out the young guns, run your hard efforts with them, go out for beers afterwords. Talk about patience, the long haul, the delicate and nuanced and ever-interesting logic of long distance. Tell them the words we live by: "Live to fight another day -- but never forget to fight!"

It's good to be back in the game.


  1. Jeff - reading this makes me so happy. I know the past 3 years hasn’t been what you imagined it would be. I’m so glad to hear you are back running and able to again enjoy what you love. Miss you and Lourdes! (-Lauren Erickson)

    1. It's been a long road, for sure. But now I have less pain than before the surgery, so in the end it's a success. I think the time off, while hard, was good for me, too. Love to you and John!

  2. Welcome back Jeff! I look forward to the next inspiring post!

  3. Welcome back. Good luck down the road. We look forward to reading more.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What Is an Easy Run?

Eulogy for a Great Coach: Van Townsend

Hansons' Marathon Method and Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning -- the two aspects of marathon training