Have a question? Shoot us a note and a PodiumRunner expert will answer.

Question:

I am a runner since the mid 1970s, marathons, ultramarathons and loads of shorter races. At 65 years old I find I race less often, 12-hour events a couple times last year.

My current training includes one long run in the 20 mile range with some cross training after, speed work on a treadmill the second or third day after, plus one or two days moderately running on the treadmill or outside. I lift weights three days a week with cross training on a zero runner those days.

I find that I am in sort of a rut, not really improving, just maintaining. Should I cut out the long run? I find I struggle to get going, then, the last few miles, I struggle a lot ! Also, I find on the treadmill I can run a lot faster. — Frank

PodiumRunner writer Amby Burfoot Answers:

Frank: You’re maintaining at 65? That puts you in probably the one percent of us. What’s your secret? You should be answering questions, not asking them.

Seriously, congratulations. You’ve been following a high-fitness lifestyle for 40+ years, and it even sounds like you’ve made age-appropriate changes such as more cross-training and strength-training. If you’re in a rut, it’s gold-lined one, and a heck of a lot better than the sofa rut so many others have settled into.

So you seem to be asking mainly about that long run—the 20-miler—that you’re pushing yourself to complete on a weekly basis. In fact, you’re forcing it so hard that it has become a “struggle.” Enough, already. Cut yourself a break, Frank.

Runners succeed in our sport and in life because we are so fantastically disciplined. The best runners don’t seek shortcuts; they recognize that they will reach their goals only by putting in the necessary amount of work. This approach pays dividends in every important arena: family, relationships, work, community, and so on.

In running, that discipline is an absolute essential, certified by every great runner who has ever lived. However, it’s also a double-edged sword, so we must learn to understand ourselves and our changing situations. That which makes us successful—our determination—can also lead to burnout and injury if we apply it inappropriately.

masters training
Frank on the treadmill / photo: courtesy Frank Pellegrino

Get to the Start Line Strong and Healthy

At 65, you’re not peaking for the Olympics, so those 20 milers aren’t really necessary. In fact, they could prove destructive, especially if you’re struggling to get through them, since long-run fatigue is a frequent cause of injury. I still like the idea of a long run every week or two, but I think you should cut back to only 10 miles at a stretch.

You can still run ultras if they’re important to you. Just adjust your expectations and your pace, which is basically what ultra-running is all about anyway.

I like to remind runners that the best training for your next big race isn’t necessarily the plan with the most total miles, or even the most impressive individual workouts.  Instead, focus on what gets you to the start line as strong and healthy as possible. This often means training a little less, and recovering a little more. The big dividend: When you’re strong on race day, you’ll feel great during the race, and have a better chance of holding your goal pace the whole way.

I like the way you’re mixing things up with weights, the Zero Runner, and maybe other cross-training. Keep doing all that as long as it feels good.

Add Hill Repeats and Tempo Runs

You didn’t mention hills. I think you should add hill repeats to your training routine once every week or two. Hill repeats represent the poor man’s/old man’s best approach to speed work. You won’t actually run as fast as you would on the track or treadmill, but you’ll build the same muscle groups and coordination. Also, injury incidence is lower with hill repeat than with speed work on the flats.

I like to do two types of hill repeats: Short repeats of just 15 to 20 seconds, and longer repeats of 60 to 90 seconds. They use slightly different muscles, and require different intensities, so you get a lot of bang for your buck with the two types.

Lastly, consider short tempo runs. I’m not a fan of those long tempos where elite athletes are always trying to do 10-12-15 miles of what they call tempo running. Sounds too hard to me. I always believed tempos should be “controlled,” and that means keeping them relatively short. I’d aim for 3–4 mile tempo runs at your 10-mile to half-marathon race pace. Don’t try to go faster and farther every week; instead seek relaxation and consistency at your tempo pace.

One more thing: Walking is good for the head and the legs, and it might get you out of the gym a few more times per week. I enjoy my 4 to 6-mile walks with like minded friends, and also with podcasts. The miles pass quickly, and I always feel refreshed afterwards.

Have a question? Shoot us a note and a PodiumRunner expert will answer.

Amby Burfoot won the 1968 Boston Marathon. He offers KISS Training Programs (Keep It Simple & Smart) at RunWithAmby.com