by CJ Hitz January 04, 2017

As runners, we can sometimes fall into some bad habits…and I’m not talking about drug habits as the title may imply. LSD can be a good thing…until it becomes the   only  thing you’re doing. I’m referring to Long Slow Distance.

I especially see many of my fellow masters' runners (those over the age of 40) practicing LSD on a daily basis. And I totally get it. As we age, it can become easy to do what feels comfortable. We roll out of bed in the morning and feel every ounce of our age those first several steps. We slowly put on our running clothes before making a beeline to the coffee pot for a little caffeine jolt. Upon finishing that last sip of joe, we shuffle out the door to begin our run.

And then we continue shuffling through the whole run, barely picking up our feet.

Now to be fair, shuffling on a run is certainly better than sitting on the couch while staying glued to a TV screen. But if performance is still the aim, we have to get those legs turning over. Quite simply, we need to get out of our comfort zones on a regular basis.

 

Making Strides

Many runners don’t realize that once we reach 30, our stride length begins to decrease by an average of 1% each year. That means our pace per mile will continue to slow down every year unless we do something intentional to prevent it.

By the time we reach our 70s & 80s, we could potentially see a 40% decrease in our stride length. On another note, our stride rate (a number of times our foot strikes the ground in a given time) doesn’t change a whole lot as we age.

So what can we do in order to preserve our stride and prevent the “senior shuffle” from taking over? It’s not rocket science but I’d like to share two practices we can begin implementing regardless of age.

 

1.) Get Some Speed!

This one is pretty obvious but cannot be avoided. All distance runners should practice getting their speed on each and every week. “It is well known that to stay young, the intensity of exercise is more important than volume,” says Earl Fee, who ran 79.04 for 400 meters at the age of 85. That’s 5:16 per mile pace! Another way of putting it is, “if you don’t use it…you lose it.”

I recommend doing an actual workout that involves a certain number of repetitions each week. Here’s an example of a workout you could do for some quality leg turnover:

 

The Workout
  • Begin with an easy 20-25 minutes of running to get the legs warmed up.
  • From there, do 5 x 15-second strides to prep the legs for what they’re about to do. A “stride” is simply a burst of speed that would equal your mile to 5k race pace.
  • Now you’ll do 8-16 repetitions (less experienced runners can start with 8 reps) of 200 meters at 5k race pace or faster. Each hard repetition is followed by a 200-meter easy jog or walk. Doing these on a nearby track can be convenient with the exact measured distance.
  • Finish with an easy 15 minutes of cool down running and light stretching.

*Bonus tip: I like doing speed workouts in my lighter racing flats which I’ll put on after doing my warm-up. I almost feel like Superman when he goes into the phone booth to change. For me, there’s a mental transformation that takes place that puts me into speed mode.

 

Strides

I also encourage the runners I coach to add strides to at least one of your easy runs each week. Again, these are 15-20 second bursts of speed done at a mile to 5k race pace. An example would be to add five of these strides at the end of an easy run. Each stride is followed by a 20-second easy jog. Strides help keep our legs tuned-up for speed without the stresses of a longer workout. The message we’re giving our legs is, “I’m just reminding you to break out of the shuffle and be prepared for speed.”

 

2.) The Hills Are Alive!

Runner StnMtn

Pound for pound, short hill repeats may be one of the most effective workouts we can do. Frank Shorter used to say, “Hills are speed work in disguise.” When we run hills at a sprint effort, we’re recruiting faster twitch muscle fibers that can grow dormant if not used. We’re also getting a form of strength work similar to doing leg squats. Finally, hill sprints will lengthen your stride and make you more efficient on flatter terrain. Running uphill will give you lots of return on investment! Here’s an example of a hill sprint workout you could do at least every other week, if not weekly:

 

The Workout
  • Find a hill that’s fairly steep that you can run uphill for at least 15 seconds.
  • Begin with an easy 20-25 minutes of running to get the legs warmed up.
  • You’ll then do 6 hill repeats of 15 seconds at 95% effort which is just under all out. After each rep, turn around and walk back to the start to recover. Eventually, you can work up to 10-12 reps. No need to do these more than once per week.
  • Try to lean into the hill without slumping over at the waist. I like to imagine the ground being like hot coals and I’m quickly picking up my feet to avoid being burned. Pumping the arms will also help generate more speed & power.
  • Finish with an easy 15 minutes of cool down running and light stretching.
CJ Hitz
CJ Hitz

After running in the 1988 State Cross Country meet in Eugene, Oregon as a high school sophomore, CJ gave up running for nearly 20 years before being drawn back into the sport. CJ caught the “running bug” in 2008 and has not looked back since. He’s dropped over 50 pounds in weight and continues to set new lifetime personal bests as a national class masters runner. CJ has competed in well over 150 races ranging from road 5Ks to trail 50Ks. He enjoys a fast road 5k or a grueling mountain race with lots of elevation gain & loss. Basically, he just plain loves running. CJ and his wife Shelley reside in Colorado Springs, CO where they are spoiled beyond measure with mountains, trails and sunshine. CJ's Train Well Race Well Coaching site - www.TrainWellRaceWell.com Check out CJ's latest book Smoothies For Runners 2.0 here - https://www.amazon.com/Smoothies-Runners-2-0-Performance-Injury-Free/dp/0692738452


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