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.
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.
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:
*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.
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.”
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: