When I was 18, my fellow athletes told me, that it won't be that easy when I will be 25. When 25, they told me that from 30 it will be a downward spiral. When 35, I heard that when 40, it will be over. Now, that I am 40, I am listening again, that you will see, the performances will be declining and you will have more and more hiccups.
What I can say, that it is all untrue. I have been advising and coaching for almost 20 years now, starting out with kick-box and body-building, then as I progressed towards simplicity and efficacy, I obtained multiple diplomas and certificates to educate runners and to work with endurance athletes. In the meantime I have also been working on myself and my own goals. This is not bragging. It is just to say, that I have been ongoingly observing and analysing what actually is going in the world and contrarily, with me in the last 20years. Not only me, as I have met many philosophically sound coaches and athletes in the meantime, who never stopped progressing !
So, what is the reality, that my experiences can tell me ? What is the truth ? Well it is about perspective. It is about constant practice. It is about very correct execution. It is about regularity, periodization, diet, sleep, hydration, emotional poise, support and so. For decades on end.
Those, who tell you those initial stories about declining health, performance, motivation and so, are bitter people. Sometimes, it is hidden, but that bitterness is there. It is coming from jealousy about your on-going shine ! It is a weakness, coming from lack of understanding and lack of discipline !
The only thing what you loose suddenly with age is top end explosiveness and top end speed. It is because these are lifesaving abilities normally and you pull them out of your toolbox only in very special times. It is not something that you practice naturally daily as a human. It is un-natural to train for a sub 10s sprint from a starting block. It is also unnatural to clean and jerk nearly 3 times your body weight. To be able to keep up these levels human performances, you would need to practice them on an ongoing basis due to the obligatory high end nerve stimulation. The neuromuscular factor in super high end performances is one of the most important, if not the one single decision making piece ! If you’ve never ran in training, even if it was from a swing, a sub 10sec 100m dash, there is practically 0% chance of running a sub 20sec 200m !
This is just total self destruction by the way. You are just frying your nervous system training after training. So yes, playing with max speed and 1 rep max is fun, but not sustainable. However, this is normal !
Mid range explosiveness and speed will decline, but if kept up the good work and quality lifestyle, that is a slow slow decline.
Good old habits !
We will talk about running, but let’s start with basic human physical treats. Speed, power, explosivity, ballistic movement execution (throwing, swinging) , functional flexibility, breathing, general endurance, musculoskeletal and cardiovascular resistance, capacity to sweat, to heat up and to cool down the body, the ability to absorb food and water from the stomach while under physical and mental pressure, self control and much more.
Use it or lose it. Isn’t it ? If you do not practice regularly on a daily basis these very simple human “able to do” things, you are in trouble. You do not need to go to the gym. Not at all, just do some very little specific stuff and go hard on the other life helping things. When going shopping, why not go with a backpack and two handbags ? It is hard to walk home with 20kg worth of fruits and vegetables. People put it in their car, park front of the elevator and send it up to the 3rd floor. I walk it home. You need grip strength, you need to breathe, you need to control intraabdominal pressure, you start sweating hard after 3 minutes. You even have to think a bit to pack your stuff balanced. Or do it purposefully unbalanced and switch handbag sides each 2 minutes.
You wake up in the morning, 8 to 10minutes of yoga after a litre of water will launch your circulation, open up your diaphragme, move your joints slowly in all directions and will enhance a great bowel movement. When passing near a bench, 5 to 10 dips, when passing under a bar, 5 to 10 pull ups with different grip positions. When going up on the stairs, you can do uphill deep lunges and calf raises. Just a couple ! Moving your joints regularly in all directions every day multiple times, while applying force !
All with perfect technique, what you’ve learnt and perfectionned throughout the years. This will add up and work towards a great body.
Then there is the 10 to 20 minutes performance routine. That can be kettlebells, a barbell, bodyweight, rings and bars, power yoga, floor routines, martial arts, volleyball drills, athletic schooling and much more. It can be a chain of exercises or one single exercise, with sprinkled in ab and core routines.
I have 4 exercises what I focus on, that is it. Dips, pull ups, push-ups and kettlebell swings. Everything else is a side dish. Every 5th day I restart the routine. I do those all the time differently though. The joint angles change and the angle of the force applied too. Like push-ups of wide, close or normal width, with or without a grip-stand, elevated legs and so. I play with the speed too. Why these four exercises ? Well my sport is running and I don’t do no-running. On my route I can access easily, in multiple places parallel bars to do the dips and high bars to do pull ups. The Kettlebell is always out in front of my eyes at home. I pick them up regularly every day. The ab-roller is always visible too. I do trackworkous Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Often it is a 5k jog, 3 to 4 sprints, a bit of athletic schooling, body weight routine of mobility under light pressure with a little impact of jumping and skipping, then 20 min strength up in the gym.
The thing is when you are doing these mixes right for long long periods, you can relax a lot more and a lot more often. Meaning better recovery, better supercompensation. There are athletes out there who churn out 100mile weeks endlessly, but when stopping that, they lose fitness in a matter of days. Others can just relax and drop even up to 80% of run mileage and when they come back in 10 to 20weeks of time, they are back where they were and can jump to 100mi and over immediately. It is because they never stopped jumping, skipping, leaning, crawling, bending, benching, swinging, throwing, lifting, breathing, chopping, swimming, cycling, running, walking, carrying, hauling, pulling, pushing, hammering, being exposed to cold and hot and elevation and breatholds and so. Lifelong endurance, resistance and strength is much more, than simple 10 years of 100mile weekly running on average !!!
Race performances on average during a 50 years period show this. For me somebody who won an olympic gold on an 8 year long cycle is a great achievement and I respect that. However when a real athlete is racing from their teens to their 80s and further, even if their best performance was a 15th place ever, that is success ! That is happiness and a keep on going attitude. That is real passion. That is love for the sport. I mean, even if it wasn’t racing just lifelong daily practice, of course.
Remembering and having history of one single near human defying experience like an olympic gold is just something over mystified. As DMX says: “Talk is cheap m……..r !! ” . Doing is something. Of course there are many many great great opposing examples. Athletes who practice their olympic sport till the end of their life. That can be running, tennis, badminton, volley, basketball, race car driving and so…There are many of those who do this well. In France we say, the real motorcycle rider is the old motorcycle rider “Le vrai motard est un vieux motard.” That can be applied to anything.
So what is the story with running ?
It is simple. There are only 3 factors. Controlling intensity, applying and practicing good technique. The third ? Yeah it is a giant factor: Lifestyle ! Lifestyle covers nutrition, hydration, sleep, hygiene, the good old quality habits, temper, emotions, work, stress and everything. Most people do not grasp lifestyle and the effects of one neglected factor of it effecting late aging. As an exemple, somebody is having everything set up from the age of 15 to the age of 55, then boom suddenly get sick, tired and much more. He says yeah it is genetic. Except that he worked for 35 years as a system administrator. Meaning to be exposed to electric pollution and radiation, non-natural vibration, artificial light, micro waves like wifi, bluetooth and other radio signals and so on. It is not only that his body was exposed to this, but the food he ate during work hours and the water he drank during his work hours. In addition during every 5 days during 47 weeks during 35 years he was not seeing and not immersing himself in the real sunshine. Trying to offset this with forest bathing and a vegan diet will not happen overnight. So yes, lifestyle is a gigantesque factor in longevity.
Controlling intensity ? This is what will control and balance your motivation. This is what will give you the rage and rampage when you got to beat people in a race. Do too much during training, have a too long high intensity macrocycle and you are done for the season or even more. We can see some fantastic race and individual performances in these covid times. Runners build up their aerobic system by building base to a level, that was not present in their training yet or was way too short. Imagine, that you are able to run at your 10km PR pace at 12bpm lower heart rate. That could mean, that you can run longer than 10km, run faster a 10km, your previous race pace now become your critical velocity or VO2max pace and so on. You are a level higher in your own self created RPG.
Most importantly, this allows you to spend time in more aerobic zones while still running faster. This will make you understand, that you can be a fast runner, without being knackered and having aching achilles tendons. Yes, it is not running slower what decreases inflammation. It is running at a lower heart rate and running with less stress on the body. Why are kenyans so good at the marathon ? They are focusing on marathon running, long distances, aerobic development. They do not mix in 5k and 10k training periods of entire seasons, nor 800m speed development, they do not go for indoor and outdoor track and cross country and having double events.
Marathon and half marathon ! Focus ! Aerobic development. 200km plus weeks. Low HR ! It is better and more beneficial to run 3km more at marathon pace, than cut the workout short and finish faster the last 3km. Marathon pace is just perfect ! Look at Lydiard, Maffetone, Canova. They advocate a very very deep base. A brutal deep base. A base running of life and a base running of the season.
If I remember well, in one of Canova’s videos he says that, when a 18-20 year old african runner with potential comes to me, I know that he has been seriously walking, jogging and doing strength based house work in the last 15years. In case of European / US runners, that is missing and therefor maturity comes and should come way later ! This is why, because of this 10 to 15 years of missing base, that some runners if wanted to be world leaders in marathon, must put in 200 and even 300km weeks, to reach the biggest depths of endurance before the natural aging process slows them down.
Technique ? Yeah, this is what absorbs impact. Don’t get this wrong, the impact is on your entire body. Keeping the chain of elasticity and sponginess alive till the end of your running days are both crucial. If your feet are healthy and calves are strong and functional, that is a good start. This can only be if you run correctly and your outings are anabolic. If you have broken form, you create only dysfunction.
We don’t get deep into technique here, as that would be a book. I don’t do compromise. Forefoot landing, period. Starting with the front of your plantar area landing on that two bumps behind your 1st and 5th metatarsal, stabilising constantly with the toes, but activating muscles too in timely order, in the deceleration, protection and acceleration. Touching with the heal, for just a little unload, to relax the posterior chain, then as with the forward lean the heel lifts, spring action comes in. Then there is muscle and articular strength, balance, flexibility and mobility from low back down, including hip and and all muscles. This will guide the knees correctly. Those are important from low back upwards too, as if you were hunched over, breathing only with your chest, diaphragm deactivated, and hands flapping all over, well it won’t result in anything optimal either. Everything should be aligned.
Cadence is 180. Depending on speed, surface, angle and much more that can be around 168 to 190. 168 is a kind of periodical tolerable low end, but not for everyday running. When you did a quality track workout and you jogged around the local grassfield barefoot for 8 minutes, yeah that is no problem there. 190 is a tolerable high. When doing lactate threshold work and your legs are thrashed, instead of elongating your fly with kneelift, you can shorten your stride and add more cadence or when doing very high velocity sprinting and downhill running. Otherwise that 174 to 184 is a good sweet-spot.
This gives you some ideas, but for sure that quality running is part of health, metabolism, sleep, recovery, breathing, heart rate, longevity and much more.
Great post, a lot of common sense there. I would like to take you up on one thing and it has been bugging me for years and that is the subject of cadence. Cadence can vary and yes the empirical data (originally that collected by Jack Daniels – on elite runners it must be said ) set this ideal cadence to be 180 but no-one (or very few) take factors like height and skeletal proportions into account – why it bugs me, well I am 6 fr 3″ ( 1.92m ) – fast running for me (I am 57 years old and have been running for 30 years ) is a cadence of 166 (4:30/km) (my fastest half marathon at age 40yrs was 1:29 (4:15/km) with a cadence of 168. I can get to 172-3 running fast downhill but on the flat this feels unnatural. I am not an isolated case. At this point it doesn’t bother me day to day but I wish someone would address it/qualify it as I am sure many struggle trying to achieve this to the detriment of other equally or maybe even more important aspects of their running.
I am 196cm too…This is a very difficult subject as individuality plays a giant role in it.
If you were a purist, like an exclusive road-runner or a track athlete, I would definitely say, that all of the main sections of your workouts should average over 175 cadence as this will greatly add to longevity and health. More cadence means less impact, faster recovery, less chance for injury.
When you are running on the track and want to keep up with a faster athlete, if your cadence was low, you must increase stride length. That can mean overstriding and heel first landing, or a power push-off and a very high knee drive, overstressing the hams.
Cadence is also very much neuromuscular. This means, that it needs training and stimulating constantly ! “It is not something that, okay I learnt it, so from now on without thinking, I naturally will run at 180.” No no no. It really needs daily practice. The goal is not necessarily to run at a higher cadence. The goal of the cadence practice is to practice correct running form. A little practice every day will go a long long way. You can do athletic schooling drills, sprints and stride outs, you can set your watch on average lap cadence and run cadence intervals. skipping roping helps a lot. You can also time to time use a metronome. In newer Garmin watches that is a basic function.
I have been doing these drills and practicing these habits for over 15 years. The goal is not to get better or be perfect, in fact there is no goal. I just enjoy practicing and imprinting and creating good habits. No day without them. I actually like to add a little this and that to my warm up. Every time ! Even if I ran 3 times a day !
Also, in my case, as I said there is no goal, but it is a little different. I like walking, hiking and mixing in those into running. I also run on very gnarly trails, often with a 6 to 10kg backpack. That throws off cadence as hell.
However, I just checked my last workout, during the last 200m repeat I had 196 cadence ! I did the other time one 2000m tempo on a dirt road and I had 178rpm. When completed a 3,5h trail run I had 158 on average.
I cover the complete range of cadences, I am not injured, have no problems and can switch between cadences and run styles inside a workout.
What I am saying here is that in some cases, if some workouts are low cadence, just don’t bother. However, in other cases, that is a very much performance and injury determining, near-exclusive factor. When total flat, medium speed road, track and dirt workouts are all 164rpm 58times in a row, yeah, that must be improved !
Also there is the Maffetone method. The max aerobic force hr is one of the most natural levels high performance running. High cadence routines should be often practiced while sticking to this HR. That will imprint a lot of good habits and modify the brain !
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Thank you for the considered and detailed response. One thing I get from this is the need to practice it – quite a bit of my running is mountain trail (in Ireland) – looking at a recent run of 1.5 hours, 10km with 750m of vertical it was an average of 150 – this is with quite technical stuff with some steep grassy stuff, and I guess the practice will help in all areas – it is fairly obvious that shorter steps and higher turnover will help on ascents because inefficiencies here are magnified so much and punish so quickly. With respect to the Maffetone method I have practised it on and off over the past few years – usually I turn to it when I find my running is going nowhere and getting less enjoyable because I try to hard – I am in such a phase now 🙂 – at 57 and with some adjustments my MAF pace is around 128 – excruciatingly slow coming from a low fitness state but typically because I am always doing something it can be a 6min/km pace or a bit faster on the flat which is tolerable – I have not stuck with it long enough though to be sure of the benefits – perhaps I should.
There are two things about MAF to understand. Even if you do not improve as a runner or in case of MAF speed, while running exclusively at or under your MAF heart rate, you are de-stressing and un-f….g the body, without regression. This is why I am back at it now for a couple of weeks, before I hit any races. I do one 7 x 7sec hill sprints and one tempo run at MAF+10 a week. The rest is MAF and a lot of walking.
Second point is that if you wanted to be a better slash faster runner and you worked exclusively in the MAF range, you need, tremendous amounts of volume. 50km a week will not cover it.
Also, not just for running, but for being a complete human, the total range of heart rates and total range of movements should be practiced on a very regular basis.
Anaerobic training once a month to once every 40 days.
Anaerobic micro-stimulation (hill-sprints) 5 to 6 times a month
VO2 MAX – 1 or 2 times a month
Critical Velocity 1 or 2 times a month
Tempo / LT – 3 to 4 times a month
High End Z2 5 to 6 times a month
And the rest of MAF and under…
While the MAF range is great and fantastic, it has its limits. The Maffetone method actually does not put the athlete in between limits, heart rates and zones. You do what you want however you want ! There is one criteria, that you feel great, you are healthy, you are the best of yourself and you can prove this by improving your fortnightly 8km MAF tests. That means, that your aerobic system is working correctly and no other system is being overstressed, putting a layer of greyness on your entire body !
Drop me your strava link and I can give a you a couple of tips on what to look for 😀