Aging race competitors


Fred Deckert


Perusing the results for the Humanatee 5K I was struck again by the “aging” of our race competitors. Out of 138 runners, fully 60 of 84 males were 40+ and 26 of 54 females were in that category with an extra 14 females in the 35-39 age group. At my position in the pinnacle of this group, I often find it hard to sympathize with the cry, “I’m really slowing down, heard from my 40+ friends. But, we all realize that we can’t make the times we used to.

Naturally, we look into the reasons why, since often we don’t “feel” we’ve gotten that much older, and tend to resent a bit our declining abilities. At a recent GWTC social/lecture by Coach Roy Benson, several reasons were again brought home to me. Firstly, the slowing of the maximum heart rate with age. This directly affects the oxygen uptake and therefore the energy available for exercise. It seems to be only about a one beat per year decrease, but as you can quickly calculate in 10 years that’s 10 beats. That could lose close to 10% of the energy available to you.

Not much you can do about that, but a second factor factor in slowing is your stride length. Anyone who watches a race will notice that the younger runners normally have a much greater stride length than the older. I don’t know all the physiology behind this, but I’d guess loss of flexibility would be a large factor. However, this is an area you can make a difference in your performance by training. Stretching those leg muscles seems to be most advantageously done via speed work, probably best represented by track intervals.

It’s important to also keep in mind that another important factor is that of rest between high energy workouts. You don’t want to destroy the good done by excessive stress. As Benson said, it’s vital that your body rest (relatively speaking) after hard workouts. His suggestions were that rest days should be 60-70% of your maximum heart rate exertion.

An interesting sidelight was Coach Benson’s observation that there is not much difference in stride rate between a fast and slow runner, so work in that direction is not likely to be very productive. His other observation is that the only other way to get fast is to get skinny! Not too skinny of course, but the french fries at your favorite fast food place sure can nullify lots of good training. Neglecting the rare “Clydesdale” category, you may note there is still no category for most pounds carried per minute.