By Nigel Gray, NRG Performance Training
Having been a coach and pro triathlete for over 20 years and now racing age group and turning 50 in 2020 I have had a lot of experience with both coaching master’s athletes and also being one myself! As we age we can start to see our performances drop but there are a number of things that we can do to maintain fitness for longer. There are also more challenges that come into play as we get older and I personally have had to face more challenges with my run in the last 5 years than I had in the first 20 years of my triathlon career and here are a few key things that I have learned in this time:
Everyone is Different: one training plan doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone responds differently to training so one set plan won’t work for all. You need to be able to step back and look at what has worked for you, do you respond better to running more frequently or do you need days off the run in order to stay healthy? Being a good runner off the bike at 70.3/Barrelman is about endurance more so than speed, you need to be able to run well for 90-120+min after a 3+hour warm up swim/bike
Frequency: Run frequency and consistency is the biggest benefit to your run performance over time. Being able to run 3-6+ times/week and doing that week after week, month after month, makes a huge difference to your run fitness and durability. One trick that can work well is to do double runs, splitting up a long run into 2 sessions one in the morning, one in the evening can help reduce some of the pounding of the long run and lets you add more volume and frequency but with a lower injury risk.
Speed Work: Doing some fast running is a key part of maintaining fitness and performance as you age. VO2max is one of the first things that starts to decline as we age so doing some harder running is key to offsetting this. But at the same time it’s important to be aware of the injury risks of harder running and doing what you can to mitigate them. I have found that doing run intensity ahead of bike intensity in your training plan to allow you to run on fresher legs can help reduce the injury risk (not to mention get a better quality run session done). And realizing that the risk of too much intensity or intensity that’s too high, leads to high risk of injury, consistency still trumps intensity so going a bit easier tends to be the safer than going harder.
Varying your Intensity: This is really a mistake that is made in every age group and race distance! Most athletes fall into the trap of running at the same intensity for almost all of their runs. Every run is within +or – 15sec/km. So to go along with speed work one of the key things you need to learn to do is to run slow!!! For most athletes this is the first step, many athletes run in Z3/4 for all runs and this leaves them too tired to do the quality work in Z5 that they need to. But to be able to do Z5 work, you need to be able to back off and run Z1 so that you then have the energy to run hard when you need to. If you try to add in hard intervals on top of Z3/4 regular runs this can quickly lead to injury and/or overtraining.
Injuries: As you age injuries tend become more common and dealing with and preventing them can be critical to your success. Injuries are best dealt with by prevention!! What this means can vary significantly from athlete to athlete, but making sure you have a balanced training plan that your body can handle is one of the first steps. Most often getting hurt is your body’s’ way of saying you’re doing too much. Stretching, strength training, core work, manual therapy and massage can all be important parts of the maintenance work needed to keep you healthy. Having a healthy well balanced diet is also key and making sure you’re getting in enough healthy fats and protein to go along with the complex carbs. One of the biggest factors that can help with injury and recovery is sleep. Triathletes are famous for looking for the newest toy, or workout or supplement that will make them faster, but the real secret is sleep!
Running Races: The off season can be a great time to put in some run focus and do some running only races to work on your run fitness. For the 70.3/Barrelman distance you are best focusing on races in the 5km to a half marathon. These distances are great for working on your speed and are still easy to recover from. A marathon is too much in terms of its pounding on the body and too slow to give a true speed benefit for a 70.3.
Don’t forget the Bike: The bike is always a key part to running fast in any triathlon. You need to be fit on the bike and then pace and fuel yourself properly on the bike in order to run to your potential. Many athletes fall into the trap of thinking that when they struggle on the run that it’s a run problem, while in many cases the problem is really a bike execution one.
Head Coach at NRG Performance Training, 20+years of coaching and has gone 4:08 in his 40’s at Barrelman