It’s not the training we do that counts; it’s the training from which we can recover. Training provides a stimulus (our workouts) that triggers an adaptation: better fitness. But that adaptation doesn’t happen overnight. Rush the process, and you invite overtraining syndrome, along with the impaired performance and injuries that accompany it.
“I was once asked to write a scientific article on overtraining,” says coach Jack Daniels, whose book Daniels’ Running Formula has been called the Bible of the sport. “My response was that’s the simplest article ever. It’s two words long: Avoid it.”
Overtraining in younger athletes generally results from an extended period of running too hard, too long, or a combination of both. In masters runners, a single instance of two hard workouts in a row without adequate recovery can do the same. That’s because aging slows healing in muscles and connective tissue, reduces some hormonal production (including Growth Hormone [GH or HGH], which activates fitness adaptation), and is inevitably accompanied by a loss in nervous system efficiency. Blast your body while it’s still struggling to recover from a previous workout, and we masters don’t bend, we break.
MORE FAST AFTER 40: Master Your Stride
Depressed? Don’t be. There’s no reason masters runners can’t train and race hard. It’s just that we can’t pay lip service to recovery, the way we sometimes did when we were younger. We need a plan. And it should start with the following three strategies.
Recovery During The Workout
For distance runs, we rarely need more than occasional water stops and, if the run will last longer than a couple hours, a gel or two. For harder workouts, however, we’ll need a recovery plan.
Step one is to control the effort of hard workouts. Masters runners should never train harder or longer than is necessary to trigger the desired adaption. For example:
—Tempo: Run 20-30 minutes at a pace you could maintain for at least an hour (30-40 minutes if you slow the pace to marathon race effort).
—Repetitions: Keep total repetition volume to 1-2 times the length of the race distance used to determine pace (e.g., 5-10K of reps at 5K pace).
Run too hard or too far, and you’ll need the kind of recovery associated with a race (see “Recovery Post-Race”).
Step two is to manage recovery intervals during repetition workouts. Aerobically driven repetitions (3K pace or slower) utilize shorter rest periods, while speed work (1500m pace or faster) requires longer recovery intervals. It takes 30-40 seconds for your aerobic system to get up to speed. Until then, your anaerobic systems provide the bulk of your fuel. Shorter rest intervals keep the aerobic system’s pedal to the metal. Longer rest intervals allow your anaerobic system to regroup and carry the fueling burden for the next rep. See the chart, “Recovery Intervals,” for guidelines on interval length. The bars indicate the ratio of recovery interval to rep time (e.g., reps at 1500m pace require recovery intervals that are 100-200% the length, in time, of the repetition itself).
Recovery Post-Hard Workout
Different workouts inflict different levels of damage on our bodies and require different post-workout recovery periods. Distance runs performed at a conversational pace recruit fewer muscle fibers and split fuel use between carbohydrates and fats; therefore, tissue repair and topping off your glycogen (carb) tank requires no more than a day. Repetitions, tempo, progression runs, plyometrics, and other hard workouts are a different story. They cause substantial muscle fiber and connective tissue damage, deplete hormones and neurotransmitters, and drain muscle glycogen stores. Most masters runners will need three or more days for recovery.
Recovery days are not optional—they’re when improvement occurs. During recovery, workouts should be limited to conversational distance runs, occasional slow tempo, some strides, and other low-to-moderate-intensity training. See the chart, “Recovery Post-Hard Workout,” for suggested recovery days between hard workouts (shown in 10 year age increments).
Races are the hardest workouts of all. They’re 100 percent efforts. As such, they require longer recovery periods than normal training.
“Some people say that for every mile you race, you need a day off,” says Tracy Lokken, a two-time USATF masters champion in the marathon (2007, 2009) who ran, at age 48, a 2:24:39 in last April’s Boston Marathon. “But as you get older, you need about 45 days for a marathon.”
Exercise scientists Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas, authors of the popular running blog, The Science of Sport, have estimated that the chemical markers of muscle damage rise 100% post-half marathon and 1500% post-marathon. There’s less damage for 5K and 10K, but the point remains the same: Masters runners who schedule hard workouts (or, heaven forbid, more races) too soon after a race will accumulate more damage than their bodies can repair.
Masters runners must train with recovery in mind and include planned recovery days after hard outings. Otherwise, our bodies will schedule unplanned recovery days for us.
About The Author:
Pete Magill is the fastest-ever American age 50+ at 5K (15:01) and 10K (31:11), the 2013 USA Masters Cross Country Runner of the Year, and the author of Build Your Running Body (The Experiment, 2014). Learn more about Pete at his website, PeteMagill.com.