Fast After 40: Master Your Stride

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Preserving your stride as you age is the first line of defense against reduced performance.

For Masters runners, the first thing to go isn’t our eyesight, our memory, or even our metabolism, no matter how much we’d like to blame our love handles on the latter. The first thing to go is our stride. By the time we’re 30, our stride length begins to decrease an average of 1 percent per year—which, left unchecked, leads to an equivalent increase in pace-per-mile during runs and races.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” wrote Lao-tzu.

So does every one of our runs. And it’s the combination of stride length and stride rate (the frequency of our strides) that determines how far and how fast we travel. Studies over the past two decades have shown that stride rate remains unchanged into our 70s and 80s. But our stride length decreases by 40 percent. The result is the masters’ shuffle: older runners trying to stave off slower times by adopting an unnaturally fast stride rate combined with a shorter stride length, leading to a frenetic, abbreviated gait.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Shortened stride length can be traced to three culprits:

1. Decreased muscle mass.
2. Decreased hip, knee, and ankle flexibility.
3. Decreased nervous system efficiency.

Training that addresses all three culprits can mitigate, postpone, or even reverse their effects. Here are three workouts that will have you striding out like a youngster for years to come. [Photos below by Diana Hernandez]

For Masters runners, preserving our stride is the first line of defense against reduced performance, and it’s the best way to avoid the masters’ shuffle.

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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.

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