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Seeking Greatness as a Masters Runner: A Non-traditional Approach

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.  Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

― Mark Twain

 In four years of training, I have managed to move myself from a sometimes runner to a locally competitive status.  I have gradually learned the advice doled out to all typical runners and some of the newer info from research.  Those things have helped me make this progress and I appreciate that.  Furthermore, I have shared those details as a running coach as well as sharing them with you through this web site and my books.

So a few months ago, however, I turned a started a new phase in my running career.  I set some unreasonable running goals for myself.  Among those goals is to run 800 meters is 1:58 or less.

Phase 1 was moving from a occasion runner to becoming competitive in my age group regionally.  It took me four years of consistent training to reach this goal.

Phase 2 is to move from solid age group competitor regionally to becoming a great masters level runner.  I fully expect it to take another four years to reach the goal of Phase 2.
To achieve my goal, I am doing some crazy stuff.  After 4 years of running 6 days a week, I am now running only 3 days each week.  No, I am not resting on the other days.  I am swimming, biking, and lifting weights.  Different folks seem to think I have gone crazy, each with their own reason.

  • Dedicated competitive runners lift weights some, but not usually for power.  I am lifting to add muscle.  That sounds crazy to some people.
  • Most people my age think that getting down to 12.7% body fat is  a crazy goal.  They think I should be satisfied.  My new goal is to get down and stay between 8% and 9% body fat all of the time.  That sounds crazy to nearly everyone.
  • Most competitive runners looking for big gains in running ability avoid other sports.  My goal is running, but I am using swimming and cycling to get to my goal.
  • I have been talking about marathons and training for them for several years and my main goal is now only 800 meters.  That takes a completely different kind of training.  Why the big switch?  It doesn’t seem to make sense.

My logic and sanity has been questioned several times lately.  My allegiance to running has also been questioned. These people have good intentions, but are not looking at the big picture.  Put the pieces together and you might be able to make sense of my strategy.

What is the big idea that underlies all of these changes and makes this strategy make sense?  Physics.  Simple physics.

  • To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
  • Force = Mass x Acceleration
  • Inertia – An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon

I am a guy with a relatively big frame for a runner.  That means that even if I drop weight, I am still going to be moving more weight that elite athletes.  That means the amount of force that it takes to move me is greater than those of those elite athletes.  The result is this:  compared to elite runners of my age, I need a bigger push to get my larger frame moving up to the same speed if I am to catch them.  In short, I need more power than I have.

This is why I am training for power right now.  I am building a more powerful set of muscles.  That does not mean that I am “bulking up” but it does mean that I am gaining some muscle weight.  That brings in the body fat issue.  I have to have more muscle, but more weight means more to carry in those long distance races that I love.  The result:  I must drop body fat in order to trim my weight.  I am not starving myself.  I have to feed my body carefully to support muscle growth and speed development.  I have to lose fat only.  That is a tough trick.  I am refining my nutrition and training for this purpose.  More High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) helps to lower body fat.  It is also great for building power.  I do four workouts each week that have some form of HIIT, two in running, one in cycling, and one in swimming.

I am adding muscle power, but lowering my overall weight.  All of that is great, but why am I swimming and cycling?  That’s easy.  Because I am getting older.  No, I am nowhere near retirement, but I am 46 years old.  A ton of mileage might work for some, but it just wears me down.  Cycling and swimming both offer opportunities to train my cardiovascular system for long periods of time.  They also give me additional HIIT workouts.

The biggest difference in my new system is the wear and tear of training.  I do not believe that running wears you down more or less than cycling or swimming.  When I only did one sport, however I had a few spots that seem to always feel the wear and tear of the constant activity.  raining in all three sports distributes that wear and tear out throughout my body.  There is no one spot that is getting more sore than any other spot.

That explains everything except for the change in focus.  I was focused on marathons and half marathons, but now my focus is on training for 800 meters.  Isn’t that going to hurt my long races.  The answer is a yes and no.  Yes, in the short term the fewer miles might have a negative effect on my long races.  Before and after I achieve my 800 meter goal, however, I am going to capitalize on on of my favorite facts of fitness.

Remember This:

It is much easier to maintain your level of fitness than it is to gain it in the first place.

As I work towards breaking 1:58 in the 800 meters, I will also rotate longer runs and rides into the scheme.  I am racing in the Boston Marathon in April.  I will still have long runs that build over time.  My endurance level will be at least maintained if not improved.

After I have achieved this goal, I will maintain the speed and turn my attention towards stretching my new speed to longer distances.  I am reasonably sure that I will not run a sub-four mile, but if I run 1:58 for 800 meters that makes a 4:30 mile look very reasonable.  If I can run a 4:30 mile, then I could probably manage a 15:00 5K.  How cool would that be??

And it goes on from there all the way back to the marathon.  I will still be doing marathons throughout it all.  How fast will I run a marathon?  Who knows?  Here is what I do know: it will be faster because my power base will be stronger.  As I maintain my new power and refocus on endurance, I will become a much faster marathon runner.

A Final Word

Who am I to aspire to be great?  I believe we all have the potential for greatness. It is not specific to me. Most of us just do not believe it.   I do not believe that I have anything more special about me than you do.  What makes me different is that I have begun to believe.

Remember This:

When you believe there is greatness in you, you are right. 
You must find a way to allow that greatness to shine so bright
that it become a light for others.

To my nay-sayers, just know this.  I have a plan.  There is a solid reason for everything in my plan.  It is not traditional because I am not in a traditional spot.  I am not starting in my youth and gradually building to peak performance in my twenties or thirties.  I started this training at age 42.  I am half way through and I expect to peak at around age 50.  I have seen no other plan for becoming a great runner at a late age.  I had to create my own plan.

As the plan unfolds, I will keep you posted about my progress.

If you want to see my daily workouts, I always post them on Facebook and Twitter.

I will also write a book based on my findings of what worked and what did not for taking a good masters level runner to becoming even better.

Until we meet again…

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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