Archive for January, 2011


An Interesting Project Proposal

01.30.2011

Every One's a Winner

One of our most recent posts was a guest contribution by Roger Robinson, author and runner.  The focus was training and racing at an advanced age and he profiled a couple of true masters at both.  Our interactions indicated that while there are some useful and interesting contributions to the area, some written by Running in the Zone original contributors, as well as others, there is little definitive coverage of the specific subject discussed by Roger.  I subsequently reviewed a Jeff Galloway book, Running Until You’re 100 and have heard of an update to Bruce Tulloh’s book for mature runners. 

The competitive senior runner is a relatively rare bird, and the “elite” senior runner even more-so.  It could be argued that such folk are not ‘normal’, but the same can be said for world class athletes of any age.  Still, we accept that young, fit people should be doing super-human things and marvel and rejoice at their achievements.  The mere mortals among us still want to know how these people train and race, even if it is well understood that we can’t actually DO what they do.  Fundamentally, we hope that we might follow timidly down the trail they blaze and thereby achieve some portion of what they do with what may just be a genetic gift.

Genetics won’t cut it if the will isn’t there to optimize performance.  That will component may be the common element of elite performance regardless of age.  Roger used the example of Ed Whitlock and his half marathon time of 1:34:26 to show how amazing Ed is at the age of 79.  Most people can’t realize that kind of pace at any age.  The ones that can/could don’t carry it through to anything like 79 years of age.

There are others of note that could be discussed, and I have the privilege of knowing some of them.  Each is a bit unique in the way he or she trains but there do seem to be some attitudinal similarities, not the least of which is a reluctance to present themselves as special.  When you can get them to talk, there does seem to be a somewhat common theme of reduced intensity in what they do to train.  Roger raised that in his piece.  The first thing most of these older athletes will say is something along the lines of “I never do speed work!”.  As Roger pointed out, that may be a relative matter, based more on previous training habits than absolutes.

So.  There does appear to be a gap in our understanding of the “elder athlete”.  I think you would agree that term goes beyond “seasoned”.  We would like to begin filling that gap and will require the cooperation and collaboration of individuals who live in the “Elder Athlete Zone”.

We want to hear from men and women (drop the modesty folks, you know who you are) who qualify as competitive or elite runners over the age of 65.  Use our e-mail link to contact the editors.  We want your thoughts and opinions, not contributions for the blog – unless, of course, you are willing to make a contribution, in which case, we can talk. 

We see this as a long-term project with a fairly large number of inputs and opinions that will allow us to develop an overview that goes beyond what a single individual, no matter how good, may do to train or race.

We would even encourage people who know such people to inform them about the project and have them get in touch.  I am told, though I find it hard to believe, that not everybody lives on the internet!

We want the widest possible range of people to find and follow this blog, so what follows should not be seen as a knock on ‘mere mortals’ (of which, your intrepid editor is definitely one).  For the purpose of developing an understanding of high level training and racing approaches, we want to hear from competitive and elite senior runners.  What are “competitive” and “elite” senior athletes?  That is a bit subjective, but here are a few guidelines and they apply equally to men and women.

Competitive:

  • You regularly win or place in your age category in local or regional races
  • You consistently compete in seasonal races and probably win or place in the standings of regional race series (where such are held)
  • Age Graded performance would put you over 75% and probably close to 80% for one or more events

Elite:

  • You win or place in regional, national or international events (in your age category)
  • You win your category in large events
  • You consistently produce Age Graded performances of 80% or greater and at least at some distances, in excess of 90%
  • You may hold World Records for age classes, including “single age” records, and quite likely have state/province or national records for your age category.

I have tried to stay general in these guidelines and not apply some arbitrary time element such as, “you still run marathons under three hours”.  One reason for this is that Running in the Zone celebrates all forms of running, from 100m on track to ultra-running on trails.  We want to hear from those who excel in all forms of running endeavour.  Another is that there is a big difference between 65 and 85 and between men and women.  Thus, the more general and relative guidelines.

Our goal will be to gather a great deal of information and then try to distill out the essence of sound training and racing practice for senior runners.  Depending on what we get, that could eventually appear in the form of a series of posts here, or if remarkable enough, as a new book.

If you are interested, it is as easy as dropping an e-mail via the link to the right.

All “comments” are welcome on the blog, but the format does not allow for much more than short comments and responses, so e-mail will be best for getting the information to us for this project.  And, just to be clear, everyone is welcome and encouraged to make comment on the project in general.  We all have our own questions on this subject, so I will be thrilled to have your ideas as we work with the competitive and elite contributors who generously participate.

RUNNING UNTIL YOU’RE 100

01.26.2011

If the title sounds familiar, it is because Jeff Galloway has a book with that title.  I just finished reading said book and want to make some comments.

Having a modest foot in the camp of publishing on running, I can say it is virtually impossible to write the definitive text on the subject.  Running Until You’re 100 is not it, but gets as close as anything I have seen for the stated subject(s) and target audience.  Running is just too big a topic to cover except in small pieces.  In this book Galloway has narrowed down to the older runner, by definition (right on the cover).  Age range sounds similar to what we had in mind for Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.  There was an intentional fuzzing of the boundaries in using the term “Seasoned”.  We actually started with some age based titles and later decided to let readers self-identify.  Jeff Galloway has been bolder and put some harder edges on the age of his audience(s).  We let our 26 contributors cover the wide range of the field but Galloway has gone more or less head on at the fundamentals of running past the absolute prime years, without trying to be too specific about distance or types of running.  For those who have not read Running in the Zone, I would note that Jeff Galloway was one of the cover reviewers and in part said: “….The authors are not only experts in their fields, they have dealt with the issues themselves. ….”   I guess you could say that applies in spades to Galloway with his many years of experience as a runner, writer and coach.  He has literally “written the book” on a lot of what we do these days in running, most notably the quite successful ‘run-walk-run’ technique.

The subject of this book is right in line with a current theme of this blog.  Just how do you keep going once you pass some age-based milestone?  The only group that might not be super well served would be the handful of elite, super-competitive athletes such as those recently discussed in the post by Roger Robinson.  And, the only reason I don’t believe Running Until You’re 100 would be of great assistance to them is that they have likely already found their own magic formula and have ample proof of it in their records.  For everyone else, there are some sound reminders about respecting the limits of the aging body – but not too much.  There are lots of pointers on how to increase capability and endurance, even for those who may be starting to run at a later stage of life.

On a couple of topics, a guest writer has provided specific information (nutrition, for example) and this is a strong point.  There are also references to other resources.  Something I particularly like is that there are frequent reminders that you should consult medical specialists as required and appropriate, before starting or stepping up, or using certain products should you be on various types of medication.  As someone who is now much closer to the last age group mentioned on the cover, than the first, I am nonetheless looking for an edge to keep my sad old butt as competitive as it can be.  This book certainly made me think about training regimens that I have employed for many years that may now be slowing me down rather than speeding me up, as they were meant to do and did at one time.  The biggest issue as we age appears to be effective recovery.  Hard and heavy training plans tend not to leave the aging runner sufficient time for this essential aspect of race preparation. 

[Ed. Note: I find it just a bit creepy to be writing this.  The first book I read on running was Galloway’s Book on Running (1984).  I used it to train for my first marathon, which I ran at the age of 43.  Now, here I am at the advancing age of 66, talking about Galloway’s Running Until You’re 100.  Seems a bit too much like book-ends for my liking! ]

I am personally intrigued by Galloway’s advice as it going to be the basis of something that will be quite interesting to observe over the next while, and typical of what older runners might consider.  As it happens, my first marathon was my best.  In those days (1988), although marathoning was becoming more a done thing, there still weren’t as many people as there are today, taking the distance on as a personal challenge just to complete at any pace.  And, there weren’t as many marathon events, so people didn’t tend to run marathons all that often.  For a variety of reasons including the foregoing, a disk injury and operation in 1990 and then waaaaay too much time working instead of running, it was 12 years before I ran my second marathon.  No surprise then, that my second marathon, run at the age of 55 was a tad slower than the first.  What is interesting (to me) is that at the age of 65 I ran my third best marathon ever out of 14, and second best when age graded.  I can see from reading Running Until You’re 100 where I may have some opportunities and options to improve my own personal performance by changing my “hard as you can manage to go” approach to training and giving my older and somewhat abused body a chance to be better trained and prepared (different things) for the next marathon. 

So many things came to mind as I read Running Until You’re 100 that applied.  The question for me, and I suspect for many like me,  is whether or not I can diminish the imprinted ideas about serious race training and thereby reap the benefit of a different approach.  I must be honest and say that while once a competent runner, I was never what you might call good.  I think there are many people like me who regardless of time or placing in any given race, are still highly competitive in spirit.  If I can’t beat anybody else, I can at least beat ME, and still try to do so.  Now, it is obvious that beating myself is possible over a shorter time frame, but if I look at my recent best marathon it is about one hour slower than my all-time best.  That is why I have such a high regard for the age-grading systems that at least let us approximate a standardized performance and comparison over an extended period of time.  On that basis, a 2010 marathon (age 65) is just minutes slower than a 1988 marathon (age 43), both having been graded.

All of this is just to say that although some of the content of Running Until You’re 100 is about just running at any pace, as long as you do it and keep doing it within your abilities (until you’re 100, I guess), the basics are there for anyone who wants to run longer and smarter, including the competitive minded.  And, I am going to be quite curious to see if I can apply some of these great ideas into my training over the next few months as I prepare for marathon #15.  If I can successfully adapt my training, using Galloway’s ideas, will my next marathon possibly become my best (age graded, naturally)?  Stay tuned.  I guarantee that if it turns out to be so, blog readers WILL hear about it!

Running Until You’re 100 is highly recommended to runners of a wide range of ability because it really does get down to basics.  Jeff Galloway hardly needs the endorsement of this blog, but perhaps the readers of the blog will be well served by these comments.

Sound Advice for All Runners

01.19.2011

Since posting the piece by Roger Robinson on training and racing for “elder athletes” there has been a lot of off-line chat and discussion around training in general.  Something else is coming soon regarding the matter of training at an advanced age, while avoiding the injuries that can befall anyone yet are so much harder to deal with as you get older.

In the meantime, I wanted to alert you to some information posted by a frequent correspondent, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella.  Mark is a physician, a very fine distance runner and most interested in the bio-mechanics of running.  Below is a bit of a teaser, and a link to the blog (Zero Drop) where his post appears.  The following post and link are reproduced here with the permission of Mark Cucuzzella.

Mark Cucuzzella

Dr. Marck Cucuzzella

Does Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, 43, ever have time to sleep, take it easy, relax?  He’s a highly accomplished marathoner (2:24 PR), race director, family physician, Associate Professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine, Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and owner of Two Rivers Treads, a Center for Natural Running and Walking, in Sheperdstown, West Virginia. The store opened last May and is the nation’s first retail outlet (it also sells online) aimed specifically for the minimalist and barefoot-running shoe crowd, featuring Newton, Terra Plana, Inov-8, Kigo, Sockwa, as well as low-profile models from Saucony, New Balance, and Brooks. The store also carries healthy, functional children’s shoes from Terra Plana Vivo kids. Cucuzzella is passionate about many things—but getting injured runners back on their feet is right at the top of his list.  To this end, he is one of the main guiding forces of a new state-of- the-art running conference, to be held on January 28-30, and which will offer talks and workshops on running injury prevention, gait mechanics, and rehabilitation.  While Mark clocked 2:34 in the 2010 Boston Marathon at age 43, he used to be an injured runner.  How he got to where he is now—pain-free and a true pioneer in the natural running movement—is the subject of the following personal essay that Mark wrote for Zero Drop.

****

So why would a Family Doctor be researching running injuries, experimenting with all types of running techniques and shoe designs, and even open a store selling only flat shoes in his free time?  The answer is a quest to run completely pain free and with effortless efficient function with big toes that do not bend and in the more challenging mission to share the hard lessons learned to others wanting to keep moving for life.  For more, click on the link for Zero Drop.

I will be posting more from Mark in the future.  In the meantime, there is much food for thought in this linked post.

RITZ CONTRIBUTORS IN THE NEWS – MAURICE TARRANT WINS GOLDEN SHOE AWARD

01.07.2011

The January-February issue of Canadian Running has named Maurice as its 2010 Age-Group Champion in the 3rd Annual Golden Shoe Awards.  Well done Maurice!  I have it on good authority that Maurice did all this while 80 years of age and that he has just turned 81, which likely means a whole new batch of single age records are now in danger. 

 He is no late bloomer though, having steadily set Canadian age-group records for most of the last 30 years – some 58 of them.  Canadian Running reports that in 2010 he took 10 records at various distances, including a world record for 15K (1:13:28).  That required a pace of 4:54/km, or for those that still work in miles, 7:54/mile.  Age grading would make his time 45:21 using the WMA system (see Resource Links).

IDEAS ON TRAINING AND RACING OVER 70

01.04.2011

THE CASES OF ED AND NORMAN

Roger Robinson

Roger Robinson (photo courtesy of Robert Cross Image Services)

During the last two years, I have had opportunities to watch and talk with two of the world’s outstanding over-70 runners, Ed Whitlock (79) of Milton, Ontario, and Norman Goluskin (71) of New Paltz, New York, USA. I saw Ed battle it out with much younger runners in the 5K at the Great Raisin River Footrace in Williamstown, Ontario, in August 2010, and then in September rewrite the world record for the half-marathon with 1:34:27 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront.  With Norman, I was at the trackside or on my bike through much of 2009 as he trained for the world masters track championships in Finland that year. They are very different in background, Ed an immigrant to Canada from England, a retired mining engineer, and Norman is an American of Russian ancestry, retired from a New York advertising business. What they have in common is that they are both extraordinary runners. What they truly have in common is the stride of a 20-yearold.

Whitlock has a high knee lift and springy lope amazing in a runner that age, and the best way to describe Goluskin is that when he runs, especially on the track, he is a dead ringer for Lasse Viren (younger readers, try Olympics 1972 and 1976 on YouTube). Most old runners shuffle and patter and wince. The stride gets shorter by the decade. Someone once said “old runners look as if they are afraid of when their foot hits the ground.” Exactly right. If your knee hurts like mine did in my last 15 years of running, every foot-strike means acute pain, so you don’t go higher off the ground than you have to. So the main secrets of running well in later life are to have good genetics and stay clear of injury. Beyond those, well, let’s say the science of elder running is in its infancy. From conversations with Ed, and a year of mentoring Norm, I have formed a few tentative ideas. What follows is offered as a beginning.

Two years ago, when he was 69, Norman, a friend who lives in the town of New Paltz, where I live in the American summers, asked me to coach him. He has been a good runner for three decades, but he felt he had never really raced to his potential, too often burning himself out in training. He is an intelligent and interesting man, who in retirement puts money and energy into philanthropic work, especially for the environment and for the New York Road Runners Foundation (a wonderful kids’ running charity). So I agreed, on my usual condition: that he would aim at something significant, not just local races. Norm likes track, so we chose the World Masters Championships in Finland, August 2009, with the 70-74 10,000 the main objective.

The first thing I told him was that there is no consensus and very little literature on how to train elite over-70 runners. Bruce Tulloh has published “running over 40,” Kathrine Switzer “women over 40,” and Rich Benyo “running over 50,” all excellent, but the only book out there if you keep running competitively past 60 is Running in the Zone, a Handbook for Seasoned Athletes edited by Steve King and Dan Cumming. It’s full of good short articles by different authors, including a section on “The Competition Zone,” but does not offer any overview.

“John Keston runs every third day, and does long walks in between. Ed Whitlock runs round and round a cemetery, every day. Derek Turnbull used to lollop off into the Southland bush, refusing to admit he had any system. Helen Klein runs and runs, up to 100 miles at a time. There is no agreement, no precedent,” I told Norman. So I did what I always do – work to the runner’s strengths, and shape a long-term strategy that would lay a base and then build race-pace quality. Norman logged base miles for six months over the winter after he turned 70, including weekly long runs, under strict orders from me not to get lured into anything intense. Basic Lydiard.

In the spring, early April, four months out from the race in early August, the story started. I put Norman on to the basic of my own competitive years, long repetitions. They served me well from age 23 to 55, so it seemed reasonable to try them at 70. I preferred them as timed repetitions on a “free range” basis, rather than round and round the track. So, as readers of my book “Heroes and Sparrows” will know, I called them “sausages,” as an analogy for a string of bulges with shorter recovery periods. I recommend two variants each week, one day a week 400s or similar, to develop speed a little faster than race pace, and one day a week longer reps – 3 mins, 5 mins, 10 mins, whatever – at 10K race pace, learning to sustain that pace for 40 minutes. With Norman, both sessions started light in April and built up progressively.

The basic Robinson principle for the long rep session is “quantity of quality.” That is, if you’re going to try to race for 40 minutes, you need in one session a week to build up to hold race pace for 40 minutes (as, say, 4 x 10 or 8 x 5 minutes). I saw no reason why that basic principle should be any different for a 70-year-old. If he was going to race for 40 minutes, he needed to be trained for 40 minutes. Otherwise the last 15 minutes would be misery. The difference with a 70-year-old was how to get there. I knew my own aging body. I knew that a hard 2-hour bike ride now takes me 3 hours – two hours to ride, one hour to nap afterwards. So the other basic principle in coaching Norman was recovery. I specified usually two or three very easy days between sessions, something he had never done before. He had been what I call a daily 75% trainer, which I believe trains you to race at 75%. So there were many easy days, but rarely a day off running completely. The body thrives on habit.

When I was helping another friend, John Barrington, of Wellington, New Zealand, train to run the New York marathon at age 70, John became convinced by a book that he should take frequent days off. Afterwards, he believed that decision cost him his aim of breaking 3:30. Even easy days contribute. There is no such thing as junk miles. Anyway, Norman got ample easy days. I gave him ample recovery, too during the actual repetition sessions. Instead of (say) 60 seconds recovery between 400s, I gave him a full slow lap of walking and jogging, as much as 3 or 4 minutes if he wanted it. Speed of recovery didn’t seem to be as important as getting the work done at a high level. On the longer repetition sessions, I gave him as much as 6 to 10 minutes of walking and jogging recovery between efforts. I persuaded him to do those off the track, to make him less lap-time obsessed, so we were out on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail a long time some days, Norm slaving away while I smirked alongside on my bike.

“I’m a Russian peasant – I’m very obedient andI can work hard,” Norm used to say. Perhaps he was thinking privately about The Revolution. It was of course more complicated than this brief description. There are always adjustments to be made day by day. Norman hit a slightly bad patch in June, so I gave him a very light week and trimmed a little off the remaining biggest sessions. That ensured the upward curve of fitness continued as the work still increased. Halfway through the programme he ran a 10K road comfortably in 44 minutes, his best in recent years. He easily beat runners who had previously matched or beaten him. His last full 400 session was 86, 85, 85, 85, 85, 84, his best for five years or more, and impressive indeed for a 70-year-old. His last longer session, in the sharpening phase, was equally good, 24 minutes total in a mix of 6s and 3s. He was flying. He was fulfilling the title I had put on my file of notes about his training: “Norman Conquest.”

“Norm’s going to get a medal in Finland. He’s good for close to 20:00 for 5000 and sub-41 10,000,” I told my wife Kathrine Switzer. Norman was and is convinced that he was in the best racing form of his life. Not as fast as when he was 45, of course, but stronger and sharper, more ready to race.

“I was giving 100 percent in those sessions and knew I could give 100 percent in the race,” he told me as we reminisced this week. The story doesn’t have a happy ending. Norman didn’t conquer. He bombed miserably in Finland, both races. We were devastated and bewildered. (I got the news while in Christchurch, New Zealand, to watch the national cross-country championships, and will long remember the sinking disappointment.) Local running gossip around New Paltz castigated me for having “peaked him too soon.” I wondered if Norm deep-down was some kind of head-case who cracked in competition. Two weeks later, still unable to run at any effort, he saw a doctor, and phoned me.

“I’ve got Lyme disease. The tests show I’ve had it four weeks,” he said. Lyme is a vicious bacterial infection (spirochete borreliosis) that comes from deer-ticks, and is worryingly common in the Hudson Valley area. It was terrible news. But never has a diagnosis of Lyme brought two men such relief. We almost cheered. The blame lay not with my coaching or his racing, but a nasty little nearly invisible tick that probably got on him when he was gardening (a pursuit I have always considered life-threatening).

Those last sessions, when the disease was coming on, were during the tapering phase so just short of maximum effort. They showed how super-fit he was. But the races showed how strong the infection was. A year later he still had Lyme and couldn’t run at any real effort. He went on a heavier course of antibiotics, and his latest message told me he is running normally at last, at least on the treadmill, where he has at last done repetition miles at under 8 minutes again. (It’s a harsh snowy winter in New Paltz, so naturally I am in New Zealand where it’s summer. Some of us acquire wisdom with age, even if we can’t still run.) It’s too soon for commitments, but if Norm has really recovered fully, he may race the 2011 World Masters Championships in Sacramento, CA, and I will be back on my bike alongside him through the US summer. If he is up for it, the programme will be the same mix, base miles then systematic race preparation based on long repetitions, building up to a total of 40 minutes’ race-pace work; all tempered by ample recovery during and between sessions. He is about to start on the base.

I met Ed Whitlock properly for the first time in 2010, on two occasions. Previously I had only interviewed him for the radio coverage of a race. We hit it off , especially after discovering that we spent most of our childhood less than 3K from each other in the adjacent outer southwest London suburbs of Malden Manor (me) and Tolworth (Ed). We both dodged flying bombs, rode bikes on the Kingston By-pass, and went to “Saturday morning pictures” at the Tolworth Odeon. We even won, a few years apart, the same inter-schools cross-country trophy, the South London Harriers “Moates Cup.”

On his training as the world’s greatest-ever 70-plus runner (first 70-plus to break 3 hours for the marathon), Ed was more elusive than on these memories of boyhood. He is reticent, with a laconic wit, and reluctant to be a celebrity. He knocked down my two main theories about elder training with one stroke. “No, I don’t take any rest. And I never do fast work,” he said.

But as our chat went along, he recalled how he had backed off for a year or two before he turned 70, so as to be fresh to train and race at peak that year, and intimated that he is doing the same now, in preparation for turning 80. OK, if that’s not “taking rest,” it is shaping your programme so that sometimes you do more fast running than at others, so you are not always at the same level of effort, and can peak when it matters despite the effects of age. So it’s much the same thing.

Elaborating on fast repetitions, what Ed went on to say was “No, I never do speed-work. I don’t enjoy it. I haven’t done any speed-work for three years.” Which means, as I quietly calculated, without saying so, that he was still doing something that could count as speed-work up to age 76. So did legendary New Zealander Derek Turnbull when I last ran with him in his late sixties.

“I don’t know about all this aerobic/anaerobic stuff. I just run how I feel,” Derek always insisted. But when you were bowling along at 45-minute 10K pace on the trails around Sherwood Farm, Derek would squint ahead with that farmer’s gaze and ask casually, “Feel like rattlin yer dags to that gate?” and take off at 70-second 400 pace or better. (Rattle your dags is kiwi farmer language for move fast.) But no, he didn’t do speed work. Nor does Ed in his Ontario cemetery – not since he was 76. “I use races to get fit,” he told me, and he did just that, using that 5k to sharpen for a World record half marathon on September 26 (1:34:24).

As I said, this is a tentative beginning on a largely unexplored subject. My experience with Norman Goluskin suggests that the basic principles for elder elite runners are the same as for any age, but that the older you get the more recovery is needed at every point. Ed Whitlock resists such a generalization, but on close inspection is not so far from it as he modestly suggests.

We need proper research into training competitive older runners, and a lot more evidence from the field. Someone should collate and analyze the training of top over-70 runners more systematically than I have done in this personaI piece. The wider lessons for health at advanced ages could be significant. I apologize for the lack of women elites in my discussion. Diane Palmason could contribute expertly, and New Zealanders need look no further than the still-phenomenal Bernie Portenski of Wellington, who is year by year rewriting the book on women’s over-60 standards. Bernie is a memorable character (as older elites tend to be). Imagine a future when all the women runners over-80, copying their record-breaking heroine, have husky voices, rasping breath, flying hair, and wear pink gloves. I only hope I’m around to interview her.

Roger Robinson’s books on running and on literature (and on running in literature) are available signed at special author’s prices on www.roger-robinson.com His column “Footsteps,” on the history of running, is monthly in Running Times. “Roger on Running,” on the modern sport, is monthly in the Running Times Web-only edition, at www.runningtimes.com

This article in different form originally appeared in “On the Run,” New Zealand, the magazine of the Wellington Scottish Athletics Club. It is © Roger Robinson