Marathoning for Mature Runners

A fellow in Tuscon asked for advice last week about his training for marathons—at age 58, he runs his first marathon in a couple of weeks—and the possibility of doing a 100-miler to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.

Here are Jerry Cagle’s questions and my answers:

1)    Assuming I want to run another marathon, how will I know when I’m ready to toe the line?

Age and experience factor into how quickly a person recovers from one marathon to another, but it’s mostly in the genes. I can offer a few tips to get the most out of your recovery time, though.

  • I suggest you rest for at least a couple of days after the marathon.
  • If you aren’t experiencing any physical setbacks, then ease back into your training regimen while you pay attention to replenishing. Your body needs more proteins, primarily to aid in rebuilding of the muscles.
  • If the goal is to run another marathon with disregard to improving your time, the key is to make sure you feel rested, not only physically but also mentally, so you have a desire to do another marathon in short order.
  • If you want to improve your performance, however, I recommend increasing your training gradually, which can take anywhere from one month (rare) up to six months (more common), targeting shorter races and being very particular to incorporate cross-training and speed work.

You’ll need to rebuild your body regardless of your marathoning goals. YOU are the best judge as to how soon you can return to the marathon distance.

2)    I’m 58 years old, and my long range goals are to progress through the constellation of ultras (50k, 50-mile, 100k, etc.) culminating in a 100-miler for my 60th year. I have been running consistently for about 4 years, and have never run more than high 30s/week. I have a history of injuries that cause me some concern: Achilles tendonitis (remote) and mild/moderate plantar fasciitis (recent/ongoing – 7 months). I can handle the pain, but would really like to avoid any permanent, negatively life-altering injuries. Is that a reasonable time frame for that progression? If yes, how would you strategize the training? If no, what is a more reasonable goal?

The first thing you must do is figure out what is causing your issues and take care of your injuries before you increase your training regimen or think about doing longer runs.

Then you can consider whether shoes and orthotics will help prevent problems, and incorporate strengthening exercises and cross-training that are specific to your Achilles and plantar fasciitis.

Those supporting muscle structures originate upwards in the leg, so you’ll want to focus upon those areas with your training. Strengthening all of those muscles will be key to eliminating your injury problems. Balance is crucial, so all muscles can complement each other and not work to destroy the integrity of the weaker muscle. Focus your cross-training on those weaker muscles.

How can you tell which are the weaker ones? The answer is when you are lifting weights or doing balance cross-training, those weaker ones will “speak” to you. Believe me, you’ll know.

Running longer distances isn’t about managing the pain during your training so you can build up to a race, but about trying to eliminate the pain. Leave the idea and practice of pain management for times when you have trouble during actual races.

That said, yes, it’s reasonable to say that you can be successful over the next two years building up to a 100 miler for your sixtieth birthday, but keep in mind that it takes much longer to maximize your performance, as you are in the process of building a base. Building that base can take 5 to 10 years! Your weekly training mileage obviously will have to increase as the distances increase, but the key is to stay healthy.

Let me know how the race goes for you, Jerry. I wish you the best of luck!

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