Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Turning 40 and Not Worrying

Yesterday, October 30, 2017, was my 40th birthday. As of right now, I have just entered the masters division for long distance running.

I’ve dropped a couple hints here and there on this blog about my slight apprehension about aging—and about witnessing my PRs fading into the distance. The process is inevitable, of course, so worrying about it is mostly fruitless. Still, I’ve officially reached the age where people offer some kind of audible grunt or gasp when they find out how old I am. I even just received my first “you’re running really well for being 40” compliment (I was still 39 at the time, by the way).

So it is here, I guess: my official foray into the territory of “old people.”

I’m not going quietly, though.

My running career has been a kind of erratic one. If I define that “career” according to the time when I was on my first team, then I began running competitively at age 11, and I did so with a fair amount of consistency through college. To be fair, there were some seasonal breaks along the way, but it is nevertheless true that I was on a competitive running team ever single year of my life from age 11 to age 21.

After that point, I entered graduate school, and I spent most of my twenties studying or working, and the only running I did with any consistency was just enough to melt off the pounds that I was gaining while eating on-the-go meals between bouts of dissertation writing.

As a result, I didn’t think seriously about returning to long distance running until late 2007, right around the time that I turned 30. And even at that point, with my terminal degree in hand, I was more concerned with finding work than I was with tempo run pacing. Looking back, then, I guess it wasn’t until about 2011—six years ago, when I was 34—that I actually started settling into a consistent training regimen. (Thankfully, I had a stable job by then.)

That return to running was slow, and it was one that found me ignoring the marathon distance altogether, because I wanted to start with much less grand running goals.

Generally speaking, I’m not one to publish my running stats, because I feel like there is no way to do that and not seem to be humblebragging (at best), but what I’m about to say is relevant, I think.

I’m not humblebragging, I promise.

Five years ago to the day, late October of 2012, when I had finally decided to go all-in on the marathon, my weekly long run was scheduled at 19 miles in the range of a 6:50-7:50 average overall pace. The next workout on my schedule was a 6-mile run in the range of 6:40-7:30.

This past weekend, I put in a 16-mile long run at a 7:22 average, followed by an 8-mile pace run on my 40th birthday, with an overall pace of 6:38.

The math is simple: I’ve actually gotten faster as I’ve gotten older.

Whenever doctors and experts and running magazines of all stripes talk about the process of aging, they trot out the horrifying and humbling V02 max chart, which shows that most people reach peak aerobic fitness before they can legally drink alcohol and then slowly decline from there, sliding into a precipitous drop-off right around the age that many of us fall in love and get married and start “doing other things” with our lives.

Chart of VO2 Max Norms for men and women

The result of this narrative framework is that it can make runners of my age—I can say that now—think mostly in terms of what-ifs. What if I had just decided to run a marathon at age 22? What if I didn’t go to graduate school and instead went to the track every day? What if I just jogged my commute to and from work and to and from soccer practice for the kids instead of driving and sleeping? What kind of runner would I be then?

Hogwash, I say! All of it.

From a strict physiological standpoint, yes, the evidence does show that peak running speed decreases for most of us in our early 20s. However, what this evidence doesn’t address is the decreasing relevance of that peak speed for those of us who continue with long distance running well into middle age.

To put it in simple anecdotal terms, my 200 and 400 PRs are long gone, and it’s quite likely that my 5K PR is also beyond the horizon at this point as well. Beyond that, though, there is still room for growth, because long distance road racing, particularly in the distances north of the 10K, doesn’t demand pacing at or close to V02 max. That’s a gear that most road racers don’t need, even though we might wish that we still had it. At no point during a 5K or a 10K or a half or full marathon have I ever run at my once-upon-a-time top 400 pace because doing so would be catastrophic for the race in question. No, the longer distances in which many adults compete actually tend to reward age, and slower speeds, as evidenced by the fact that last year’s New York Marathon found competitors running sub-three-hour times into their 60s.

Returning to myself, and waxing somewhat philosophically, it is true that I have lost some speed with age. However, I was losing that speed before I was old enough to know to worry about it, and now that I am that old, I know that none of that is a big deal. 

Sure, I’d love to put on a pair of my 27-year-old legs again. I’m sure that would feel great. But that’s not going to happen, and it doesn’t need to happen—for any of us. (Really, you can’t have my legs.) Instead, I—you, we—are going to get older. It’s true.

It’s also true, my friends, that we can still get better.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Congratulations and Good Luck, October Runners

It has been a busy month for us at Coach Kiprunning.  For my part, I am reaching the end of a writing class that I have been teaching, and the grading has been piling up!  Beyond that, many of us are starting to think about spring marathons--I'm possibly looking at you, New Jersey Marathon--so the inevitable preparations for serious training are underway.  Also, we're starting to brainstorm additions to the Coach Kiprunning website, and that work is always really time-consuming.

The end result of all of this is that we've been a little quiet up here and therefore did not get a chance to offer formal congratulations to all of you who competed in some of the fall's premier racing events, like the Chicago Marathon, the B.A.A. Half Marathon, and the Army Ten Miler.  Congratulations to all of you.

Likewise, we wish all of the competitors in this year's Marine Corps Marathon (and 10K) and the upcoming New York Marathon the best of luck.  Run well, and enjoy the experience.  Fall races are the best.

Last, on a somewhat sad note, we will miss you Harriette Thompson.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fall 2017 Kiprunning Sports Club Saturday Long Run Update

Fall is here, and with cooler temperatures and beautiful foliage also comes darker morning hours.  As a result, we will roll forward the start time for the Kiprunning Sports Club Saturday long run.

Starting on Saturday, October 7, 2017, we will begin our long runs at 7:00 am. As usual, we will meet at Georgetown Running Company, which is located at 3401 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20007. 

If you have questions about joining the Sports Club, please contact me.

Run steady, and enjoy the extra sleep!

Coach Wilson