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Gotta’ Run — Fighting back against age

One Saturday morning a couple years ago, I happened to be doing some work on the Daily Mile track at Rockwell Elementary School. That is a program where Rowan County’s elementary kids and staff walk/run a mile a day. I watched an older man arrive in his long pants, long-sleeve shirt, ball cap, all similar to regular yard work clothes. Probably at least in his late 70s, the man proceeded to run a series of about 60-yard sprints. He ran hard for the distance, then walked back to his start and did it all again, probably about 10 times. The man didn’t just keep running while maintaining a slower pace but clearly pushed very hard on the sprints.

I’ve got a large group of friends whose running and athletic peaks are long past. There is a significantly smaller percentage of that group who aren’t willing to just give up and therefore keep striving for better fitness. One of my favorite sayings is, “Yes, we are getting older but we’re fighting it!”

Admittedly, I often think of the so called “glory days” of running and racing with incredibly fast times. But realistically, while especially proud of that success, the real challenge is to maintain exceptional fitness for life.

I’m always searching for ways to keep my fitness workouts challenging, rewarding and still fun. I recently have been thinking about adding back in some things that worked for me years ago. I read a specific extensive study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that surveyed 667 longtime distance runners on their workouts and what was working and not working.

As you might have guessed, sprinting helps. Most runners push the pace for a mile or two at a time, or a specific mile or half mile while on their regular runs but never do sprints. During my faster years, I used intervals, track sessions of one lap, two laps or occasionally four laps at the fastest pace I could go. I can remember very easily the one and only time that I ran measured 100-yard sprints.

This study suggests incorporating sprints into your workouts. It also suggests previous no-no’s such as barbell squats, deadlifts, step ups and lunges. Also, plyometric jumps, repeated jumping up on a box even as small as a foot high, were suggested and seem to help. Especially interesting was that it didn’t appear to make any difference if the lifting workouts were done to failure with heavy weights or with lesser weights and more reps.

For practical purposes, the authors suggest incorporating different types of strength training at different times of the year, moving between different blocks of training. This way, you’re throwing a new stimulus at your muscles every once in a while instead of getting used to the same thing. A 10-week training period with two sessions per week showed best improvement followed by once a week during peak racing season. Results found that the runners didn’t gain measurable muscle mass but they did find an increase of up to 8% in speed. The long-held theory of distance runners being shackled with more muscle weight doesn’t seem to play out.

So, here’s something worth a try. Mo Farah won double gold medals in the 2012 Olympics using this plan while running for Nike. We’ve always heard that runners should lift light if at all, so maybe here is a doable alternative. It’s all worth considering. Too many of us, including me, have fallen into a sameness of workouts. I’m going to give some version of this program a try. What do I have to lose? The sub-5-minute mile? That left a long time ago. And I’m going to keep fighting that age demon.

Real races are coming back! Following current guidelines for safety and with a goal of resuming support of local charities, two long-term races are back for October. The Mt. Hope Church 5K for Missions at Salisbury Community Park on Oct. 17 and the Ed Dupree 5K at East Rowan High School on Oct. 24 will happen and I’m especially excited about this. The Butterball 5K on Thanksgiving morning and the Santa Run 5K on Dec. 12 this year and in Salisbury for the first time, are getting ready too.

Check out the current info at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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