I’m old. OK, I’m not really old, but I am past my prime as a runner. I set most of my PRs when I was 30 or 31. I probably could have improved upon them for a few more years, but I let myself get out of shape during those years. I’ve still set PRs at ultra distances, but only because I had never run these distances when I was younger.
This happens to all runners at some point in their lives. We realize that the effects of aging have caught up with us and we aren’t going to set PRs anymore. Most people accept this willingly. I’m not giving up without a fight.
I’ve read that we reach our physical peaks at about 30. After that, it’s possible to keep improving for about five more years with increased training. Then the downward slide begins.
There’s a reason why the Boston Marathon has different qualifying standards for different age groups. It’s the same reason that races have age group awards. People who are past their prime can’t be expected to run as fast as their younger counterparts.
There are three basic reasons why people slow down with age. The first one is physiological. It’s been known for decades that aerobic capacity begins to decline by the time you’re in your 40s. More recently, I read an article in Marathon & Beyond that identified 10 different ways that our bodies change as we get older. Each one contributes to gradual decreases in athletic performance. We don’t all slow down at the same rate, but we all slow down.
Of course, there are ways to resist the pull of Father Time. You can compensate, at least partially, by training harder. If you already train like an elite athlete, there might not be anything else you can do. Most of us, however, still have room for improvement in our training methods.
I’ve worked hard to keep from slowing down. I train harder, and in some ways I train smarter. I’m more experienced than I was in my 20s and 30s. It’s like swimming upstream, though. I have to work harder and harder just to run the same times.
Most people don’t do that. Once they realize they can no longer equal their past PRs, much less improve upon them, they lose the incentive to train as hard as they use to. That’s the second reason people slow down with age. They’re not only past their physical peak; they’re also not training as hard.
The third reason follows directly from the second one. If you’re not training as hard, do you really have any incentive to race as hard as you used to? Few people are going to dig deep and push through pain and fatigue to shave off a few seconds, when they know they aren’t in peak shape. What’s the point? Why push until it hurts to save a few seconds when you’ve already conceded 30 minutes by not training as hard?
I’ve slowed down a little, but I’m not throwing in the towel. I still train hard. If anything, I train harder now. I’m sure there’s still room for improvement. I’ve never done the 100 mile training weeks that many elite athletes run. I also still race hard. I might not fight for every second in every race, but when I’m able to run a fast time, I go for it.