Presented by Roy Benson, Founder, Director Emeritus
Coach Benson's Wise Counsel
The longer you run, the stronger you get. The stronger you get, the longer you can run. The longer you run and stronger you get, the faster you can run. If all that doesn’t seem pretty obvious, please permit me to restate it from my old coachly wisdom point of view.
In that first sentence, I mean “longer” in terms of years. It works this way: as the years of running add up for high school runners, maturing bodies simply get stronger with the development of greater muscle mass. So, is it just a coincidence that strong seniors usually run faster than weak freshmen? Not at all. Mother Nature has made these older runners stronger. In short, you want to get faster? Just get older!
In that 2nd sentence, as your muscles get stronger, you will find yourself capable of running more. You go for longer Long Runs. And also adding more miles on Easy, Recovery Days. Maybe adding a few more miles on your warmdown. Typically, during summer training before his or her first cross country season, a high school frosh averages from little to a few miles per week, maybe up to 15 or 20 tops. But, by their senior years, most serious runners are getting in at least 40 and often up to 60 miles per week of summer training. The difference is because mature bodies are simply stronger and can therefore handle the higher mileage without breaking down with injuries like tendonitis or stress fractures. Because there usually is a limit of 3 to 4 miles per workout of how much high intensity training you can, and need to do, some more easy, aerobic mileage is the most sensible way to increase your weekly mileage. Running more steps against the resistance of gravity is a great form of progressive resistance training. And, guess what, the more you run, the stronger you get. In short, you want to run faster? Just run more as you get older!
While all this is pretty logical, here is the not-so-logical result of the above improvement. Once you have run a PR (at whatever speed it takes) at your best-all-out-emotional-mental and physical effort, that 100% effort becomes your standard for enduring pain, torture and agony. Now, trust me on this: giving it the old college try at 105% or 110% is impossible. Your body is too smart to fall for that baloney. You try to take it over 100% and it simply shuts down. You slow down and/or collapse. Therefore, as you get older and stronger, you DO NOT need to train harder in order to get faster. By “harder” I mean, on a effort scale of 60-100%, you don’t need to train at higher and higher levels of intensity. For example, you DO NOT start running your easy runs at 75% effort instead of the old 70% effort and your tempo runs at 90% instead of 85%.
So the good news is that all efforts in the standard training and racing zones never feel any different. A slow recovery day pace at 70% always feels easy while a max VO2 speed workout at 95% always is just as hard as it used to be. As you get older, stronger, and faster, your paces per mile simply speed up, but always at the same perception of how easy or hard they feel.
It helps to think about it this way: your PR races at “drop dead” levels of exhaustion at the finish line can never feel any worse. At your new faster PR paces, you simply end the pain, torture and agony sooner!
As a mature senior, at 100% all-out PR effort of 17:21 won’t feel a bit different than that freshman 100% all-out PR for 5k of 23:46. They are both just as difficult; the faster time simply means that you suffer less because it is over quicker.
And if 100% always feels the same, so will each of your other types of workouts in the typical effort zones. All your various workouts will be run at faster speed, but the same efforts will be perceived as just as easy or hard as before. That freshman’s perception of a 70% effort at 9:25 per mile is the exact equivalent of a senior’s 7:02 pace perception of how easy it feels. They both would describe the workout as slow and easy.
Nice to know the benefits of aging, isn’t it? The hard things in life, as you get better at doing them, just take less time.
*Director Emeritus of SMRC and GMRC, Coach Benson now serves as The Chief of The Council of Wise Elders for both camps.