Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why I Went Back To The Track

Dale Matson

Why in the world would a man in his 70th year want to return to the track after leaving it behind 20 years ago? As any “runner” (and for me, I have to put that concept in quotes) knows, the legs need to be trained to run fast. Track interval training is one of the best ways to do this. Some folks use quarter mile intervals while most distance runners use longer intervals such as a mile. But is that really what I am after? No, I want to increase my average pace by working on my maximum pace. What I mean by an average pace is my “cruising speed” on long runs and average pace hiking in the mountains.

Perhaps the most precipitous decline for me and others as they approach their 70’s is the onset of what I would call “rigamortis of the legs”. Two things led me to the epiphany about this malady. Folks would pass me on the Eaton Trail and exclaim, “Hi Dale, I didn't know you were into speed walking.” The second thing was watching the shadow of a bent over old man moving at a rather awkward gait. I have seen this again and again with my older friends who remain competitive in their respective age groups. The legs just don't seem to move nearly as fast. We look at each other and say, “What happened?”

I think there are a number of factors including the decline of VO2max with aging and loss of skeletal muscle strength. There is also a decrease in heart stroke volume. My current VO2 max is good and consistent with my age of 69 at about 40, which seems rather low compared to elite athletes who regularly perform above 65 for a VO2 max.

Another factor is form and running efficiency. This is something that can be lost even when one continues running into the senior years. Speed work forces one into a better, more erect posture and increases running economy.

There is also a certain unwillingness to suffer the discomfort of a higher average heart rate and running by yourself allows for this kind of unhelpful pampering. Once you work up to a higher heart rate the pain of staying there seems less than the pain of getting there. My current maximum heart rate is not much above my old average long run heart rate. I simply have to stop being such a slacker.

Movescount download data from Suunto Ambit

By running on a track, I can also evaluate to what extent “cardiac creep” factors in at a given pace over a measured distance without wondering how much elevation changes contributed to the heart rate climb. I was pleasantly surprised to find that at a one-mile distance, my heart rate climbed initially but did not increase significantly throughout the rest of the mile.

Minimal Cardiac Creep

My weekly tempo runs were not improving my average pace in a 10K distance. When something isn't working, it’s time to change the way things are done. What is my goal? I would like to get back to one-mile intervals at a 10:00 minute per mile pace for 6 miles. I believe in goal setting, the goal should be realistic and achievable. When the form has returned, the goal will be met.  

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