As I near age 55, thoughts about how aging affects my ultrarunning are frequent. Because I started running at age 46, I never knew what youthful speed I might have possessed. I consider my running antics a constant experiment for one who is aging and hope to inspire other of similar agedness to be active and experience life on the trails. At age 46, I started slowly, barely finishing races, but with each year saw improvement and wondered when I would reach my speed peak before age became the main limiting factor.
My experience has been that I hit most of my PRs at age 51-52. 5K – 19:51, ½ marathon 1:29, Marathon 3:23, 50-mile 8:07, and 100-mile 19:40. Since then, I’ve noticed speed decreases at all distances. Hopes for that sub-20 100-mile finish are pretty much a thing of the past and I’m now happy with the sub-24s.
Yes, it is frustrating at times to see the younger guys who I used to keep up with, go ahead. But I shift my focus to other things instead of speed as it fades.
After witnessing 53-year-old Liz Bauer crank out 100-mile finishes last year (36), week after week, it has inspired me this year to experiment with frequent very long runs and their impact on the aging body. I don’t have the time or means to enter 100-mile races week after week, but I can try to push limits on my own. I’ve discovered that the more I do it, the faster I recover between runs. What used to be a 10-14 day recovery between 100-mile finishes has now decreased to 4-5 days. To me this is puzzling and astonishing for a mid-50s body.
So while my speed is decreasing, my endurance and recovery capability is still increasing. During this experiment I have eliminated speed training and entering 5Ks, 10Ks, etc. The danger of bad muscle pulls and the long healing process required at age 54 is a constant worry. I also have decreased my mid-week training miles, sleeping more and looking forward to that next very long run.
Since I started this insanity, here is a chart of my longest runs during each week for the past couple months. That is seven ultra-distance runs in the past eight weeks. This week, I’ll add Bighorn 100.
So as the aging process keeps appearing its ugly head, shifting focus to new realistic goals is certainly possible. For me, the limits are still being discovered.