I recently saw some research suggesting that a group of older athletes recovered from strenuous activity at the same pace as a group of 21 years olds. I like that.I call bullshit, but I like it!
I like this study because age is too often used as an excuse for diminishing performance. “I’m too old to run that fast” or “I don’t recover like I used to”. This study, which suggested inflammation markers in the younger group hung around just as long as the older group, is an anomaly in the research into the ageing of athletes. The general consensus is that as we age max heart rate decreases, therefore oxygen delivery to the muscles decreases. There are also reductions in mitochondrial density, meaning we’re not as strong.
I agree with the general consensus BUT… just because the science says the average human degenerates, it doesn’t mean you and I have to.
I am currently 37. Not over the hill, but allegedly past my prime. Earlier this year I decided I’d like to get my 5km speed back (I set those records when I was 17). That thought was quashed when I remembered how much work was required to do that, and how much more difficult it would be given that I’m now old. I reminded myself that some of my favourite athletes are in their early 40s and still killing it, and I was very excited to see a few people close to me yet older than me doing amazing things in the athletic arena. I realised that it would be very convenient and easy to hide behind my age. So I took the hard route, and started doing the work. I recently ran my fastest 5km in about 15 years, so it is possible. And I’m getting faster.
The science is right; things are different to when you were 19. You don’t bounce back as quick.But that doesn’t mean you can’t break PBs. There are two elements to your training plan that you can get away without doing when you’re 19 that you simply cannot when you’re older: Strength and Recovery. (Good nutrition is also essential as you age but I’m going to assume you already know that. Stop eating shit.)
While I’m not down with the reasoning for strength decline in older athletes, I believe it doesn’t truly start until the 50’s.Having said that, I’ve found huge benefits in endurance and recovery times through strength work.An increase in muscle mass coupled with preserving bone density reduces the risk of injury and improves the ability to fire muscles needed in training.(…and please don’t think that means you will get bulky because that takes a huge amount of work and dedication, not to mention a different lifting protocol.)Lift barbells and increase both endurance and strength.
I treat recovery as a separate training session altogether. I might run 2-5 times a week but I recover 5-6 times a week. (You can see the tools I use for recovery here.) Recovery can take many forms including stretching, yoga, massage, cold immersion, breathing practices, or light movement, but it is THE key to handling training load as an older athlete. When you’re 19 you just recover. It happens somewhere between the training session, the pub, and the walk of shame. Maybe it’s the light walk that does it, who knows. But it doesn’t require a concerted effort. When you’re over 30, there is enormous benefit in making a concerted effort to do a recovery session. You know that fitness doesn’t come from training, it comes from the adaptation to training. That means you get fitter/ stronger/ faster when you recover. Not when you train.
So as we age we recover slower. If you make an effort to recover faster, not only will you be ready to train again sooner but you will be healthier for it. The textbooks will tell you “the quicker you return to homeostasis after stress, the fitter you get”. That means recover quickly and you’ll improve quickly with less chance of injury or burnout.
And if you can do that well, you may as well be 19 again.