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Helping a 65-Year Old “Right the Ship” After a Bad Marathon

by RunnersConnect: Coaching Community, Running Experts, Inspiring Runners, No Fluff Blog
February 22nd 2023

Did you train “harder than ever” for your last race and still come up short?

Are you a masters runner who feels like your times are going in the wrong direction and you need to “right the sh... More

Hello fellow runners. I'm your host, Finn Melanson and this is the run to the top podcast. The podcast dedicated to making you a better runner with each and every episode we are created and produced by the expert team of coaches at runners connect dot net where you can find the best running information on the internet as well as training plans to fit every runner in every budget. Did you train harder than ever for your last race and still come up short? Are you a masters runner who feels like your times are going in the wrong direction and you need to right the ship. That's what Russell was feeling after his last marathon where he trained harder than ever, but still came up short in this episode of training plan. Rescue coach Michael digs deep into Russell's plan to give coaching guidance on some of the mistakes he may have made with his mileage, the intensity of his long runs and his training paces. Make sure you listen to this one with a notebook in hand because you're gonna want to take a lot of notes. Let's dive in countless research studies have shown that pillow selection can have a dramatic impact on sleep quality.

Lagoon specializes in making pillows designed specifically for runners and athletes to help them optimize their sleep and recovery. We'll talk more about the specific benefits later in the episode, but you can learn more at lagoon. Sleep dot com backslash T. O. P. And get a 15% discount before we get to our conversation. I wanted to talk about the importance of electrolytes, especially in the winter maintaining healthy electrolyte levels is not only important for your run, but your recovery and overall health as well. That's why we recommend all runners check out element this winter. It's loaded with everything you need to replenish your electrolyte balance with 1000 mg of sodium, 200 mg of potassium in 60 mg of magnesium. And it doesn't include anything you don't need like extra sugar or anything artificial stay tuned for how you can get a free sample pack at element dot com. That's L. M. N. T dot com forward slash runners connect. Hey everybody welcome back to the training plan.

Rescue where you give us your busted training plan and we come to the rescue coach, Michael Hammond here, Sub four miler, head coach here at runners connect today. We're gonna be talking with Russell. Russell is a 65 year old with a marathon pr from way back in 2014. It's crazy that I'm saying way back. But next year that will be 10 years ago. That's hard to believe. Even though he trained hard for his last marathon, which was the forth worth marathon in November of 2022, he did 45 mile weeks averaged 45 mile weeks. Even got up to 50 at some point did 22 mile long runs, did some hard workouts, he was still a few minutes off his old pr he feels like he's trending in the wrong direction and he really wants help in order to right the ship. I'll tell you what he used some unconventional training methods. You know, some stuff is great and makes total sense, but other stuff will have to definitely talk about. He was working hard, but some of his very unconventional, we'll go through his training plan, find the weak points and show Russell and those of you listening how to improve, moving forward. So let's dig into Russell's background a bit. My name is Russell and I'm 65 years old.

I started running marathons in my fifties, marathons and ultras and my fastest marathon was in 2014 where I ran right at about four hours and 19 minutes. And since then my marathons have been more like 4.5 to 5 hours or even longer for some marathons. I'm part of my history. I've had a lot of orthopedic surgeries. I've had knee surgery back in the 70s recently. I've had surgery on both of my big toes and rehab from that. I've had several shoulder surgeries and I also blew out a disc in my neck and have a plate in my neck. So we can tell Russell is not dealing with a brand new model straight off the lot. You know, even if it doesn't affect his running, all those surgeries, all that stress that his body went through that significant. We have to take it into account. We of course, have to take his age into account.

So right away rescue lesson number one, take ages and injury history into account always, you know, we don't like to have super hard fast rules here at runners connect. I mean, for instance, a welt healthy 60 year old can often handle more training than a brand new to running out of shape. 40 year old, we see that all the time. But nonetheless, your history is super, super important. So with Russell, even if those surgeries don't affect is running that much, you know, combined with his age, I would ride away 10 towards maybe a slightly lower overall training volume, definitely lower long runs, which we'll talk about soon and less overall intensity to his workouts. A good example here might be Maybe with someone who's 35, we might give them to harder workouts a week. Someone who's 65, we might go one of the more harder, like threshold type workouts a week and then the second workout might be something much lighter like a steady run or just something much much lighter to where we're not getting that huge load each each week. Plus we're gonna do a big focus on strength training and stretching. That's always gonna be the case with any of our athletes, but especially older athletes.

Now, let's talk about Russell's race the Fort Worth Marathon in November 2022, he decided to take a different approach to training heading into the race. I'll let him talk about it Last March after running the Austin marathon, I decided I would try to start doing some speed work and maybe some strength training and seriously train, which normally I just run for fun, even though I've done, I think over 40 marathons or ultras at this point. So after a poor race, it's normal to want to make drastic changes. I think we've all been there where you have this really bad race and you just think to yourself, I need to change everything. I need to make these huge changes in order to have this big inflection point moving forward, doing more of the same, just isn't gonna work. So sometimes this can can be good in russell's case he's run a bunch of races, he's trained for quite some time. You know, maybe he does need a change, that's very different from somebody who's in their first year of running, you know, just started doing training for a marathon and maybe their first one doesn't go so good. That could be a case where they just need to keep doing more of the same.

So, like I said, in others, it's not so good, it can be a huge overreaction, but in general, I think that making this sort of drastic change, it can be good from a motivational standpoint, almost more of like a mental standpoint because sometimes more the same can just get a little bit stale. So I like the focus on strength. You know, it's so important for anyone, but especially those older runners and we'll talk about his speed work later on. So let's dig into the changes that he actually made. I decided to use what I was calling my old man training program and I figured the best thing I could do is try to increase my mileage because I usually crap out at the end of at the end of the marathon. So my weekly mileage had been about 33 to 35 miles per week, with a long run of 15 to 18 miles. And I had gotten consistent and had done that for about three years regardless of the time of year. So I don't really have a training cycle. I just stay at that mileage. So starting last March, I upped my long run to 22 miles every Tuesday And I also upped my total mileage a week to about 45 miles a week.

All right, rescue lesson number two, Always up your mileage gradually no matter your age, you know, it's great to get more mileage mileage is good. I mean, it kind of gets a bad rap, especially in the past 10, 20 years, especially in America where, you know, run less run faster, got really popular, but mileage is good. We've got to build up those capillaries, red blood cells, you know, get more fat, adapted whatever we have to do all this stuff in order to get better at the marathon. The marathon is a 26.2 mile race. We of course need some good mileage in order to do it well, but it must be done gradually. One thing I like to do is to add in down weeks, so you can do two weeks higher and then one week lower that can work really well as you're bumping up your mileage. But listen to how Russell felt when he first bumped up his mileage for about six weeks or so. It just beat me up quite a bit, you know, six weeks is a long time to feel exhausted and to have to adapt. You know, that can lead to a big injury risk overtraining. It's hard to come back from when you passed that red line for six weeks in a row, it can be really hard to come back from that.

I know Russell, Russell did, he seemed to adapt it pretty well and handled it well, which I'm super impressed with, but it's a huge, huge risk. A much better option here would be to do, let's say 35 miles for a couple weeks, then have a down week, 40 miles a week for a couple of weeks, Then a down week and then 45 or so for two weeks and then maybe a down week before you stick it 45 more consistently. You can even do it more gradual than that. Sometimes I find myself kind of defaulting to going up five miles a week or so, but it doesn't have to be that maybe it's 35 up to 38 then up to 41 it doesn't need to be like super exact, but either way it needs to be more gradual and I really like the idea of adding in those down weeks. So, so you do those two weeks where you bump up the mileage, you see how your body adapts, then you give it time to rest and really adapt to the training and really benefit from the training with a down week where you do lower volume, you do lower intensity, give your body a chance to recover and to absorb those higher weeks before you dive into another week high or even a higher week after that.

Now, no matter how good your mileage build up is, if you're over doing the intensity, none of it matters. Let's look at Russell's harder stuff. Part of my training plan was to do a marathon a month. Just sort of as a warm up long run assessment. Okay, right away, we gotta talk about that. This is one of those things that sounds great in theory, but it just never works in practice. You know, doing a marathon once a month. It's too long. It's too fast, It's just too hard on the body. So I'm gonna go rescue lesson number three is don't overdo the long runs. In addition to these marathon assessments, Russell mentioned that he's also been doing 22 milers every single week. So that's huge. He's for times a month, he's getting these huge long runs, including some of them being actual marathons at 65 years old with his injury history and his pace is in my opinion, Russell's long run should be about 18 to 20 max and I'd really rather see them more like 16 to 18. I'd love to see 16 to 18 milers consistently instead of this like one massive run per month. And then the other ones being like 22 You know, let the training clue you into your progress.

You don't need those race check ins all the time. So I kind of say here rescue lesson number 3.5 is don't overdo the tune up races. It can be really tempting to have like a ton of tune up races because we want to see our progress. We want to make sure that the training that we're doing all that time that we're spending out there is actually leading to something, but you don't really need to know braces, your training itself can be the clue that you need and it doesn't necessarily have to be from fast times and it's not just super fast workouts. It can be something like maybe you do the same workout that two months ago was a little bit harder and now you're able to, you feel more recovered after you recover faster. You're feeling like you could even handle more or handle faster. That right, there is a good indicator. You don't have, it doesn't have to be hard tune up race. It doesn't have to be a super all out hard workout. So don't overdo those tune up races. You don't really need them. Some of them can work really well in a build up for a marathon or for any sort of race, but don't overdo them. So that's a big one. That one simple change could probably make a huge difference for Russell.

Maybe even the whole difference for Russell. But let's look at the specifics of his workouts in his paces as far as during my training, my easy running pace was usually around 10.5 minutes per mile, but I would average more like 12 over the 22 miles. I would run by heart rate and I've had metabolic testing done, which indicated that I started to burn more sugar opposed to fat, right at a heart rate of around 1 30. So I would keep at 1 30 or below. But then I would also walk when I was getting my heart rate too high. Or if I was just tired or I kind of meet with people during my long run at different points and I'll chat with them a little bit and run with them. And so there's there was some standing around and walking during all those times. So I'd average 12 minute, miles take me about over four hours for the long run right away. Here's what I like russell. He's trying to keep his heart rate low on his easy runs.

That's great. He's focused on running easy, That's tremendous. He's taking walk breaks. That's not always a bad thing. You know, i it's give or take, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good but it's not always necessarily a bad thing but there's a big catch here. So first of all with heart rate training, the Math Atone method which he talked about when he was talking with me would put him at about 1 15, you know, math tone is 1 80 minus your age and that the majority of your running should be at that pace or below. So for him that would be 1 15 beats a minute. Whereas he's running at 1 30 you know, 1 30 might sound low to most people but at 65 years old, that's not that low of a heart rate. I understand he got some testing done and I don't want to necessarily I'm not gonna dispute that because clearly he had some professionals working with him but that sounds more like a way to determine his workout paces than necessarily his easy paces. So I want to make sure we're working with accurate data. Thus I'm gonna say rescue lesson number four. If you're going to use heart rate training, you must use a chest strap heart rate monitor. I know that kind of was a bit of a left turn there, but risk is just too unreliable. So even if Russell is using the correct heart rate data in terms of like the data that he should be, you know, maybe the testing stuff is accurate and that he should be running at a 1 30 heart rate.

Let's assume that's correct for a minute. If you're using wrist heart rate, it's just too unreliable. It's way too variable. You know, you might think you're doing it right, but the chest strap will give you the accurate data and what you really need. I don't like telling people to spend big money, but in this case it's worth it. And also I go back to rescue lesson number three. Don't overdo the long runs. Even if the effort is easy, Russell is out there running for four hours, four hours of running. Even with some walking in between, that's brutal on the body. I don't really like to see long runs much over three hours. You know, maybe the occasional one, but certainly not upwards of four hours. So an option would be to rotate the long runs so you can go higher one weekend and remember, I I want his high long runs to be more like 16 to 18 miles and then he can go lower the next one, you know, 12 to 14. We do that with a bunch of our athletes. It gives them a chance their bodies a chance to absorb those longer long runs, gives you a bit of a break the next weekend. So you're not trudging out there for three plus hours every single weekend, gives your body a little bit of a break and I'm gonna go right into rescue lesson number five.

Your running pace matters much more than your average pace. So even though he's averaging 12 minute pace, his actual running is at 10 minute pace. Sure, that's different than doing it straight through, but it's just not different enough. What I mean by that is that doing running with walk breaks where the running is a 10 minute pace and then he's averaging 12 minute pace. I would say that that's closer to a full run where you're doing it at 10 minute pace with no walks than it is to doing a full run at 12 minute pace. You know, it's just too hard on the body. I don't think it's really accomplishing what we wanted to. So let's ignore the measuring heart rate for a 2nd, 10 minute pace is just much too fast for Russell's long runs based on his current fitness. I'd much rather see, you know more like 11 30 to 12 minute pace for his running pace and then I want him to not need walk breaks at all if he runs that pace, he may not need them whatsoever. And I think that would be much better at accomplishing what russell wants without taking an eternity to do it. You know, without being there for four plus hours on every, you know, every Tuesday when he's doing his long runs.

So 11 30 to 12 minute pace for those runs. And ideally with no walk breaks at all. You've heard us talk on the podcast about the pillows designed specifically for runners by lagoon and the research on how selecting the right pillow for your sleep position, firmness and one that can keep you cool can have a dramatic impact on your sleep quality. And while research is awesome, nothing beats real world data being the data nerds we are at runners connect. We wanted to test lagoon pillows for ourselves using my old pillow. My apple Watch data showed that I woke up an average of six times each night and spent two hours in deep sleep when I switched to the lagoon pillow matched for me. My average number of times waking dropped to two per night in my deep sleep increased by 45 minutes. I've noticed a huge difference in how I feel in the morning, often waking up 30 to 45 minutes before my alarm and not feeling tired. My data isn't an outlier using her device U. S. Olympic trials, marathon qualifier, Caitlin keen, saw her deep restorative sleep increased by 52 minutes when she switched to a lagoon pillow if you want to see the dramatic effect.

A pillow design just for you can be head to lagoon sleep dot com backslash. T. O. P. Then take their awesome two minutes sleep quiz that matches you with the lagoon pillow, that's perfect for you. Plus if you use the code T. O. P. At checkout, you'll save 15% off your purchase again. That's lagoon sleep dot com backslash T. O. P. Did you know that you're likely to sweat as much, if not more in the winter than in the summer? That's because we often wear such warm clothes to start our runs, which leads to more sweating towards the end. Plus sweat gets absorbed by our clothes. So it's harder to notice. Now you already know that when you sweat, you lose electrolytes which are essential for your body's best performance. But you've also been told that too much salt is bad for you so it can get confusing to know what to do. The truth is that athletes, healthy eaters and heavy sweaters all need more sodium and just about everyone needs more potassium in their diet and we don't need a bunch of sugar and artificial junk along the way. Element is the hydration solution designed with athletes and everyone who sweats in mind element comes in lots of salty flavors that even the saltiest sweaters will love, such as citrus raspberry and orange.

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So I would try to do a one mile repeat at about 9 30 pace since I figured that's what I need to do in the marathon and then I would walk for a while and recover or maybe do 11 minute mile pace for recovery between the repeats and I usually would only do three repeats. I've done it on the treadmill or outside. Okay, that work out three by one mile at 9 30 pace, which is as he said, is his gold marathon pace with one mile easy recovery. Three big problems with this workout number one goal pace versus current fitness. So I love that he has a big goal. I love that he wants to run 9 30 pace. But the problem is is that ultimately your goal pace doesn't actually mean anything, right? If you think about it, your goal pace doesn't mean anything. If you said you want to go run, if you run a four hour marathon and you say you want to go run a 2 30 marathon, super, super fast, super crazy, you wouldn't just go start doing all your workouts at 2 30 marathon pace, right? That doesn't make any sense. The same goes even for short small progression. So if you're a four hour marathoner and you want to run 3 50 you don't necessarily just go start running 3 50 pace.

It's just not how the body works. Running a fast marathon is not just about conditioning your body to run at that pace. That's not really what this is about. This isn't just, you know, you think about basketball players. I like to do this analogy where basketball players in order to shoot free throws, what do they do? You shoot 100 100 of them a day? I think it was like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, I can't know which player who would like at the end of every single practice would have to hit 100 free throws. You know, he wouldn't go home until he hit 100 free throws. That is very much a muscle memory type thing. They don't really need to go get like stronger in order to put a pretty light basketball into the hoop from the free throw line. Running a marathon is super different than that. We're not just trying to say, okay, here, here you go, buddy, here's how you run. You know, 4, 10 or 4 15 marathon pace. It's not like that. We have to work all these training systems in order to actually accomplish that goal. So I'd much rather see him training at current fitness, which for him right now we have that for 22 marathon, it may not be perfect, but it's pretty good. We'd much rather base our training on that rather than his goal pace.

Second problem is it's not enough reps, you know, three times a mile. I'm not saying it's a terrible workout, but in terms of getting at sort of like a threshold type workout, it's just not really going to be enough to accomplish what we want. And the third problem is just too much rest for this type of workout, you know, really, Ultimately, that's kind of a big problem here, is that we don't know what type of work out. This is a much better work out for Russell would be six times a mile at more like 9 to 9, 15, maybe 9 20 pays with a one minute rest. I know that's way faster and way shorter rest, but that's a real proper threshold workout, that would really accomplish that threshold type training that we want Russell to do rather than, you know, on the other end, another good workout would be five miles steady, which is usually thereabouts, marathon pace or a little bit faster, 9 45 to 10, 15 pace, you can do a one mile warm up and cool down and plus he could do those on the day before his long runs that, thus creating what we call the steady long run combo. Since we've lowered his long runs a little bit from those 22 milers down to like 16 to 18 milers, a great way to sort of make up for that, that those missing miles is to do a steady run the day before the long run that way in a 24 36 hour period, you're getting a lot of volume, a good bit of it at, you know, around marathon pace, steady pace and without having to do 20 plus milers all at once, which at, at Russell's training paces and certainly at his age, I think would be a great way to move forward, but rescue less number six, make sure every workout serves a specific purpose.

You know, this is where having a coach or at least a professionally written training plan can make a huge difference. You know, runners connect, we look at someone's personal attributes, you know, their age, their health, etcetera, their training history and then the current fitness and develop progressive plans from there. What I mean by progressive is like we don't just give, you know, we never give our athletes a plan and then, you know, for a six month training plan and then say, all right, best of luck, you know, it's more like no, in three months you might need something different for better or worse usually. Hopefully for better, hopefully you've improved in fitness and you're ready to maybe get either a little bit faster paces or your mileage can progress a little faster or on the other end, if you get injured or, or life happens and you get busy at work or, or with your family and you can't train quite as much adjustments need to be made. You have to have a progressive plan. You can't just set something in stone and then that's it. So for Russell, we would look at, he's 65 years old, he has lots of surgery history. You know, I don't want to say necessarily like injury history, but, but sort of injury history, even if it's non specific to running, it's definitely relevant. He's run a bunch of marathons. He's run solid, solid mileage for a number of years, that's good.

He just ran for 22 even if it wasn't necessarily a perfect day for him. You know, it's still a really good data point. He can clearly handle 45 miles a week, especially if it's done smarter than he's done up to this point. Russell, I don't mean that as an insult. I think you've trained super hard. I'm I'm really impressed. I just think we can do it better moving forward and really we do that for all of our plans and all of our athletes. If you'd like to see how much better you can run, go to runners connect dot net slash training dash plans, runners connect dot net slash training dash plans and we'll show you what we can do. So let's recap where we're at with Russell lesson number one, take ages and injury history into account. I can tell Russell is a super high achiever that he really wants to run faster, you can just hear it in his voice. But you know, age has its way with all of us, it's just a fact of life, as much as we can fight it with, you know, ambition and and that spirit, we have to acknowledge it and respect it. So, I'd like to see a bigger focus on recovery, you know, some down weeks in there and just smarter, more specific training overall lesson number two, Always up your mileage gradually.

I love that Russell is going for it with those 45 to 50 mile weeks, it can make a huge difference in your running, but anytime you're up the mileage, even if you've done those numbers in the past, you've got to do it gradually. You gotta take it slow. You gotta let your body adapt to each increase lesson number three don't overdo the long runs and tune up races. You know, I understand where Russell is coming from with the marathon assessments and pushing those 22 miles each week, but that's a huge stress on the body four times a month. Especially those marathon tuneup race is much better to do solid 16 to 18 milers, you know, mixed with some lower long runs. Plus you can add in some mileage on the threshold workouts and the other days during the week, so that his overall mileage numbers each week are still really good lesson number four. If you're gonna do heart rate training, make sure you have accurate data. You know, Russell might be doing this already, but it goes for anyone out there doing any level of heart rate training, even if it's just for easy runs. Get the chest strap, you know, make sure you're getting the right data from your device is, if you're gonna use the math atone method or something similar like that, make sure that you do it accurately, get that chest strap, make sure you you've done the math correctly, make sure if you've gone to a lab like Russell has that you have accurate data and that you're using it appropriately, you know, not if they're giving you like threshold paces or they're giving you like aerobic versus anaerobic pace is, you gotta take all that into account.

That's not necessarily going to help you determine easy runs or determine long run pace is etcetera. So make sure you're working with accurate data, lesson number five, your running pace matters more than your average pace, you know, even though Russell's average pace is on his easy runs and long runs is more like 12 minutes per mile close to. That's closer to where I'd like to see it running. Only his actual running pace is closer to 10 minutes of a mile. So the running pace still matters even with those walk breaks, slow that easy pace down to 11 30 to 12 minute pace and he won't need those walk breaks whatsoever. And then finally lesson number six, make sure every workout serves a specific purpose. Russell needs to really evaluate his current fitness. You know, even though again that for 22 it wasn't perfect. It's still his most recent race result. It's still the most recent data point that we have. And I'd rather see him under do his paces than overdo them. You know, if 4 22 maybe isn't a perfectly accurate assessment of his fitness, maybe he's in more like fit for 15 shape on a perfect day. I'd rather him do those workouts at 4 22 pace than at 4, 10 pace.

Much much rather work with that current fitness and under do the paces than overdo them, you know, so do some threshold workout, smile repeats with short 60 seconds rest, do some steady runs, marathon pace straight through and you know, you can do them the day before the long run, creating that steady long run combo. All of that can be really effective at helping his each workout service specific purpose and have his overall training progress much better. So these are big lessons, You're changing all of this would drastically alter Russell's training plan. Sometimes I like to make changes really slowly, like one small change at a time. But I think in Russell's case, I just think some of these things are hurting his progress so much that I'd like to see it done much quicker. You know, most specifically the lowering the long runs, removing the constant tuneup marathons, slowing down those easy runs and then having each workout serve a purpose. Russell, you're doing great work, man. You know, a ton of 65 year olds would envy your work ethic and what you've been able to accomplish at your age. But honestly, I know you have more in the tank. I know you can run much faster. I know you can crush that pr just with these changes in your training, you know, make these changes in your plan and I know you'll crush that nine year old pr okay, everyone, thank you for listening and thank you Russell for sharing your story.

We really appreciate it. It was a lot of fun until next time. Everybody thanks for listening to the run to the top podcast. I'm your host, Finn Melanson. And as always, our mission here is to help you become a better runner with every episode. Please consider connecting with me on instagram at Wasatch, Finn and the rest of our team at runners connect. Also consider supporting our show for free with a rating on the Spotify and Apple podcast players. And lastly, if you love the show and want bonus content behind the scenes experiences with our guests and premier access to contests and giveaways. Then subscribe to our newsletter by going to runners connect dot net back slash podcast. Until next time, Happy Trading.

Helping a 65-Year Old “Right the Ship” After a Bad Marathon
Helping a 65-Year Old “Right the Ship” After a Bad Marathon
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