I’ve been thinking a lot about speed lately.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I’m talking about my own speed. There will be some of you that I am faster than. There will be others of you who I am slower than. So when I talk about feeling fast or feeling slow, both groups might roll their eyes at me. But hopefully all runners understand that whilst our own speed is relative, the principles are the same whether you run 12 minute miles or 6 minute miles. I strongly believe that, no matter your speed, we are all runners.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about speed and my big question to myself is: am I really going to run much faster than I am running at the moment?
In the past two years, I’ve brought my half-marathon PR down from 2.06 to 1.53. That’s beyond anything I dreamed of. My next half-marathon goal is 1.52 but that feels like such a daunting goal! Admittedly, when I trained for my first sub-two half, that felt daunting too…but 1.52? Me? That intimidates me so much.
I am definitely faster than I was. But at some point, surely a runner reaches her peak speed, her maximum capacity for speed. How do you know when you’ve reached that speed? I’m 38, not far off 39. Am I just ‘there’?
To complicate my personal case, my heart condition means I am cautious about pushing myself too far. Other runners speak about running till they vomit and part of me would kind of like to push myself that far. But I know that it wouldn’t be healthy for me.
When do runners peak? According to the interwebs,it’s your early 30s or post child-birth. I trumped both those cards by running slowly in my 20s then ditching running until my mid-thirties, post childbirth. So HA to the stats. The article goes on to say that speed is maintained for late 30s/early 40s and then declines. So I might hang on at my current speed for a little longer.
According to RunningForFitness.org, “From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body. Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. These changes will have an adverse impact on running performance. The fall in aerobic capacity, reduced stride length, reduced leg strength, and reduced ability to store energy all contribute to deterioration in performance. In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade.” Source
During Monday’s long-run I was listening to the latest Marathon Talk podcast and they mentioned a British marathon runner called Emma Stepto. She’s in her early 40s and over the past few years has brought her marathon PR steadily down, year by year to 2.35. I find this really inspiring! I’m almost looking forward to turning 40 in 2015…I’ll officially become a ‘Master’ (Mistress?) and I might even place in my age-group when I’m the youngster there 🙂
But at some point, both you and I will reach our peak. We will never achieve a new PR again We will have to learn how to accept the inevitable decline. So how do you cope with always failing to improve, because that must be quite soul-destroying.
At the Half Moon Bay Marathon last month, I had the pleasure of meeting the very charming Burt Yasso from Runner’s World and, with the confidence that comes from having said ‘hi’ once, I contacted him to ask that very question. He was once a super-fast marathoner and ultra-runner who, primarily due to lyme disease, can now not run further than 3 miles. I asked him how he handled that change. This is what he said.
‘I look at the races I still have the opportunity to run and have no problems running slowly. I’m just happy to be part of the running family.’
Isn’t that a lovely thought – just being happy to be part of the running family! I like that.
Anyway…this post has been slightly depressing. Sorry…you can blame the PMT! But I would really welcome your thoughts on the following questions. (This isn’t a cheesy blogger ploy to get comments, I actually want to know).
1) How do you know when you’re running about as fast as you can go and you won’t get any faster no matter how much you try?
2) How would you deal with that, mentally?
Thanks for your thoughts and for listening to my middle-aged rambles.