Masters Running, Running Masters: Why There’s No Time Stamp on Our Sport

One of the great things about our sport is that there isn’t an age limit. In gymnastics you’re old if you’re in high school, with football many of those guys can’t walk by the time they retire, and in basketball you’d be hard-pressed to find a master’s league where they are dunking.

fit woman

Yup...sweat's still beautiful regardless of age.


But in running there ARE competitive masters…and what’s more is that some of those in their 40’s, even 50’s, are beating the younger pups. Typically as us harriers age we tend to move up in distance; the speed component is the first thing that tends to go as we gain age but the endurance is still there. Further, the longer you’ve been running the bigger base you’ve got and cardiovascularly you’ve got a leg up on the younger bucks.

Naturally then, the shorter track races tend to be dominated by the younger generations but getting into the 10k and marathon that’s not always the case. The distance running ‘prime’ for 10k competition is 31 for the women and 29 for the men. In the case of the marathon the ‘prime’ can be considered anywhere between 31 and 37 for both genders.

Colleen DeRuck, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Linda Somers Smith…here we have women who fall under the category of ‘asters’ because of their age but more correctly they are masters…period.

All of these womens’ careers have spanned mulit-Olympic and National Teams years. I’ve only named a few, but today’s masters runners could be still setting PR’s, but even if their fastest days are behind them they haven’t given up racing or training. What’s more is you could be beaten by one of these masters runners…don’t let any greying hair fool you.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first woman to ever win an Olympic Gold Medal in the Marathon (1984), has too many accolades to rattle off. But just as impressive is that by the time she was 50 she still qualified and ran in the 2008 US Olympic Marathon Trials. At 52 she ran a 2:47:50 marathon and one year later at the 2011 Boston Marathon she finished in 2:51:29.

Colleen DeRuck will be toeing the line at this year’s US Olympic Marathon Trials at 47. Her career began as a 14 year old and since then she’s already been to four Olympics. At 2010’s Copenhagen Marathon, the then 46-year old DeRuck, ran her way to a 2:30 finish.

I think you’ve got the picture here. To spread some gender equality I’ll inform you that 42 year old Eric Ashton ran a 31:06 10k. Mbarak Hussein is 45 and he busted out a 29:47 at the Peachtree 10k. I have to say I’m floored that at 51, John Tuttle, still turns those gears to a 15:57 5k.
runner on track
The point is that in our sport there isn’t an age limit. Sure, these runners are the first to clearly state they have to adapt their training but it’s still able to yield them results.

* Lower miles. Masters runners do have to cede to Father Time and many admit they do have to scale back the total number of weekly miles they can put in. But, Somers Smith is quick to point out that that can work as a blessing in disguise. Looking back she wonders if she could have run faster if she’d cut out some of the junk miles.

* Cross training. Just because you aren’t able to run as much that doesn’t mean you can’t get cardio in a different way, in the form of cross training. Younger runners may be pulling double runs but as a master it’s still possible to schedule double days…just that second workout may be on the bike or on the elliptical.

* The ‘other stuff’. Stretching, sleep habits, nutrition, massage…the body is only human after all and as we get older it becomes more important to NOT slack on these areas. Older runners admit to being more injury prone and so you’ve got to be smart to counteract that.

* Recovery. Along with injury prevention, recovery and easy days become exponentially more important. That typically means fewer hard workouts a week with extra easy days between them; some go off of a 10 day cycle instead of the traditional 7 day.

* Competition. There really isn’t anything like the buzz of competition is there? And that’s probably one of the biggest allures to keep coming back for more regardless of age. This holds true in training and working out with the ‘younger’ runners can help push the ‘older’ ones…so long as we’re not racing in practice. Plus, it’s got to be fun to beat the younger crowd…respect thy elders perhaps?

* Mental shift. One of the things many successful masters address is the mental shift; when you’re no longer going to be setting lifetime PR’s, you need to adjust your goals and rethink things. Say having PR’s for each decade…and more that the aim for races is to go off of effort and not merely times. We all know what it feels like to cross the line spent…it offers a rush and getting the most from yourself is something we can do regardless of age.

The common thread is that the passion and love of our sport hardly as to fade with age. Sure, you may have to adjust your mindset and goal paces but it’s not like you need to hang up the running shoes like in gymnastics, just because you hit puberty and can no longer fit into a leotard. 😉

1) Do you plan to be, or consider yourself, to be a runner for life? Will you, or do you, compete as a Masters runner?

2) What’s something you’ve learned or can take away from the older generations that could still very well keep pace with the elites?
I just continue to be floored by Joan Benoit Samuelson…I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one!

3) Do you feel your PR’s and best races are ahead of you and what do you feel they will be? Or if your lifetime PR’s may be behind you, what are your current goals?

Bookmark and Share

Related posts:

8 thoughts on “Masters Running, Running Masters: Why There’s No Time Stamp on Our Sport

  1. So true, that’s one of the reasons why I love this sport and hope to develop an appreciation of running to the athletes I coach – they can do this all their life and won’t have to stop after high school/college (depending on how good they are).

    I do HOPE to be running the rest of my life…who knows how long my body will hold out but I loved seeing the older runners at races growing up and hope to be one of those 70 year old women still busting out some 5k races occasionally.

  2. One of the reasons I really really love running is the fact that I can do it for a long time if I take care of myself!! The little fact about peaking in the 30’s also made me feel better about being injured. There is no rush, I’m not losing my ability to race hard anytime soon!

  3. I hope that my best PR is ahead of me 🙂 I’m 36 (37 this month) and I have only been running for 7 months now. I know that I will have to progress slowly, but I really do love it. I hope to just keep getting better. It isn’t about distance for me…..I want to set a goal, meet that and then go forward. 🙂
    This has really been helpful! Thanks so much!

    • trust me, u’ve got PR’s galore ahead of u!! i love wat u say about goals, they are so important…pick one, hit it, then keep on setting more. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*