5 things over 40's tackling an endurance event need to know
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Signing up for an endurance event has become a popular and fun way for middle aged people to lose a few kilo's, de-stress and make a physical transformation. I've even heard it's the new way to tell if someone's having a mid-life crisis! Perhaps a cheaper mid- life crisis than getting a sports car and probably more sensible than having an affair with a 20 year old!
It can be a healthy way to utilise what you might fear to be your last remaining reserves of physical prowess and athleticism. However if that half-marathon, or whatever your event of choice might be, is going to be enjoyable and indeed good for the body temple, here are a few points to consider;
1. It's imperative to have a structured program and plan.
This will ensure efficient use of your precious exercise time, reduced risk of injury, plus optimise performance. Even though committing to the event is likely largely about enjoyment, I reckon doing well (whatever that is according to your own standards & expectations) goes a long way to actually maximising the degree of enjoyment. You're putting in your hard earned money and time, so you might as well give yourself the best chance of achieving your goal. Doing that starts with a well-structured plan. Should you run into trouble in the form of fitting in training sessions, lack of results or niggling injury, you'll need to adjust your training and it's a lot easier to do that if you have a structured plan, as you're able to accurately assess just how hard and how much training you've been doing. On the other hand if your training has no great structure or pattern to it, it'll be nigh on impossible to fine tune things effectively.
Don't rely on guesswork- you need to quantify and measure your training in terms of intensity and volume. If you have a decent program it means you can increase and manage both intensity and volume in a gradual and progressively sustainable way. What's more a professionally tailored program will still include plenty of variety to keep things interesting. 2. Be realistic about what you're undertaking- there's risk of injury, which could plague you for a while. I regard any event over 10km as a high performance activity. Actually if you want to break 50 min for 10km or 23 min for 5km I'd put that in the same category as well.
It all requires a considerable amount and/or intensity of training and that comes with increased injury risk. If you've spent a significant chunk of your days in recent years sitting at a desk or in general haven't looked after your body particularly well, then you're probably in no condition to dive into the type of training that's going to yield a great result. Although it may appear there's lots of people your age doing great times and distances, don't be deceived- you've no idea how much time and energy they've spent rehabilitating injuries or their training history over the past decade.
A niggling injury, which you feel compelled to train through, can become a chronic one, and one which takes a lot of effort and money to get over. Naturally that can get pretty tedious and frustrating. Remember the middle aged weekend warriors are a lucrative market for physiotherapists!! It's not that committing to an endurance event isn't worthwhile; it's just that you can't do a high performance activity or expect high performance results without a high level of commitment. If you try, there could well be a cost.
3. Training hard enough isn't really the hard part.
We've all heard it a thousand times- "80% of success is showing up". It's especially true of training for an endurance event. You simply have to do the miles; the great challenge is being consistent as you simply can't make up for lack of consistency with brute effort. If you can organise your life to get sessions done regularly, even with a mediocre program, you'll likely improve. This could be a good mantra for many to adopt: 'build the habit before performance.' This task of getting enough training done is very relevant during mid-life as career and family demands typically peak.
The other tricky part is managing your body so you recover well and avoid illness and injury. With age not only are you more pushed for time but generally it just takes longer to recover. To cope you'll likely need to address some of these: - diet, hydration, massage, stretching, stability exercises, technique, shoes and other equipment. All of that may seem daunting, complex or overwhelming given the initial sense that endurance activities seem to be a simple case of repeating a physical action but as you get into it you realise there's inevitably more to it. This can involve wading through some often confusing and conflicting information in those areas mentioned. There is no substitute for experience or professional advice.
4. Have an active off-season.
It's common to train for several events over the space of a few months. Often there's opportunity to enter similar and complimentary races which means your training transfers well from 1 event to the next. Then there is by default an off season, a period with not so many events on the calendar to work toward.
This off-season provides the chance to ease off on the amount of training and give the body time to get over any little niggles or sore spots. It can also give the mind a break, helping create a bubbling up of motivation once the next string of emails arrive inviting you to have another go at the races done last year.
Although you may indeed enjoy dialing things down, it's wise to consider how you do it. For instance if running were to make up a large part of your preferred event list, it might be worthwhile having a complete break from the impact and abstaining for a couple of months. However keeping some level of activity going is paramount if you want the next 'in-season' to be an enjoyable and successful one. So while not running you could still keep the heart, lungs and legs ticking along with some cycling, boxing or rowing. As a broad guide, aim to do 2-3 sessions a week of 20-30 minutes of low to moderate intensity training. That could be in the form of cross training (simply different types of exercise as mentioned in the running example above) and by using different locations or training with different people. All of which helps keep things feel fresh and interesting.
If you manage to stay active it'll make things an awful lot easier psychologically and physiologically when it comes time to up the ante again. It can feel and indeed be, a daunting mountain to climb if you let your fitness slip away too much. I hate to mention the age thing again, but inactivity will of course mean a faster and more substantial loss of fitness than when you were 20.
Don't despair though because should you keep doing some off season training I'm sure you'll find you can significantly build on the base you've laid down with all the accumulated work over both that off-season and the previous in-season, which will pay off in spades by the time the next events roll around.
5. You need a strategy for the day.
This could even include simply an intention to relax and enjoy it. Motivation isn't usually a problem at this point as all the build up, excitement and the atmosphere can mean you're pumped up and on edge, so actually controlling all that energy is often quite a challenge. You can also find yourself being virtually pulled along at a frantic pace by the swarm of other competitors. Collectively all those factors make pacing important, particularly in the early stages. You don't want to hit a wall half way through, that's definitely no fun.
Consider how you're going to monitor how hard or fast you go. Will you have specific heart rates or speeds as a guide? Perhaps you know by feel, or you may even try and stick with a designated event pacing runner. Similarly you could find an individual or group going at a compatible pace and stick with them if it seems sustainable. If you know the event includes a challenging section like a steep hill, what's your plan for that?
What about drinking- how much, of what, where & when? The same needs to be considered with food or gels. It's better to have a plan for your hydration and nutrition and then adjust it on the run (pun intended!) rather than simply going by feel and finding yourself caught short in some respect in the latter stages.
Endurance events aren't a walk in the park so treat the challenge with the respect it deserves and reap the rewards. The buzz from doing well is usually a big one. Want an effective individualised program for your next event? Find out about great value programs and training plan options here.
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