Getting Older and Running Quicker

by Mike Gosling

Hitting 40 affects people in different ways – some don’t want to acknowledge the milestone whilst others see it as a reason to do something outside of their comfort zone to reassure themselves that they are not missing out on ‘life’.  There is no doubt that the brain preserves itself by still ‘feeling 20’ and convincing oneself that the body can still do what that former-self managed with some ease!

I am lucky enough to work with a lot of talented young athletes, many of whom were not yet born when I was qualifying as a physiotherapist.  This probably only serves to amplify the shockwaves that reverberate around one’s head on reaching what could be described as ‘early middle age’.  Equally, I view it as an inspiration to be around and help some of tomorrow’s household sporting names today.  It really can make you feel younger and can be incredibly motivating which for someone with procrastinating tendencies is a real bonus!

When I hit the big 4-0 nearly 2 years ago, I reflected that I wanted to be as healthy as possible in order to be around for as long as possible – to see my kids grow up and enjoy an active life as much as I could.  With that in mind, I decided to aim for being fitter at 50 than I was at 40.  There are many types of measures for this kind of statement and I wasn’t too keen to get bogged down in the science, so I kept it simple; I would use my ½ marathon P.B as a marker to judge my level of fitness.

Why a ½ marathon?  Well, I would struggle to fit in enough training for a marathon and 10km isn’t quite as challenging/motivating to me personally.  I need an element of fear to keep me on track and 13.1 miles achieves this!  Not only that, but the government minimum guidelines for cardiovascular health is exercising (moderately out of breath) for 5 x 30 minutes per week -  so that box gets ticked.  And 10,000 steps a day is always going to be achieved on training days.

I did my first ½ marathon aged 39 off a little bit of training and achieved a respectable 1hr 42mins.  I died in the last 2km and saw easy areas for improvement.  I chose the New Forest ½ in Hampshire – I see this as my home race given this is where I grew up.  It’s a beautiful setting – great for mind distraction and reasonably flat albeit that most of the race is on gravel track or grass.  And more importantly – they do decent medals (always a consideration!)

The following year, aged 40 and with a bit more training but still not what I would call proper preparation, I achieved 1hr 35mins and had a real sense of physically pushing myself in a way I hadn’t felt for years.  It felt pretty good and I could see the magic 90-minute mark in the same room now – another carrot worth chasing.  It’s worth adding though that when you do the maths, this means finding another 23 seconds every mile (a daunting prospect).

Last year, I trained a bit harder and added some conditioning exercises (primarily to stop old injuries from rearing their head as the demands increased).  Training alone and without any formal advice, I still hadn’t added intervals sessions to my schedule but I managed to knock a further 2 minutes off to set a third consecutive P.B of 1hr 33mins (and 30secs). 

It was becoming clear that the training was going to have to evolve and other elements would be worth adding to bring everything together on the day for a magic sub-90 ½.  Training load, intervals, strength work, footwear, nutrition, race day prep – all would play a part in me achieving the 90-minute goal.  It certainly wasn’t going to harm my longer-range target of being fitter at 50 either. Luckily, I have plenty of resources around me and I hope to share some of those with you over the coming weeks as I edge towards my next attempt on September 9th.  I will be asking experts (running coaches/strength and conditioning coaches/sports scientists/sports nutritionist and elite athletes) to contribute by blogging on these areas to share some of their knowledge.  Hopefully it will be useful and entertaining. 

Meanwhile, I will continue to add posts on my progress plus add a few physio gems on how to manage certain common running injuries.  I hope you enjoy it.