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One runner's approach to healthy masters training

This is an excerpt from Advanced Marathoning-3rd Edition by Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas.

Every December I write down my main running goals for the coming year. A quarter-century ago, the goals usually had to do with setting personal bests. Now that I'm in my mid-50s, I still have time-related goals, and I often have completion goals, such as finishing a specific trail ultramarathon. For the last several years, however, my main goal has been the same: Lose no days of running to injury. Focusing on this goal is how I get the most satisfaction out of this phase of my running life.

My physical and mental health is best supported by consistently running a decent amount; my current sweet spot is between 2,500 and 3,000 miles a year. But I don't want to just blindly run up the odometer. I want those miles to be as enjoyable as possible—I want to feel good running, and I want to feel good about my running. That's where “lose no days of running to injury” comes in. Rather than the call to obsessiveness it might sound like, it's how I can best stay healthy.

Like any good goal, this one is not just personally meaningful but quantifiable and with obvious steps to take to reach it. Losing no days to injury basically means taking care of myself—not letting myself get too worn down by running or work, eating and sleeping well, not gaining unneeded weight, and striving to maintain a body that can hold up to the amount of running I want to do.

That last point is where the goal really helps me. It means that pretty much every day I do strengthening, core stability, balance, or mobility exercises. Some I do immediately before and after running; others I do throughout the day. I still have my trouble spots, I still wish I were a little more flowing when running, and I still sometimes miss days to injury. (I don't run if I sense that I can't do so with my normal gait—running in that compromised state will both exacerbate the current issue and set me up for compensatory problems elsewhere.) But as someone who has already run more than 110,000 miles, committing to doing nonrunning exercises daily has been the key to consistent, enjoyable running in middle age.

Another practice I credit with meeting the miss-no-days goal is having lots of variety in my running. That's variety in terms of distance, intensity, terrain, and topography. Most of my weeks look a lot like a sample week from the training schedules later in this book. I regularly mix long runs, short recovery days, tempo runs, interval workouts, turnover sessions, and general aerobic runs. It's when I get away from multipace running—when I string together too many medium-length, medium-intensity days—that I start to feel flat, stiff, and achey. A bonus: When I do decide to focus on a competitive goal, the default setting of variety sets me up well for more structured training.

On the weekend I wrote this sidebar, I did a 16-miler on Saturday and runs of 5 and 4 miles on Sunday. The last one was on a dirt road alongside a snowy stream at twilight: I had to restrain myself to not go farther or faster. If doing nonrunning exercises most days means I can regularly have similar experiences into my late 50s and beyond, I'll happily take that trade-off.

—Scott Douglas

More Excerpts From Advanced Marathoning 3rd Edition