I think the answer to keeping this an enjoyable activity for me, and for almost anyone of any age, is simple – it's variety.
So, the first half of my training year has been trash. I haven’t felt particularly smooth, or tuned in, or even enthused. There have been a few decent workouts, but the fact has been that nothing has really felt… good. Have I finally hit the age wall?
At a recent club run, one of the club members asked me how I’ve stayed so fast for so long. Now, fast is a relative term in the world of running. My “fast” certainly isn’t your “fast” or any Olympic or World Championship hopeful’s “fast.” And believe me, my 2019 “fast” certainly isn’t my 1989 “fast.”
Rather than “fast,” I think the real question might be to ask how I have stayed desirous for all these years. August marks my 41st anniversary, by the way. And in those 1990s, I was a pretty decent runner. In the 2010s, I’m still a pretty decent runner, although to use time as a point of reference isn’t really a good measure. But to do this consistently for four-plus decades takes something, I suppose. And why has my 2019 been so blocked up?
I think the answer to keeping this an enjoyable activity for me, and for almost anyone of any age, is simple – it’s variety. Runners run – it is what runners do. But how you run, and how far you run and where you run, and even when you run can make all the difference in where you end up as a runner. And whether you’re “fast” or not is really not the point.
Fast happens as a result of consistent, varied training over a period of years. The general rule of thumb is that it takes seven years for a runner to hit their peak. That’s seven years of consistent, driven training. From the first day you strap on a pair of running shoes, in seven years you can expect to peak out in an event. That’s a pretty simplistic equation but not too far from factual. Wanna PR in a 5k? Or conquer the marathon? Give it seven years.
One of my long-time running friends doesn’t run much anymore. Back in the day, he was a sub 2:20 marathoner. But over time, his 2:20s became 2:30s became 2:40s, although his training efforts were still geared at 2:20s. Eventually his aches and pains from the lack of variety became too much and he relegated himself to the sidelines. (He’s a pretty good coach, though.) Not only did the lack of variety negatively affect his racing, it also affected his ability to participate in the sport.
My 41-year running career has been consistent in its lack of consistency. In high school and college, I was all about cross country (and to a lesser extent the Steeplechase. Yeah, I was one of THOSE guys). After college, I became a marathon hawk. I averaged two a year for about eight years. Once those stopped being enjoyable, I returned to the 5k and the road racing scene. I’ll be honest, I hate 5k road races. When the 15s became 17s, I changed again and rediscovered track racing. And now, coming full circle, it’s cross country again.
It’s not that my friend didn’t race other races, but rather that he just didn’t reinvent himself enough (or want to reinvent himself). By the way, there’s nothing wrong with his approach. Unfortunately, it produced a road block around which he wouldn’t or couldn’t get.
So, to circle back to my crappy first half of 2019, a review of my running routine has shown a drastic lack of variety. And a recent 10k road race (the Buffalo Stampede) showed some surprisingly good, “fast” results. I’m not that far gone after all! It’s time to go around this road block and vary the routine. My next seven-year period awaits!
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.