Get ready for the Master Swimrunners……hey that’s us PJ!….oh No! I forgot you are already a Senior Swimrunner...respect Sir Dude!
We are losing speed, muscle mass and recover slower than the young generation….speaking for myself now “I am one of those old farts in lycra desperately trying to prove to himself that he can still beat the young boys”. Mmmmmh there is actually some truth in it I must admit.
Having said that: “What’s wrong with that?” Yes, I am getting older but also more experienced and smarter (by making so many mistakes along the way!….). Being 44 years old thankfully the sport of swimrunning is very forgiving in the sense that it’s not ALL about raw speed and strength but also about planning, training strategy, race tactics, technique, nutrition, staying injury free, mental strength and last but not least your “better half” (i.e. partner).
In other words it’s NOT the average age of a team that dictates a podium spot but more likely a team that manages to find the right balance between a whole lot of things where, surprise! surprise! Experience does make a big difference in my view. If I only knew what I know now I would have won a lot more races when I was young (and clueless). I should have listened to Socrates’s famous words: “the only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing”.
Anyway, the only wisdom I can share with you today is that in order to slow down a gradual decrease in performance with age is to understand what it is that makes you slower and actively do something about it. At least, that’s my philosophy and it seems to work (to a certain degree). In the next few lines I will make an attempt to breakdown what I DO NOT focus on so much (as an old fart) and what I DO focus on. First of all, many years of practicing endurance sport has made Master Swimrunner bodies an (aerobic) cardiovascular power house. This means that so many kilometers and hours of running and swimming at relatively low intensity have resulted in a pretty good base condition.
Just to illustrate this, even if I get sick or injured for say three months it does not take me the same amount of time to get back in shape. It feels like the body over the years has developed some kind of memory to know to what level to get back to. Having said that, I do find it hard to further improve from that point onwards…..but I think that’s the same feeling for everybody…..independent of age! The first conclusion to draw from this is that Master Swimrunners unlike their younger peers should NOT primarily focus on doing lots of slow kilometers but focus more on mixing intensity into their swim and run work outs. The other side effect of doing primarily slow and long stuff is that you don’t develop your fast twitch (anaerobic) muscle fibers which you will need on race day. Therefore do interval and fartlek work outs every now and then as it will really improve your speed endurance. As far as losing muscle mass and associated core strength is concerned…you can counteract this effectively by regularly going to the gym and strengthen those muscle groups that often reach that critical (burning) fatigue level during tough trail sections. Don’t just build dumb muscle mass that will make you heavy….by bench-pressing 150kg! but build functional muscle mass. Remember that trail running is mainly an ongoing battle against muscle fatigue so now that you know you can strengthen those muscles effectively in the gym, do cross-training exercises, non-impact drills in the pool, uphill and downhill run repeats.
The other thing I have come to realise is that I basically have to be able to do the same amount of work but at a far lower average heart rate. Looking at the average heartrate of some of these top (but younger) trail runners I am really astounded that they can maintain such a high heartrate for such a long time. In fact to put it into context their average heartrate is often my maximum heart rate in a race! Having said all that there are numerous cases where older trail runners are only just a few minutes behind these top guys. Why is that? A lot of it (in my view) has to do with technique and form which comes with hours of exposure and corrective self-reflection. In other words experience and technique are the basis of being energy efficient and therefore being competitive in swimrunning.
Since more experienced swimrunners have had more exposure to running and swimming than their younger peers they should have a better developed technique than somebody who has only just started. So in comparison you should also spend a bit less time than a younger (less experienced) person on developing your technique and form. Instead you should focus on fine tuning it in areas where there is still room for improvement in combination with strength training and intensity work-outs. Now the mental factor…..since you have done more races and your body has gone through more suffering compared to your younger peers you should be mentally stronger and better prepared. In fact you can and should trust your gut feeling a lot more than somebody who has only done a couple of races. The potential gains of the mental side is huge in this sport especially with respect to pacing, race tactics, planning, nutrition and staying healthy. These are typical things that come with experience and learning through trial and error. Having this (often subconscious) knowledge and know-how is an enormous resource that is often neglected and ignored by Master swimrunners mostly because it’s so difficult to engage with it and quantify it.
Recovery is one of the things that hit me hard now that I am older. Especially after a tough race it takes me a lot longer to recover than say ten years ago. The same counts for intense workouts. I simply cannot put too many tough workouts in a short period of time as I don’t recover fast enough. I had to take a completely different approach towards planning my training sessions, tapering and overall race planning. In other words I am getting older so I need more rest! My workouts tend to be high quality but then also followed by high quality rest. You need to figure out for yourself what works best for you but face the fact that you need more rest and that perhaps squeezing too many intense workouts in a week is no longer going to work….perhaps you need to work in longer, say 9 day cycles. It’s just a thought.
Finally “your better half”…..when you are a Master swimrunner you and your partner should know better than anybody else what is important in making it to the finish together. It’s not the fact that he or she is a better swimmer or runner but more the fact that you depend on each other in many different ways none of which have something to do with swimming or running. Guess what, it’s the fundamental ingredients of a true relationship where love, respect, patience, caring, understanding and honesty form the cornerstone of success. If those elements are present then your combined strength in swimming and running will come out one way or the other! Time is on your side…..
Team: Say No! to Doping
Partner: Jasmina Glad-Schreven
Me: Thomas Schreven
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