Master of the Course: Running in your 40s and Beyond

When Esther Adamson lined up on race day at the Manitoba Marathon last year she knew the pressure was on. As the 4:15 Pace Bunny for the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Full Marathon she had run this distance in less time before, but this was different. “When I met my group at the start line I knew these runners were counting on me to get them to the finish line to achieve their goal,” says Adamson, “Multitasking for four hours and fifteen minutes: to inspire, motivate, distract them from their pain, do the math of pacing and walk breaks AND run a marathon while holding up a sign!”

The stakes may have been high, but she was more than ready. Adamson is a ten year running veteran in the Masters age class, Athletics Canada’s way of denoting runners over the age of forty. She has worked hard to get where she is: planning an effective schedule of focused tempo and pace runs, including regular core and cross training and ensuring her nutrition is on point for maximum benefit. This steady process of hard work saw her finishing seventh in her age category and 75th in her gender. And that wasn’t even a PR.

Mario Fonseca, 45, finished third in his age category at the 2017 Manitoba Marathon and eleventh overall. In 2013 he ran an amazing 2:52:25 at the Thunder Bay Marathon. He is running in his prime thanks to a decrease in injuries that he credits to a steady diet of cross training year round and a structured training schedule. Consistency is the key for Fonseca, which is a common thread with many of the Masters class runners I spoke to.

As with many runners over the age of forty, Adamson and Fonseca know what they want and have a clear plan as to how to get there. In general, runners over the age of forty really need to take their training and lifestyle seriously to continue to see success. At this point Masters runners are fighting back against the beginnings of performance decline: lower VO₂ max, decreased muscle mass, as well as the accumulation of general wear and tear on the body. The good news is that runners in this category benefit from their experience. They often know their bodies better and are willing to acknowledge the ebbs and flows of performance (when to back off and rest and when they are up for a challenge) and really focus on their proficiencies. This can allow for runners to look critically at what they are doing and optimize their training plans.

Winnipeg runner Jenn Walton would echo this sentiment: “When I was younger, I could get away with ‘just running’. I’m not crazy about strength-training and foam-rolling, but doing both regularly has kept me healthy, strong and out on the roads. I didn’t start running until I was in my late 20s, and I actually train harder now than I ever did. At 45, I’m in the shape of my life.”

So how is it that Masters runners are achieving this balance at this point in their lives? Lifestyle in this era of life figures largely in this training advantage. Often people in this category have more settled lives, careers and possibly older children allowing them to focus on the routine that this level of training requires. The pairing down of less important activities in everyday life can open windows of time that didn’t previously exist (think: less running small kids to soccer games, more running hills). Adding in much needed cross training activities and muscle building workouts in these slots can provide a major advantage to race day performance.

While Masters class runners may still need to accept that body capabilities have changed since the immortal 20s, the confidence of experience and the ability to make a plan and follow through provides the chance to see successes and really appreciate the experience. That and, as Adamson points out, the extra five minutes you gain in the 40-45 category for Boston qualification doesn’t hurt either.

For a great article on running in all phases of the Masters age category with lots of training tips and info check out https://www.runnersworld.com/masters/mastering-running-as-you-age