Will I ever run fast again?

Hi! I am a woman in her early 40s. I was sporty and competitive into my teens but have only done run-of-the-mill / occasional exercise ever since (think gyms, classes etc). Recently I have joined a “bootcamp” which has really stepped things up a gear, combining a pretty challenging combo of cardio, strength, circuits etc. I’m pretty strong, but the sprints or any kind of speed completely defeats me. How do I get fast? I feel like I have the will, but my body hasn’t got a clue. Advice please! I hate always being last….

Replies

  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 40,859 Member
    Time mostly. Increased fitness capacity comes with time. But I wouldn't expect to be anywhere near where you were in your youth. I was a competitive track and field sprinter and jumper from about 3rd grade through high school and at one point in time was briefly ranked 3rd in the state in the 100M...I'm pretty fit these days, but I will never come anywhere close to that ever again at age 47.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 24,759 Member
    Hi! I am a woman in her early 40s. I was sporty and competitive into my teens but have only done run-of-the-mill / occasional exercise ever since (think gyms, classes etc). Recently I have joined a “bootcamp” which has really stepped things up a gear, combining a pretty challenging combo of cardio, strength, circuits etc. I’m pretty strong, but the sprints or any kind of speed completely defeats me. How do I get fast? I feel like I have the will, but my body hasn’t got a clue. Advice please! I hate always being last….

    Up front truth in advertising: I'm not a runner, I'm a rower (both on-water and machine). They're very different activities, but IMU have some similar physiological demands.

    You say you used to be competitive/sporty, haven't been that for a long time, recently stepped things up, are pretty strong . . . but have more trouble with sprints or speed. That suggests to me that it's really more of a patience/time issue than anything else, if you're willing to put in some work.

    Sprints and speed in particular do rely on developing cardiovascular capability. IMO, there aren't many shortcuts to that (and some of what some people will suggest as shortcuts . . . aren't).

    In my sport, and what I hear good runners in my life say also, speed and endurance are a gradual build. Getting faster involves building a foundation via longer-duration slow work, then building on that foundation - after a time - with some interval and short high-intensity work added to the mix, but still quite a bit of relatively long, low intensity work still happening as well.

    Elites use a mix of workout lengths and intensity, to get to better performance. That kind of things works for us regular duffers, too. So does following actual training plans, rather than just doing random tough workouts, if we really want to improve performance (vs. just have fun, or casually get fitter, which are also fine goals - just different than performance ones). There are lots of training plans on the web for runners. I won't try to recommend a specific one because . . . not a runner. 😉

    Some people will tell you to go fast to get faster, go all high intensity all the time, but IMO, IMU, that's simplistic and inaccurate - more of a pop-fitness concept. (I'm saying this partly based on coaching education in my sport, BTW.)

    For me, as something of an old-gal athlete (who only got started in her mid/late 40s), attention to recovery is also vital. I used to get away with physical stressors in my 20s that I need to manage better now, in order to make physical progress - I can still do some good stuff, but I'm not as resilient to overdoing. That means I need to plan in recovery, manage volume or intensity increases well, get enough sleep, get good nutrition . . . consistently, for best results. You're way younger than I am (I'm 66), so you may not find that to be quite as true, but it's a thing I've seen other folks hitting middle age mention as well. It's not so much a matter of "I can't achieve because I'm old" as "I need to work smarter to accomplish any given thing". (Yeah, the kiddos would be more successful, faster if they did that, too - but they can get away with some silly stress-load sometimes.)

    In my case, as a late starter and more of a recreational athlete in time-budget terms, I'm never going to be fast fast, i.e., fast in open-class racing terms. But even starting late, and patiently, consistently devoting moderate workout time over quite a long time, I've found it possible to be satisfyingly age-group/weight-class fast enough to be happy - way sub elite, but not super slow - as an older person.

    You have better history than I have, and are much younger. I think you've got every reason to believe you can be pretty fast, with patience, consistency, and a decent training plan.
  • emmamcgarity
    emmamcgarity Posts: 1,577 Member
    I am a runner, albeit a slow runner. Are you following a specific training plan?

    I personally recommend joining a running club if you have one in your area. The run clubs in my metro area have coaches and group workouts to help you meet those goals.

    FWIW, I’m 55 year old and joined a run club a few years ago with my PB on 5k at 39;30. Over the course of several months following a training plan to improve my 5k race time, I managed a PB of 28:35 at our 5k goal race. The training plan included homework to run easy pace miles at home 3 days per week, one day of cross training, and one weekly group workout for tempo runs or intervals. It was a great 12 week program sponsored by the run clubs in my area. Each week the mileage increased a tiny bit. By the last week, our “long run” on Saturdays was up to 7 miles.

    I’ve met several elite runners through the run club and at Parkrun. Parkrun is amazing. If you have one in your area, definitely go. You will meet walkers, casual runners, and elite runners there. And they all go for coffee together afterwards to chat. They are a very encouraging group and a great way to learn about run clubs in your area.
  • spiriteagle99
    spiriteagle99 Posts: 3,372 Member
    You can run fast, for your age, but you are not likely to run as fast as you did in your teens. We all slow down as we get older, that's why awards in races are given by age group and why races like Boston or New York Marathon have different qualification standards based on age.

    Starting over again as a runner, you can continue to improve for 5-10 years if you are consistent in your running. Gradually increase your distance and days spent running. Most of your runs should be done at an easy conversational pace. Do specific speed workouts once or twice a week to focus on speed and stamina. Just be careful to not push yourself too hard until your joints, muscles and tendons have gotten used to the impact of running. Young bodies heal a lot faster than middle aged ones.
  • sijomial
    sijomial Posts: 19,606 Member
    edited May 19
    If you were fast for your age once there's every chance you can be fast for your (current) age again.

    I was good at sprint sports as a youngster but lost a lot of speed due to serious knee injuries at age 31.
    Despite that I took great pleasure in out-sprinting a keen but rather conceited runner when fielding at cricket in my 50's - despite giving away 20 years.

    My current sport in my 60's is cycling and it's still very noticable that in comparitive terms I'm far further up the rankings in Strava short sprint segments compared to longer endurance segments despite training far more specifically for endurance (up to 100 mile rides). Endurance never was my strong point and I've had to put a hell of a lot of effort into getting reasonable at it.

    You get fast by having some natural ability and training for that goal.

    e.g. This year I've been regaining lost fitness due to illness. Initially that was mostly simply increasing volume but as I neared my fitness peak my training has got a lot more focussed and technical. A mix of endurance, hill sessions (intervals effectively), some easy recovery miles, some sprints.

  • Djproulx
    Djproulx Posts: 2,787 Member
    Hi! I am a woman in her early 40s. I was sporty and competitive into my teens but have only done run-of-the-mill / occasional exercise ever since (think gyms, classes etc). Recently I have joined a “bootcamp” which has really stepped things up a gear, combining a pretty challenging combo of cardio, strength, circuits etc. I’m pretty strong, but the sprints or any kind of speed completely defeats me. How do I get fast? I feel like I have the will, but my body hasn’t got a clue. Advice please! I hate always being last….

    I'm an aging endurance athlete of 64 yrs. If I understand your post, it seems as if you're not happy with your performance during the high intensity circuits. No worries - You're not alone :) Most of the folks in my gym who work with the trainers (as I do) really suffer and fade quickly during these workouts. Many are very strong, but they just don't have the cardio fitness to allow them to recover enough between efforts in order to attack the next one. Their heart rate remains high and they're out of breath and they need to stop/take breaks/quit early.

    In my case, I have been running/cycling/swimming for a bunch of years, so my cardio fitness is relatively high compared to those with no endurance background. (If you're a geek, look up VO2 Max as a reference point) The difference is that while I may suffer a bit, my resting heartrate is low to start and I recover relatively quickly.

    As far as pure "run speed", there are a few factors in play. I"m no expert in pure sprinting (say 60 yd dash) but I can make a few suggestions to build fitness that should translate to increased cardio endurance and being faster

    So, what can you do to improve your fitness and gain speed? 1) build your endurance first. This takes consistency and patience - Just ask anyone who has never run and then decides to train for a 5k. The key is NOT to run Fast each time, but rather run slowly (slow enough to allow you to talk while running) in order to build both cardiovascular and muscular resiliency. As you get into your second month of this, you'll probably notice that the runs get easier. (You're staying EASY in the runs). There are a bunch of training plans online that are easy to follow. The idea is to build your fitness, while minimizing the chance of injury. This is done by including regularly recurring "recovery weeks" of lesser volume. To make a contrast between points 1 and 2, in the first part described here, you are raising your aerobic floor. Next, you could begin working on your aerobic ceiling.

    2) After you have built a solid base of run endurance (say 6 months or more) you could consider adding in a bit of "speed work". The idea here is to continue to perform your low intensity runs (look up Heart Rate Zone training, Low Intensity is aka Zone 2 training) . Then, while continuing to perform 80% of your run training as low intensity, you could add one session per week of higher intensity work, aka Speed Work. Lots of different options here, too.

    One very simple approach is to do fartlek runs. For example, if you were going to run 2 miles, you might start out easy, then decide that upon reaching the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th streetlight (or any landmark) you would run faster until you hit the next light . Another example is to run around a track, doing the even numbered laps at a faster pace, then recovering (via jogging or walking) during the odd numbered laps. The idea is to run at a pace that is more taxing on your aerobic system (A geek might look up "Lactic Threshold" or "Threshold Pace").

    Ok, enough yammering from me. There are lots of other ways to build cardio fitness besides running, but this approach definitely helps with developing run speed over time. Hope it helps.


  • GrizzledSquirrel
    GrizzledSquirrel Posts: 120 Member
    @cwolfman13 @AnnPT77 @emmamcgarity @spiriteagle99 @sijomial @Djproulx - thank you so much for the time you have taken to write such kind and considered answers. I am grateful and encouraged. I am even more grateful that your broad messages are all very similar - i.e. stick at the overall fitness and maybe build in some specific work once the foundation is back.

    Particularly good advice about recovery too…it’s something I never took very seriously- but 100% makes sense.

    I guess I don’t have to work on my speed so much as my patience! 😊

    And hey - while I’m here: congratulations on your own fitness achievements, particularly those who took up the mantle later in life. You’re an inspiration.

    Have a great day.
  • pridesabtch
    pridesabtch Posts: 1,565 Member
    I was never particularly sporty or fast in my youth, but hit some major milestones in my early 40's. I'm still not a sprinter though I have a nice finishing kick. After my Achilles repair I decided I wanted to try running again. I ran in high school, but poorly due to poor nutrition.

    At 40, I went from a 10-12 minute miler for a 5K to a 7:35min/mile in about 2 years. I had cardio fitness from biking, but it didn't translate over to running. The only way I got better at running was to run.

    As the others said it was the long slow runs that got me there. I ran for about a year and got down to a 9:00m/m just running 2-3 miles at a time. It wasn't until I started training for a half that my 5K times dropped. My temp runs for the half were around 9:00min/mile and my easy long runs were in the 10+m/m. I did work with a coach and he had me do speed work once a week with either fartleks (as described above) or track workouts 200 - 400m sprints.

    A large part of my time improvement was also weight loss. I was about 30 pounds heavier when I was doing the 9:00's than I was at the 7:35. Dropping the weight through diet and exercise was key for me. I just had to buckle down and do what my coach told me.

    Training plans and schedules helped me stay focused and not overdo it as I am prone to do. Before using training plans I thought I had to always run full out and be dead at the end. Hubby tried to tell me that slow runs were good runs, but I was stubborn and it took a coach telling me the same thing to actually get me to do it. Once I did, running became more enjoyable and I saw progress.

    To slightly contradict myself, I did finish every run with about a 100m kick, just to show myself I had more to give and to prepare me for racing the finish.
  • _Hannahlouise_
    _Hannahlouise_ Posts: 15 Member
    I do a little running and have found that building my strength and stamina has helped me with a faster pace, albeit not hugely fast.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 24,759 Member
    I was never particularly sporty or fast in my youth, but hit some major milestones in my early 40's. I'm still not a sprinter though I have a nice finishing kick. After my Achilles repair I decided I wanted to try running again. I ran in high school, but poorly due to poor nutrition.

    At 40, I went from a 10-12 minute miler for a 5K to a 7:35min/mile in about 2 years. I had cardio fitness from biking, but it didn't translate over to running. The only way I got better at running was to run.

    As the others said it was the long slow runs that got me there. I ran for about a year and got down to a 9:00m/m just running 2-3 miles at a time. It wasn't until I started training for a half that my 5K times dropped. My temp runs for the half were around 9:00min/mile and my easy long runs were in the 10+m/m. I did work with a coach and he had me do speed work once a week with either fartleks (as described above) or track workouts 200 - 400m sprints.

    A large part of my time improvement was also weight loss. I was about 30 pounds heavier when I was doing the 9:00's than I was at the 7:35. Dropping the weight through diet and exercise was key for me.

    If someone needs to lose weight, and can bear to lose it slowly, while continuing to challenge their muscles, get good nutrition, and therefore keep the existing muscle . . . that's almost a superpower, IMO, IME - maybe especially for a leg sport.

    Since overweight people will tend to have more muscle mass than a normal weight person of similar activity level (just from moving body mass through the world for years), those bigger muscles can deliver some nice performance at a lighter weight, if we hang onto them.
    I just had to buckle down and do what my coach told me.

    Training plans and schedules helped me stay focused and not overdo it as I am prone to do. Before using training plans I thought I had to always run full out and be dead at the end. Hubby tried to tell me that slow runs were good runs, but I was stubborn and it took a coach telling me the same thing to actually get me to do it. Once I did, running became more enjoyable and I saw progress.

    To slightly contradict myself, I did finish every run with about a 100m kick, just to show myself I had more to give and to prepare me for racing the finish.

    Good post1
  • pridesabtch
    pridesabtch Posts: 1,565 Member
    Most of my weight loss was during the first year, but I was able to lose the last 7 pounds while training for endurance events. Mind you I was working with a coach/nutritionist and very regimented, and it was to attain a certain goal, State time trial. My 1/2 training was just cross training for the biking. My level of activity and the strict diet were not maintainable for the long haul, but served a purpose.

    I purposefully gained back about 10 -15 pounds still at a healthy BMI at 115-120lb and maintained that for about 5 years until getting sick. Now I’m back starting again with a different type of goal. More of a long term less strict kind of thing. I’ll get back to running soon, but the bike has always been my love.

    Good luck and be kind to yourself.
  • bulletproofkasper
    bulletproofkasper Posts: 126 Member
    Are you following a training plan specific to running? Doing regular speed sessions is the way to go for getting faster and then longer more steady sessions for getting fitter and being able to run longer etc
  • meb2490
    meb2490 Posts: 145 Member
    I'm 61 years old and much slower than I once was. Ten years or so ago I took an outdoor bootcamp class at a local park. At the time I was the oldest one there. The trainer put us on teams and we had to do lots of sprints. I came in last every single time. I felt completely defeated and never returned.
    Then a few years ago I was taking a bootcamp class at LA Fitness on Sundays. It was a crowded class that was hard. For the warm up the instructor had us run laps while she described the circuits to us. Every single Sunday there were women and men who could never finish the laps except for me! Of course they all came out running as if they were running for their lives. Me? I just kept up a nice consistent pace the whole time. I did not want to stop and I didn't. That class made me feel so good and it made me realize that I didn't have to be the fastest.