Years ago I coined the term “adult-onset athletes.” I wanted to describe runners who had never participated in sports in school and who had probably never learned to respect the wisdom of seasons. These runners would not have benefited from coaching that taught the importance of phasing in the separate periods of: 1) conditioning; 2) competing; 3) peaking for championship performances; 4) and then taking at least a couple of weeks of active rest to recover.
I love the term, adult-onset athletes. LOVE IT…. It describes many of the clients who suddenly decide to be an athlete, become active and tackle a goal…. All of which are good, but many do it randomly, without direction. This could and should be an entirely different blog post, but explains why so many are lured into the media revolution and the psuedo-training gyms that are popping up all over the place. Basically put, these adults don't know how to train, about recovery, and that pursuing the burn, the fatigue, the pain isn't good for you.
Unfortunately for adult-onset runners, the sport of road running has developed into an endless, year-round competitive season. As a result, these runners may never learn the need for recovery from the mental, emotional, and physical stress of the constant racing month after month. To illustrate, here's the development pattern of the typical adult-onset runner.
Well said! And the scenario begins:
Laura wakes up after her 30th birthday party, looks into the mirror and exclaims, “My God. Who is that hung-over chubette staring back at me?” Slowly, a wave of maturity washes away the delusions and allows her to admit to the reality in the mirror caused by her Good Times lifestyle. “A-ha!” she says. “It's time to grow up, get in shape, and lose some weight.”
Wisely, Laura selects a simple plan of walking a mile a day and cutting back on the calories and cocktails. Soon she stretches the walk to 45 minutes a day. After a couple of months, five or six pounds are missing and Laura feels great. But now her weight stabilizes and she can't seem to walk fast enough to feel as satisfyingly tired as she did when she first started heading out the door each morning. Laura decides to try some jogging. But, sure enough, after a few minutes, she is seriously huffing and puffing and realizes she can't maintain this effort for the whole workout. So she slows down to a walk, and as soon as she catches her breath, tries jogging again. Without realizing it, she is doing a natural form of fartlek training that soon conditions her to go the whole “workout” without walking. Several months later, leaner and fitter, Laura has built up a nice endurance base from her aerobic activities.
So, to speed up the story, Laura goes through the whole walk-jog-run cycle, developing her stamina and then her speed. At the suggestion of a friend, she decides to try a 10K race. Next thing we know, Laura finds some hidden athletic talent and is soon winning some hardware. Now she's hooked on the sport, loves her new athletic self-image and is going to two or three races every month, year-round.
About four or five years later, (it took that long?) as I have witnessed time after time, the PRs stop coming. Laura now overtrains as she pushes harder and harder in her workouts. The constant, year-round training/racing catches up with her. The inevitable crash is a stress fracture of her tibia that requires a “Mother Nature's Recovery Period.” No running for six weeks! Her reaction? A classical emotional and psychological response: depression so deep that she isolates herself from her running friends. She won't listen when they suggest cross-training in the pool or on a bike because she's so mad at them for running off and leaving her behind.
There are several issues described here. Overtraining. Another blog post coming. Injury and Rehab. See the pattern? Self-diagnosis and care. Depression. And more self-diagnosis and care. I cannot begin to count the number of individuals I have encountered that see rest and recovery as a weakness, and then are utterly shocked at an injury. And of course, they know best in terms of recovery and rehab.
The problem goes back to the fact that the adult-onset athlete has never learned to train. They like buzz-words like cross-training– which can mean just about anything from strength, speed work, flexibility, or doing an activity other than running. All of which are essential for being better at running.
Following her time off , Laura is now close to completely de-conditioned. Unfortunately, we also see this coming out of rehab. The tendency is is to isolate the athlete from his/her teammates, and have these individuals in the training room. The overall result is the depressions that Laura is experiencing. If Laura had been doing more than running in her training to begin with, the biking, swimmingor deep water running could have included her running friends. granted her activities would be restricted, but there is no reason for total isolation…..and yet, it happens. Whether it is self-imposed or by the therapist, the isolation does occur. Unfortunately because the original development of her fitness level had gone, unconsciously and without interruption, from below lousy to peak performance, Laura doesn't realize the need to duplicate that same pattern, albeit this time for just six to eight weeks. So, after just a couple of weeks of easy jogging to get her mileage back up, she feels great and decides to return to the track workouts with her old training partners. Laura's surprised by how quickly she catches up with them and, of course, feels she's ready to race again. Big mistake! She soon finds that both her training and racing times are puzzlingly inconsistent. One day she feels super and runs well. Next workout or race, she bombs out. This continues until another crash interrupts the pattern.
Why? Because Laura never truly rebuilt her aerobic base. take that a step further and state her training base, not just the aerobic base. She has been idle for a period of time, has not developed strength, and returned to training, pushing to get back where she was. Immediately after getting the OK to resume training, she should have done an endurance phase of Long Slow Distance running. (LONG SLOW DISTANCE?!?! REALLY!?!) The effort would have had the same benefits as those of her first several months of easy walk/jogs of five or six years earlier. This new, solid foundation of aerobic fitness would have allowed her to climb back up the training triangle and perform consistently again. Ok. I agree…. Walking, mixed in with running. But what I have witnessed when one says JOG, the result looks downright painful. In my world it is slogging– the thing that hurts to do, is painful to watch and accomplishes nothing. Many of our injuries are the result of repetition, lack of proper form, compounded by poorly chosen shoes. My philosophy: NO SLOGGING! Go out and run hard and fast. As your fitness improves, your times improve. If you are tired, WALK! Ad then repeat. I know….it sounds more glorious to say I didn't walk, but what if the slow running is causing that injury? The repetitive poor movement pattern is injuring you, and making you slow. Yes, I know….. Another blog post. I am not saying a foundation run is wrong — but watch the runners we model after and the foundation run is at a tempo. Build your base– 3 mile run? Run 5 minutes, walk 5….. And make the run, a run. And develop the foundational strength to support that run. Yup, another blog post.
As many veteran runners realize, this doesn't happen just to adult-onset athletes. Time after time, I see examples of serious runners who don't appreciate the ravages of the endless season. Many are often like the subject of last month's column who didn't understand the day to day recovery benefits of LSD. They also don't appreciate the wisdom of seasons, and why, with a nice layoff for active rest, they can avoid the injuries and illnesses from burnout.
In every case, whether the recovery period is planned by the runner or imposed by Mother Nature, a nice wide mileage base must be rebuilt by LSD training. The bigger the miles, the better.
Roy Benson, MPE in Exercise Physiology, has been a distance running coach for 44 years.