5 KEY POINTS FOR MANAGING THE MASTERS RUNNER
#1 Know the statistics – and beat them.
Masters athletes in endurance sports are the highest growing demographic. Over 50% of athletes in the Boston, New York and Chicago marathons are over the age of 40. Performance in these age groups is also leading the way and more records have been set by Master’s athletes than their younger cohorts in the last couple of years.
Lower body injuries are extremely common in runners of all ages but especially the Master’s runner. In a study of Master’s athletes, 89% of persons over 50 reported injuries and 63% of them were overuse in nature (think tendon issues like Achilles pain or patellofemoral pain) (2). Age is associated with decreased joint mobility and decreased overall body strength. That can lead to changes in how a person runs, which can then translate into an injury. Injury is the number one reason why the Masters athlete stops running.
Running has been proven again and again to NOT cause knee OA. The biggest risk for knee OA is a previous injury to the knee. Now if the knee injury was caused by running well then that can be the link. But it’s indirect.
#2 You Probably Need To Get Stronger
Many Masters runners don’t want to strength train. They are worried that sore muscles will affect their run the next day. Gaining mass, even if it’s lean muscle mass, is also seen as a negative to Masters endurance athletes. This can be the hardest thing to change in the runner’s mentality.
But many of the changes, if not all, we see in Masters runners can be improved through a proper strength training program. Increasing power can effect stride length. Strengthening the hips can prevent the knee from caving in.
The amount of cardio performed by these athletes will blunt the ability for the body to put a ton of muscle mass on and aging slows hypertrophy or the ability to put on lean body mass. Many of the adaptations we see in strength of the Masters athletes are neurological, meaning that the connection of the nerve to the muscle is stronger so it contracts harder. This allows you to put more force into the ground as you run, which would translate into increased power and speed. I don’t see the downside.
#3 Cross Training is a Pivotal Aspect of Running Longevity
With most of the injuries in runners being overuse or repetitive, training different movement patterns can give some of the tissues you use a break and still translate into increases in performance. Swimming, water running, cycling are all great aerobic options to add into your training to ensure your body stays a healthy, aerobic engine.
Related: The Healing Power Of Cross Training. 10 Top Ideas
#4 Rehab/Prehab Aches & Pains
Overuse injuries are common in runners of any age with Achilles tendinopathy (hamstring strains and shin splints being the injuries I see in my clinic). These injuries can really start to nag at you and prevent you from reaching your training goals.
Some “treatment options I typically use are laterally wedged orthotics (for medial knee OA), gait retraining, shoe changes (minimalist shoes actually can be useful here), hip adduction and abductor strengthening, and mobility” (Chris Sweeting MSc, DCh, Personal correspondence).
#5 Lower Training Volume To Ensure Pain Free Gait Cycle and Running Mechanics
Maintaining a high training volume and overload the tissues in your lower body without sufficient recovery leads to breakdown. If all the other attempts to reduce pain have failed, then I’ll suggest lowering the impact or loading on your tissues.
A very small percentage of runners will need to stop running all together. Surgical candidates or advanced knee osteoarthritis will make up that small percentage, just because it hurts too much to continue running. If the pain from running is interfering with your everyday life, and all of the preventative measures have not translated to less pain running, then you might just need to look at other options.
Source and References: Original article by Christina Nowak.
Image sources: tableatny (starting line), Pixabay.