Injury free running in my 60s...

When Covid-19 lockdowns shut down the world in 2020 like many people I looked around for a form of exercise and training that I could carry on despite most organised sport being shut down. And so it was that as a then 59 year old man, just about to retire from the work force, I pulled on some running shoes and headed out the front door with very little idea what I was doing. Over the next year and a half I enjoyed myself immensely running through streets and trails; but after all of this time (and a series of Covid-19 lockdowns!) I decided that it was time to regroup and rebuild my running efforts. For I had encountered a series of injuries directly related to my running, injuries that took some of the joy away from my running.

This page describes how I went about this process of change, in part so I can get the process completely clear in my own head, and in part so that perhaps others can profit by my work and hopefully avoid at least some of my many, many mistakes. Let me know, using the email link at the base of this page, if I have succeeded in any of these goals...

Hmmmm.. that hurts...

There is a strong sense of denial amongst runners when confronted with an injury that directly relates to running and I confess to having had the same issue. For this page I put together the following catalogue of injuries, injuries that I have experienced while running over the last 18 months. Seeing it in print like this was a bit confronting but also a great way to get over some of the 'runner's denial':

It is a list of injuries that have all interrupted my running progress and at times also interrupted my life in general: at times these injuries have had me limping instead of walking. And so after 18 months of damaging myself I made a conscious decision to implement some changes so that I could run safely, with enjoyment, for the next few decades. It took too long to come to that but I believe some runners never even reach this moment.

Becoming Stronger...

At the heart of my injuries is the loss of muscle and strength that can occur with age, muscle loss particularly in legs and glutes but also more widely. However while some of this is age related some is related to changing lifestyle and this factor is amenable to intervention and improvement. So I decided to become stronger for running by utilising three tools that I already some experience with, the tools of Yoga, weight training and swimming.

Yoga...

When considering the use of Yoga to become a better, stronger and safer runner I had one huge advantage: as well as having been a Yogi for some time I had also trained for some years to become a Yoga teacher in the Satyananda tradition. This is knowledge and skill I could have used before I gained all of these injuries but better late than never. The denial that there is a problem can cast a veil over the eyes of any of us.

I have an existing strong personal Yoga Sadhana so all that was required was a little tweaking to that practice. In particular the following asanas were emphasised to strengthen my weaknesses in feet, legs, hips and lower back:

Of course a strong, comprehensive Yoga Sadhana offers much more to runners, and much more to your life in general, than these highlighted asanas. But that goes a little away from the purpose of this page, Gentle Reader, perhaps larger issues of Yoga might be addressed in a future page...

Weight Training...

I first experimented with weights when I was was living with my grandparents in the final years of high school. My uncle had a decent pair of dumbbells stored in the garage as well as a couple of weight training books and I taught myself a few routines from this. I intermittently used weights over the next few decades but I now have a regular routine that has a specific objects of avoiding both swimming and running injuries, as well as enhancing performnce in both activities. For running I focus on the following:

These are a part of a full body workout that I undertake three times a week. As a sidenote: when I was a working man I worked with a young lady who had Australian records in powerlifting and she quite rightly said that everybody should do weights. Indeed every older person should definitely use weights to directly avoid some of the less desirable effects of becoming older: frailty, loss of balance, loss of vitality and disease.

Swimming...

I have been swimming for some time now although a little slower currently than in my 'glory days' when I swam in a squad with a bunch of hungry triathletes! If you are at all interested, Gentle Reader, the details can be found here... Swimming and running have been a sort of a Yin and Yang of my training and swimming has always come to the front when I have a running injury.

Specifically for working at avoiding running injuries, and for building strength specific for running, I have implemented the following in my swimming:

I cannot emphasis enough the synergistic effects of swimming with running. Swimming builds a huge cardiovascular reservoir for runners to tap into as well as strengthening the body all over in a manner that will benefit runners. Sadly enough the pools have been closed for a while now in my part of the world due to Covid-19 lockdowns but this will come to an end eventually and then I will return to the water. Sometimes in my dreams I am tumble turning; I miss the water a lot...

Running Changes...

Along with the creation of a specific strength routine aimed at making me an injury free runner I also reorganized my actual running program. The most important thing that I had to put in check, Gentle Reader, was my own ego. The ego is the thing that was driving me on to longer distances and faster times at the expense of my physical health. And well before I had the capacity for such distances and times; I realise that I am not alone with this.

The first most fundamental change that I made with my actual running was to limit my running to three non-consecutive days per week. This has the double effect of giving me a mandatory rest day between each run, along with a three day rest from running once per week; thus also decreasing my overall distance for each week. These 3 runs are all carefully structured and each run has a specific purpose:

  1. Speed work: All speed work is now done on a flat, grassed oval and is never undertaken at more than 80% of maximal effort and more usually much less than this. The combination of speed work and hills has been bad for me in terms of injury in the past and the move to an oval for these sessions has been a game changer. I now have 3 workouts that I rotate week by week, each session is about 10 km:
    • Progression Run: The progression run has a 2.5 km warmup followed by 6 km of progression divided into 3 x 2 km segments. Cool down is 2.5 km. The progression run is on my flat, grassed oval and the final 2 km is meant to push up on about 80% effort. This has the bonus of training me not to run like a crazy man at the outset! And of course have something left in the tank for a strong finish...
    • Tempo Run: This run has a 2.5 km warmup followed by a tempo run that at the moment is at 5:40 /km for 5 km. Enough of a pace to leave me feeling like I have worked hard but not so much that I am exhausted. Cool down is a 2.5 km easy run. When ParkRun reappears it will fit into this space.
    • Interval Run: Of the 3 'speed' workouts this is the most tiring. 2.5 km warmup (I confess Gentle Reader that is the run from my home to the oval itself) followed by 5 x 1 km intervals, each separated by 2 minutes easy jog. I have been running the 1 km intervals at just above 5:00 /km so for me this is quite a resonable test. Cool down is a 2.5 km easy run, which takes me home.
    Hill repeats have been eliminated from this lineup, although I love doing them. They tend to exacerbate many of my old injuries particularly my Left Upper Hamstring Tendinitis. I would like to add hill repeats back in perhaps next year...
  2. Easy Run: An old problem that I have had is that my 'easy' runs have very rarely been 'easy'! They certainly start that way but that does not last long. Drawing from the example of some of my ParkRun friends I now do my easy runs aiming for a heart rate of 130-150 bpm or Zone 2 for me. I invested in a very nice Garmin HRM-Pro specifically for this purpose and it has been working out very, very well. Distance is usually about 10 km and the run is on either street or trail or more usually a combination of the two.
  3. Long Run: I once followed a Garmin Coaching Plan for a 10 km run with Jeff Galloway and it was there that I met his Run Walk Run strategy. I have returned to this strategy and to my GymBoss specifically to avoid injury on long runs and this strategy has been very successful. I have 2 long run routes that I swap each week and I run between 15-20 km with a shorter run / longer run rotation from week to week. So perhaps 15 km one week and then 18-20 km the next week.

So that is my pretty solid plan for 3 runs per week with enough flexibility built in so that I should be able to follow it through to the beginning of 2022. And then, Gentle Reader, it will be time to sit down again and re-evaluate the entire running strategy, strength work and all. And of course to evaluate my overall goal of running stronger in my 60s with no injuries! My aim is to document this review on these pages so look out for this review in the Australian Autumn of 2022...