Think back to when you were a kid and how you zipped around the playground, parks and black tops. You ran at full speed to get almost anywhere: getting in line at school, running to first base in a kickball game or trying to beat your two siblings to the car, so you didn’t get the horrible middle seat.
Then came junior high, and even if you played sports at this age, you probably didn’t run everywhere you went like you did when you were younger. Sure, you were still not too old to play, but the idea of sprinting at top speed seemed a bit unnecessary for every circumstance.
High school comes and now you are not on any of the school’s teams, and you have also found a way to get out of P. E. class because of a supposed bum leg, bad asthma or other ailment you were able to sell to your parents and family physician. The amount of times you ever sprint at full speed anywhere in your teens is only if you are about to miss the school bus or running out the back door of your girlfriend’s house when her parents come home unexpectedly.
Now in your late teens or early 20s you’re either in college or working. Either way, unless you signed up for some intramural sports on campus or are part of your office softball league, you once again aren’t really ever sprinting on a regular basis. Sure, you may have taken up running or going to the gym at this point of your life, but you are rarely ever going full bore, I would surmise.
The point I’m making here is after the age of 12-13 most of us aren’t regularly getting any high turnover with our legs. And as we get into our 30s, 40s, 50s and older we fall into the habit of being able to run for miles upon miles, but the idea of getting the heart rate close to its max level from time to time seems a bit daunting.
While running for 60 to 120 minutes can be challenging, I find that people I coach and know would rather do the long run than jump on a track, park path or canal and do 200 or 400 meter sprints at 90-95 percent effort. Why? Simple, it hurts to run hard and fast. But if you truly want to keep dropping your times, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or desperately trying to get one more year of bragging rights in your home that you can still beat your oldest child in a race, then speed work is what you need.
You think you’re too old to run fast? Really? The American record for men ages 70-74 in track and field sprinting events are as follows:
• 100 m - 12.77 seconds
• 200 m - 26.80 seconds
• 400 m - 61.00 seconds
These would be very respectable times for a varsity high school girl athlete and you have grandpa taking them to task. How could this be? Are these just people who are freaks of nature?
But also they probably never stopped running fast. Or if they did take a break from running, when they got back to the sport, they didn’t so much focus on heavy miles, but rather getting their turnover back.
And that’s what many of you are lacking in your training regimen — speed work and running out of your comfort zone. Yes, even you marathon and Ironman individuals would definitely see improvement in your running times if you did some honest speed work and not just tempo style running. Don’t misunderstand me, you need all of it — the long run, the tempo workouts and the speed work to become a strong and efficient runner.
Of course, as we get older we have to temper the spike of the intensity in workouts as to not injure ourselves; but I think there is still a young child in all of us who really loves to run at break-neck speed for no good reason other than it’s just invigorating to run fast.
• David Allison has been a resident of Ahwatukee since 2005. He has a personal marathon best of 2:27 and was a Division I athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the owner of Marathon Coaching Consultants and also the co-founder of Phoenix Flyers Track Club, both in Ahwatukee. Please send comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.