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Reflecting on ten years of ultra running: Training smarter and setting new PBs in your 40s

on March 09, 2018

NEARLY 23 years after tackling my first marathon to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, I feel blessed that I still love running and have kept fairly free of injuries, writes Andrew Heyden.

I’ve been privileged to be part of the Australian 100km team for the IAU World Championships each year since 2010, but in 2017, with no scheduled 100km event, I decided to focus on some shorter distances – and to challenge my PBs – at the age of 43.

With limited time and energy due to a busy corporate job and young family, I battle with the same conundrum at the start of every year - which races to focus on. Factors I consider are: timing of my training blocks, my work calendar, my priorities. Then I decide on priority ‘A’ races that I will focus on and taper for and ‘B’ and ‘C’ races that I will just try to enjoy.

Of course, like many other non-professional runners, I would love to race every weekend, travel the country, race the big city marathons overseas and target some 5k and 10k races. Of course, I also would like to set a PB every time too! However, that’s (probably) not all possible so I have to set some priorities based on family time/work/budget and have learned (not surprisingly) that it’s hard to set 5k, 42.2k and 100k PBs in the same training block.

In 2017, I targeted the following PBs: 33 mins for 10km, 48 mins for the 14km City to Surf and 18 mins for the 5.6km JP Morgan Chase Challenge. No easy feat at 43.

I also introduced CurraNZ to my daily regime, a supplement that an elite British ultra-running friend made me aware of.

I read the research, which revealed potentially beneficial actions for runners, listened to some strong referrals from a few people and decided to give CurraNZ a try. As a serious runner, the benefits for recovery, immunity and performance were compelling and worth putting to the test.

Of course, it’s possible there was a placebo effect, but after a week on the supplement, I honestly started feeling lower levels of DOMS and could train a bit harder. I also went through a big block of winter training, busy work and family life with no flu or colds.

I’ve never had a run coach and prefer to set my own training plans and whilst I’m not an expert, years of running have given me a good sense of what my body can handle. I figured that to PB over the target races I needed to push weekly interval sessions harder, get more comfortable at 3 mins 15 secs per km and learn how to deal with the discomfort.

With a solid base of run fitness over the summer and after a few weeks of really targeted intervals sessions, I started to feel that I could push a bit harder and hold a faster pace a bit longer.

I trained well through March and April and aimed to peak for key races from May onwards.

The first target ‘A’ race of last year was the Gold Coast 10km in early July. On race day I set a new PB of 33:01. Not quite the sub 33 mins I had hoped, but pretty close. Life in the old ultra-runner’s legs after all!

I managed to squeeze in consistent 100km weeks throughout July and August and hit the next targets. In August I tackled the City to Surf and finally nailed a sub-48 min race. As an added bonus I won my age group again in a big city race, as I had done in the Gold Coast. Confidence was high and carried through into September, when I ran the NSW half marathon champs (Sydney Half) in 73:20 - my fastest half since pre-ultra days.

Then, just two weeks later, I hit a race PB of 2:38 at the Sydney marathon.

Afterwards, I took a rest, backed off the mileage but kept up some quality sessions and managed to race well again in November at the Carcoar Cup and broke 18 mins at the JP Morgan 5.6km.

It was very satisfying to have such a great year and probably no surprise to learn that specifying my training towards shorter races led to better results in those races.

After a bit of a rest over Christmas, I’m glad to say that my decent form has continued into 2018 and in my first race I placed third in the NSW State Masters 5,000m. A rare outing on the track but worthwhile, posting a sold time of 16 mins 3 secs despite the 27-degree heat.

Having used CurraNZ solidly for about nine months now, I’ve observed a definite reduction in muscle soreness after hard interval sessions and I have felt more comfortable running at faster paces, which enabled the fast 5,000m time and PBs in 2017. I also feel as though I have dodged a few colds which would be down to the boost to my immune system and has helped maintain consistent blocks of training.

On this note, another thing to mention is that for the past few years, I have had intermittent tightness and soreness in my left Achilles, but for once it hasn’t been flaring up. I wondered if the blackcurrants were helping but it’s also worth sharing that I started taking a daily teaspoon of turmeric and perhaps the combined anti-inflammatory benefits of the two products have contributed to controlling the symptoms.