I am slow. What can I do?

by Ron

I am slow. What Can I Do?

I am now fifty years old and have been back in training for almost a year.

I ran regularly in my early thirties after starting a family. Suffered some tendinitis in my left foot which caused me to stop, along with some non-running issues.

Progress with my injury has been slow, but it is improving (it hurts less). I have run two 10k-races and two half marathons.

But my cadence and pace is slow!

I looked up a half marathon time from 20 years ago and I am now over an hour slower!

I know as my weight drops (currently 220) I might speed up but I think I need to improve my cadence and my pace. What do you think?

Thanks for the tips on your website. It is a cool site. I wish I had found it sooner.


Answer by Dominique:
Hi Ron,

Thanks so much for your question and kind words about the website. I'm really glad you have found it helpful! Welcome back to running and well done on your recent 10k races and half marathons. Sounds like you are back with a vengeance.

Let me see if I can help you improve your running. I have got the following thoughts:

1. Returning to running - establishing your base
2. Running with injury problems and injury prevention
3. Is it age? Is it cadence? Is it pace?

Returning to Running - Establishing Your Base

I am slow. What Can I Do?
It sounds like you have been away from running and regular exercise for the best of two decades.

After being away from running for a long time, it's important to re-establish your base. This takes time. And let's face it, at the age of fifty things don't go as easily and quickly anymore as two decades ago. These things take time.

The key thing now is to establish a consistent exercise program. It's crucial to create a routine and stick to it as much as possible.

This doesn't mean you have to run every single day, but you should aim for a consistent schedule. Running 3-4 times per week consistently would be great.

Running with Injury Problems and Injury Prevention

I am slow. What Can I Do?
One thing concerns me in your question. You stopped running because of tendinitis. Now, two decades later, you still, or again, are suffering from this injury. That's not a great situation. I'd put a priority on addressing this issue; running is so much better when you are injury-free. Get a proper doctor's diagnosis and don't just tolerate the problem, try to actively fix it. Also check out my running injury prevention page for further information.

One suggestion I have for you is to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine. This is critical, especially as we age. Strong muscles can support your joints better and decrease the risk of injuries like tendinitis. Here are some simple exercises to incorporate:

  • Squats - Strengthen your legs and core.

  • Lunges - Great for balance and building up your leg muscles.

  • Planks - Strengthen your core, which helps maintain proper running form.

  • Push-ups - Good for overall upper body strength and core.

    When you are just starting a strength training routine, you can do these as pure bodyweight exercises. Aim to do these exercises two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes per session.

    After you get more comfortable with this routine, you can start adding weights in different ways through dumbbells, kettlebells, medicin balls, etc.

    Unsure how to go about it all? Why don't you sign up with a gym and get some personal training for 5-10 weeks? As I explain on my strength training for runners page, that's how I started really getting serious about weights and strength training.

    With strength training, a little goes a long way, and you'll find that stronger muscles can make running feel easier and more efficient. And you will become more injury resilient. For us aging runners, strength training is really a non-negotiable.

    Is it age? Is it cadence? Is it pace?

    I am slow. What Can I Do?
    You said that your current half marathon is an hour slower than your half marathon of twenty years ago. Firstly, sadly, you may not get back to that same level of performance anymore. As we age, it gets harder, and at some point impossible, to achieve similar levels of performance.

    Kind of depends on how competitive that half marathon time of twenty years ago was, how much running you did then versus what you are able to do now etc, etc. All I am saying is that at this stage of life, age is going to start playing a factor.

    You did indicate that you have pounds to lose. When you get lighter, you will be lighter on your feet and you will get faster, no doubt about that. A healthy diet combined with running and strength training should be pretty much what you need to get there.

    As for cadence, a lot of nonsense has been written and said about it. Unless your cadence is extremely low, I am not convinced you need to consciously work on it. For starters, it is hard to change through drills and exercises. But also, as you run more and more, your body will find the most efficient way to move and you may see improvements in your cadence that way.

    Assuming you have been doing mostly easy / slower running so far, after a year of training, you are well placed to start introducing some speedwork to improve your pace (and your cadence as a byproduct). Here are some beginner-friendly ways to add faster running:

    At the end of one of your easy runs, do 4-6 short strides. Run fast but controlled for about 100 meters, then walk back to your starting point. This helps improve leg turnover without too much stress. Check out the running strides page for more info.

    Fartlek is Swedish for "speedplay". Originally, it started with unstructured bursts of faster running mixed with slower running, e.g. suppose you are running on city streets, you could be running a block fast, then a block slow, then a block fast, etc. You could use landmarks like lamp posts, street corners, bus stops, trees, etc.

    Of course, us A-type personalities are too structured for this random stuff... so, check out the fartlek workouts page for some well-known fartlek workouts.

    These are good ways to get started with faster running. As you progress, check out the running workouts page for further ideas on how to run fast in different ways.

    Good luck with your running, Ron! You've already taken great steps by getting back into it, and with a little perseverance and the right approach, you'll continue to improve. Keep in mind that comparing your current performance to where you were 20 years ago might not be the best measure of success. Focus on the progress you're making now and celebrate those victories. Running has its ups and downs, but the joy and benefits it brings are well worth it.
    Keep it up, and remember to enjoy the journey.

    Kind regards,

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