The Ageing Runner – Part 5 The Facts

If you missed part 1 you can find it here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here.

There’s no doubt that some decline occurs as we age but, in the past, it was thought to be purely a genetic thing. To still be racing well beyond fifty, if not forty, was something only those who were blessed and lucky could do. This myth has lasted well into the 21st century and is only beginning to be broken down in recent years. Often it’s used as an excuse or rationalisation by runners who either don’t know how to train, can’t be bothered to train or simply fear not being up the front.

The reality is decline, as experienced in the past, was more often a circumstantial thing. The people who went running usually competed for clubs. They started when they were young, had a high level of commitment and/or natural talent and continued on for some years. As their lives took on family responsibilities, they often found themselves racing slower and beginning to turn to the longer distance events.

Even twenty years ago training knowledge was less sophisticated. Plans, advice and methods were simpler than today’s but also often consisted of runners exhorting each other to “run hard” and “train hard” if they wanted to be fast. That’s a surefire recipe to having creaky knees and injuries.

Players of other sports went through the same process and once reaching their forties, some genetic loss began to kick in and once-committed sportsmen (and women) would hang up their football boots or running vests for a quieter life.  As I grew up men and women in their fifties and sixties rarely looked as fit and healthy as many do today. Some of it is better preening but, there is often, also a better focus on staying fit through alternative means like cycling or going to the gym. Playing something like golf may keep you active but it won’t keep you fit because of the Primary Rule.

Primary Rule – Use it or lose it

The primary rule for the Aged Runner to remember is if you stop using it, you lose it. This is fundamentally the issue that causes most people to age poorly, put on weight, lose strength and stiffen up. They stop exercising as regularly or intensely as they once did. A sport like golf does little to push the muscles to their limitations, most of the time is spent walking which is easily achieved without too much extra exertion. Walking miles every day isn’t going to help you when your body is already efficient at it.

The more muscle your body has, the higher the “running costs” of living. Your body burns more calories simply by needing to keep that muscle alive. An athlete burns more calories sat on the sofa watching TV than the habitual couch potato who hasn’t toned their muscles up.

Many of the aches and pains older people suffer from are because the few muscles they do have are straining to do the simple tasks. A regime of getting stronger quickly gets rid of many minor aches and pains.

Your ageing body tempts you to stop doing difficult things and if you stop doing them, you decline quicker. Then it becomes a downward spiral as your body tempts you to do even less. You either “use it or lose it”.

Fit, healthy and running strong at fifty

Distance runners suffer a loss of top end speed because they rarely practice sprints or fast finishes. This is true of both young and old runners but becomes more noticeable with ageing. To access the faster speeds requires a dedicated programme of strides, hill sprints and short intervals to recruit and build the muscle. The occasional session is not enough to build up, it takes weeks of building session on session to maximise the gains.

Running is an activity which is very good at propelling the body forwards. While this keeps the lower body toned, what it doesn’t do is very much for the upper body (e.g. chest / shoulders / arms) unless you are a sprinter. The core muscles are worked if you have good running form. But with running being a straight ahead activity there’s also potential loss of strength for lateral movements (e.g. the types of movements that tennis, badminton or football players use regularly to sidestep or go left and right). These are all areas which will fall prey to the “use it or lose it” rule.

If your only sport is running, it is advisable to take up circuit, weight training or cross train to keep these other muscles active.

Secondary Rule – Recovery takes longer

The second rule for the Aged Runner is to understand that recovery takes longer.  When you are young and full of hormones, you can train hard at least three times per week and recover from it. Sometimes more.

In middle and older age, you have to be sure the body has recovered enough before taking on the next workout. You’ll know you’re not getting enough recovery if you start feeling tired or getting aches or tightness setting in. The consequence of slower recovery is older runners cannot do as many workouts in a three month training period as younger ones. So the older runners have less speed or endurance when it comes to race day.

Another consequence of slower recovery is that injuries take longer to repair. If forced to take a break it can mean the athlete is no longer “using it” so potentially they are “losing it”. Once healthy, the temptation becomes to cram in training to try and rebuild quickly which is more likely to prolong the injury cycle. With a spiralling level of fitness, it’s easy to believe it’s purely an age-dictated decline rather than one which is in large part caused by impatience and bad habits.

Staying fast

Some decline is inevitable but it will be very gradual if you maintain good training habits. We saw in the Ageing Sprinter, there are men like Steve Peters or Charles Allie who at seventy years old are capable of running times that runners half their age do not achieve. The basis of all running events is strength which produces high cadences and long stride length which combine to produce high speeds. The people who are fastest over the shortest distances tend to be the fastest over longer distances.

  • Good training becomes about ensuring you do regular bouts of high intensity work like strides, hill sprints or short intervals to keep the fast-twitch muscle recruited. Having this muscle toned and active will also keep the fat off.
  • Ageing requires you to be patient and listen to your body, to understand how long it takes to recover. It is better to do one or two key workouts each week from a well-rested state than to do them badly in an under-recovered state.

You can’t be in denial about ageing taking some toll but, equally, simply throwing up your hands and accepting a big decline as inevitable is a mistake. Other people will be all too quick to tell you it’s age and encourage you to accept it but hopefully you now know better. If you’re to continue being fit, healthy and fast into older age, you have to find a realistic, common sense position somewhere between these extremes.

For the runners who’ve been to the pinnacle of the sport, of course the only direction is down. But for many runners who never achieved their potential at a younger age there is no reason to discount the possibility of improving as they get older. Even if they don’t improve, any decline can be minimised to allow them to keep running well into their seventies and beyond.

The Ageing Runner – Part 4 Long distance

If you missed part 1 you can find it here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here.

When we started Poole parkrun the attendance was well below two hundred runners each week which made it easy to get to know everybody. As the London Marathon rolled around in the April, I was excited to follow runners like Liz Yelling, who was aiming at an Olympic place, and Steve Way, who’d run three consecutive 2hr19s. But it wasn’t just the elites who caught my interest, I’d got to know runners of all abilities and using the online tracking kept an eye on a variety of people who’d be running from over four hours through to those attempting to run sub-3.

One of the success stories was Dave Cartwright, who ran a sub-2hr55 marathon on his way to being the fastest man in the 60-64 age group that day. Footage of him crossing the finish line was doubly amusing as he was shown on BBC TV patting model Nell McAndrew on the shoulder who, despite being over twenty years younger, had finished only just ahead of him. Now in his seventies, Dave is still running round Poole parkrun in under twenty-two minutes and completing Blackmore Vale half marathon in under 1hr40. These times are fantastic to most people and yet, they’re not close to the times of the best in his age group as we shall see.

Recently two V55s, Andrew Ridley and Duncan Cooper came 8th and 9th in a field of over seven hundred runners. Their times were 16:27 and 16:35 respectively. Andrew’s age-graded time equates to 95% but his efforts also give insight into how slow decline can be. He set his Poole parkrun PB of 16:15 having only just turned fifty, yet here he is seven years later running only twelve seconds slower. Barely two seconds decline per year. I know Andrew trains very hard to keep his speed intact for 800m racing.

Age group world records for 5000m

TimeAthleteDateTimeAthleteDate
World Record12:35Joshua Cheptegei14-Aug-20 14:07Letesenbet Gidey07-Oct-20
V3512:54Bernard Lagat22-Jul-11 14:34Edith Masai02-Jun-06
V4013:07Bernard Lagat20-Aug-16 15:05Joanne Pavey05-Jun-14
V4514:24Lucien Rault19-Jun-82 15:56Nicole Leveque01-Jun-96
V5014:53Sean Wade25-Mar-16 16:51Gitte Karlshøj23-Jun-09
V5515:30Keith Bateman05-Jan-11 17:29Silke Schmidt27-Jun-15
V6015:56Yoshitsugu Iwanaga14-Nov-20 17:59Silke Schmidt20-Sep-19
V6516:39Derek Turnbull13-Mar-92 20:08Kathryn Martin28-Oct-16
V7018:16Ron Robertson09-Jul-11 20:56Angela Copson25-Jun-17
V7519:07Ed Whitlock23-Jul-06 23:31Lavinia Petrie28-Apr-19
V8020:58Ed Whitlock19-Jun-11 25:40Yoko Nakano12-Sep-18
V8524:04Ed Whitlock30-Jul-16 32:30Melitta
Czerwenka-Nagel
08-Jul-16
V9030:00Yoshimitsu Miyauchi20-Sep-14 
V9539:43Antonio Nacca04-May-19 

Age group world records for the 10,000m

TimeAthleteDateTimeAthleteDate
World Record26:11Joshua Cheptegei07-Oct-20 29:01Letesenbet Gidey08-Jun-21
V3526:51Haile Gebrselassie24-May-08 30:53Joanne Pavey03-Aug-12
V4027:49Bernard Lagat01-May-16 31:25Sinead Diver28-Sep-19
V4529:44Kevin Castille17-Mar-17 32:34Evy Palm04-Sep-88
V5030:49Sean Wade01-Apr-16 35:06Fiona Matheson16-Oct-11
V5531:52Keith Bateman26-Mar-11 36:47Sally Gibbs11-Nov-19
V6033:40Yoshitsugu Iwanaga28-Nov-20 37:58Mariko Yugeta14-Nov-20
V6534:42Derek Turnbull15-Mar-92 41:40Angela Copson05-Aug-12
V7038:04Ed Whitlock09-Jul-01 44:25Angela Copson28-Jul-17
V7539:25Ed Whitlock21-Jul-06 50:01Melitta
Czerwenka-Nagel
28-Aug-05
V8042:40Ed Whitlock09-Jul-11 51:47Yoko Nakano06-May-18
V8551:08Ed Whitlock12-Aug-16 1:26:15Vladylena Kokina21-Sep-14
V901:09:28Gordon Porteous17-Oct-04 

Age group world records for the marathon

TimeAthleteDateTimeAthleteDate
World Record2:01:39Eliud Kipchoge16-Sep-18 2:14:04Brigid Kosgei13-Oct-19
V352:03:59Haile Gebrselassie28-Sep-08 2:19:19Irina Mikitenko28-Sep-08
V402:08:46Andrés Espinosa28-Sep-03 2:19:52Helalia Johannes06-Dec-20
V452:14:23Bernard Lagat29-Feb-20 2:28:34Catherine Bertone23-Sep-17
V502:19:29Titus Mamabolo20-Jul-91 2:31:05Tatyana Pozdnyakova06-Mar-05
V552:25:56Piet van Alphen19-Apr-86 2:50:40Jenny Hitchings03-Nov-19
V602:30:02Tommy Hughes25-Oct-20 2:52:13Mariko Yugeta31-Jan-21
V652:41:57Derek Turnbull12-Apr-92 3:07:51Kimi Ushiroda15-Dec-19
V702:54:48Ed Whitlock26-Sep-04 3:24:48Jeannie Rice29-Sep-19
V753:04:54Ed Whitlock15-Apr-07 3:53:42Yoko Nakano23-Nov-12
V803:15:54Ed Whitlock16-Oct-11 4:11:45Yoko Nakano26-Feb-17
V853:56:38Ed Whitlock16-Oct-16 5:14:26Betty Jean McHugh09-Dec-12
V906:46:34Ernest Van Leeuwen06-Mar-05 8:53:08Mavis Lindgren28-Sep-97

Notes on Masters world records

All data was sourced from Wikipedia in mid-June 2021. The aim is not to create a comprehensive set of records but to give readers an indication of what is possible. I will periodically update these when I can.

Mental toughness

In Is this sustainable? I quoted Chris Boardman talking about how it feels during a race. He said “There’s a constant calculation going on between … How far is it to go? How hard am I trying? Is this sustainable? And if the answer is yes [to the sustainable question], you’re not going hard enough. If the answer is no, it’s too late [because you’ve dropped time by not going harder] so you’re looking for maybe”. I was thinking about this as I ran parkrun and it occurred to me that how you respond to this question shows your level of mental toughness.

The difference between the mentally tough and the ordinary person is that the ordinary person gives up when they realise something isn’t sustainable. The mentally tough person doesn’t accept No for an answer. As I wrote in Denial, they dig in and try to gut it out. They’ll keep trying, hoping to find some kind of energy reserve – they may find it, they may not. In a race against opponents (especially mentally weak ones) not knowing your limitations can make the difference between winning and losing.

It’s fairly obvious that the mentally weak are happy to continue when the answer is Yes and they’ll give up for a No; but I’d venture that it’s the Maybe answer which is enough to get them shutting it down and giving up. As soon as the answer changes to “I’m not entirely sure this is sustainable” which Boardman says is the very thing you’re looking for; the doubt begins to creep in and they give up and fall back to a safe zone.


In recent years, theories of fatigue have moved on from it being caused by a build-up of waste products in the muscles; to being about the brain taking feedback about those build-ups and subconsciously allowing the athlete to keep going, or the mind tempting them to slow down by experiencing build-ups as pain. Therefore elite distance runners are beginning to add mental stress to training sessions to teach the brain, it can cope with more and it’s safe to continue going. You could liken it to walking up a street in the dark. The first time you do it, you’re tentative with each step because you don’t know what’s ahead. But if you repeat the experience and know you managed ten steps safely, you walk those steps quickly the second time.

If you can push through pain in training or races, it’ll give you an extra dimension to your running – it’ll teach your brain that it’s safe to release the unused reserves. This is the bit where mentally weak athletes have a disadvantage. If they aren’t willing to push through the pain, their brain isn’t going to feel safe to allow them to break into their reserves. I’ve met a good many runners who always play it safe. They start off slowly, start at the back of the field, or ease off when exhaustion or heavy breathing threaten. They don’t try to push through the temptation of giving up, they simply give up.

I believe the role of the mental side of running is overplayed in modern literature. No matter how much you want or desire to be the Olympic champion, you still have to train before you can get close to that stage. Physical limitations are still limitations to be addressed by training, not by thinking you can run harder.  But, when Eliud Kipchoge ran the first two sub-2 hour marathon, it’s possible the knowledge of getting within twenty-five seconds on his first attempt was enough to help him find the extra seconds. That’s what mental toughness and training is about, having a confidence to push through Maybe and give it your all.

When the going gets tough, there’s probably more to be eked out than you realise. Pushing hard occasionally in training and races will help the mind know it’s possible.

Short sprint – Hitting top speed

The last three weeks at Upton House I’ve been taking the parkruns at a comfortable pace. It’s never felt too effortful as I run times in the mid-20s. About a mile into the run we have a steep downhill into the mini-loop and I just let my legs do whatever they want. I don’t go at it, I just take the brakes off and fly down the hill past those with more caution. I’ve seen myself hitting pace around 5:20-30 over the weeks. This interests me because a few years back I simply couldn’t go this fast even on downhills.

I was coming off a core muscle injury that forced me to take three months off. I’d tried to keep running but eventually I admitted defeat and took time off for it to heal. When I returned, I began to build up carefully. I deliberately didn’t do any speed sessions as I wanted to test whether I could build Endurance from the ground up – much like Maffetone suggests – long story short, you can’t but that’s for other days.

At the end of my second week I ran a tentative 33-min parkrun and the following week it was 29-minutes. I then went to visit friends and gave Chichester parkrun a try. It’s a surprisingly tough course, mostly on grass, around rugby pitches, with a gradual climb uphill before you run down a path back to the start-finish three times over. At the end of the third lap, I was sweating and came charging down into the finish trying to break twenty-seven minutes but couldn’t quite do it. What was surprising was my top end speed on this final downhill, going as fast as I could, trying to sprint, I could only hit 6:30/mile. Free energy yet I had nothing like the downhill speed I’m getting nowadays.

I’m not entirely sure what the reason behind this is other than it’s connected to being stronger and fitter than I was three years ago. I don’t think it’s that my legs are more resilient on the downhills but I do think they may be striding longer because of all the strides and speedwork I’ve been doing with my 800m training. I also have a much better aerobic base. My recent parkruns have felt comfortable while being faster than Chichester. At the latter, with all the hills and effort I was putting in I was working more anaerobically, which creates by-products that causes the legs to tie up. It may be this. Either way it’s nice to fly down the hills effortlessly.

Muscles need recovery

The week I tweaked my hamstring I did two big workouts. It was all interval work and I was pushing hard, breathing hard and hitting paces I haven’t seen in a while. It was on the final effort of the second session, that I pumped my legs as hard as possible, hoping to end with a quick time, when the hamstring tightened and knotted.

The following day I ran a careful recovery run; the same again on the day after. The hamstring was already feeling 95% healed and offered no issues on the third day – a long Sunday run. I expected to run quicker than usual after two easy days but, while my legs didn’t feel tired, it wasn’t faster. My heart-rate barely went over 145bpm and although I had the energy, my legs just didn’t have the bounce or verve to go fast.

The next day was totally different. I went for my usual recovery run and my legs were full of power. Now I couldn’t slow down, it was the run I’d hoped to do the day before.

That’s the point of this opening: it had taken 4-6 days to recover from the workouts of the previous week. The hamstring tightening had been a sign I’d already done enough and once that recovered, it still took until the Monday for my legs to be ready to run like I’d hoped they would on the Sunday.

This is where many runners training falls apart – they push too hard, too often – they don’t let their bodies dictate the pace, particularly on their recovery or easy days. I know many runners who would have pushed hard on the Sunday and it would have delayed the recovery further.


A few years ago I became enamoured with doing 8-mile threshold runs. Start off with 15-mins of warm-up then push the pace up to the point where my breathing was on the edge of threshold and force it along for the better part of an hour. Warmdown, recover for two days then repeat the same session again later in the week. On paper, I was doing everything right. I was following the 80-20 rule, I was getting lots of recovery and so on.

For a couple of weeks, it went really well. My pace improved and I began to get faster. Then, on weeks 3 and 4 I saw no improvement. Around the same time my lower back began to tighten up. I went another week with the runs but the aches were increasing. It reached the point where they affected my day-to-day living and reluctantly I concluded I was going to have to back off the running until it subsided. So I went back to easy running and let my body dictate the pace rather than try to force things. Within two weeks everything eased up and I raced a decent 10K.


My experience is not uncommon among runners. At least in the sense that when they overdo things they start to tighten up and get aches and pains. This is the body’s reaction to trying to use muscles that haven’t recovered. It might be felt in the Achilles, it might be in the plantar, I’ve even had it in my shoulders! The only uncommon thing about my experience is that I didn’t whine and complain or put it down to bad luck or old age; I looked at my running and changed my training plan so I was able to train without pain.

This is why keeping recovery days genuinely easy is important, it gives muscles time to recover without putting extra stress in. Most runners are used to their legs aching the day after a run, they might even get some DOMS on the second and, after half and full marathons I’ve still been struggling on days three and four. They understand the need for recovery at those times because it’s obvious. But they rarely understand aches and pains in day-to-day living are general signs of needing recovery. It’s the aggregation of unrecovered muscles being called back into action too soon. Any time I have aches, pains or tightness, I know I’m going to have to back off my training. That doesn’t mean a rest day although it could. It may just be changing a workout to an easy run; it may be delaying it by a day, it may be cutting the workout down.

The moral of the story is muscles need recovery. The more effort you put in, combined with how much you do, dictates how long it’ll take to recover. It can take ten days to recover from a good speed workout. Old runner wisdom says it takes a month to recover from a marathon. While you don’t have to be perfectly fresh to train harder, you do need to listen to your body. Aches, pains and tightness that come from nowhere are always a sign that you’re pushing hard. If you continue to push hard they’ll get worse to the point where you’re forced to let them recover one way or another.

Olympic thoughts – Is this sustainable?

Day 5 of the Tokyo Olympics had me watching cycling again with more commentary from Chris Boardman. This time it was the men’s individual time trial which was eventually won by Primoz Roglic of Slovenia.

Boardman accurately predicted it would take around 55-mins to cover the course, not too difficult maths when the riders are going at 48km/hr and the course is 44.1km long. At just under an hour it’s an event that’s comparable to elite men’s half marathon running, or in physiological terms it’s being run at Threshold. For lesser runners that might be a 10-mile run or only a 10K – it’s applies to whatever you can cover in an hour.

The nugget of commentary that really struck me was Boardman’s description about riding at Threshold. He stated:

“The first five minutes is free, you don’t feel the pain. That’s the bit where you have to use your head rather than your heart and then it becomes self-regulating, you start to get a feel for the pace, the pain sets in and then you manage it”

What he was describing was how, when you begin a race the legs are free of lactate and waste products that eventually begin to make them feel heavy and the effort to keep them moving gets tougher. With fresh legs it’s easy to go off too fast – build up the lactate quickly and then suffer; the ideal is to ration the build-up evenly over the course of the race. This is true at all race distances and even true during interval training.

After co-commentator Simon Brotherton mentioned that there’s a “fine line between pushing as hard as you can but not going too far into the red” to viewers, Boardman responded with more gold dust:

“There’s a constant calculation going on between …

How far is it to go?

How hard am I trying?

Is this sustainable? And if the answer is yes, you’re not going hard enough. If the answer is no, it’s too late so you’re looking for maybe”

What a fantastic piece of commentary. I must admit the idea of maybe seems quite novel to me. I’ve probably always pushed myself into maybe without realising it and just aimed to hang on, but I’d usually coach people to keep in the comfort zone of yes. We like things to be black-or-white, yes-or-no; Boardman showed that the best in world are risking playing on the edge with maybe!

Next time you’re on the start line at parkrun remember these quotes from Boardman and see how they reflect your experience. The great thing about parkrun is you can test “yes”, “no”, “maybe” over the weeks and begin to learn what each feels like.

Bolt runs the 800m

Usain Bolt recently ran his first 800m race. As I’m training for this distance, my interest was piqued to see what he achieved. Bolt, of course, is generally seen as the best sprinter of all time winning multiple gold medals in the 100m and 200m at consecutive Olympics and the World Championships from 2008 to 2016. As a junior his coach had wanted him to become a 400m runner, his best time was 45.28s, but he didn’t enjoy the longer training sessions and it became apparent he could be a champion at the short sprints. Running his first 800 race would be a big step up.

Out of athletics for the past four years, he said he’d been training for this race but it turned out to be part of an advert for a used car dealership. Its premise was that you can get an online valuation for your car quicker than Usain Bolt can run 800m. Bolt in lane 1 versus the customer in lane 6 sat in a comfy chair typing her car’s details into her phone. I’ll embed the video at the bottom, if you want to watch it, but Bolt appears to be jogging round on his way to a 2:40 time for 800 metres. The commentary is overlaid and there’s no sound from the track so I’m tempted to believe it’s masking the director telling him to speed up or slow down to ensure he finishes just slower than the customer. After all it wouldn’t be much of an advert if Bolt wins easily. Actually it’s not much of an advert anyway because I thought they were providing insurance quotes, not a price for your used car.

What I could glean from the footage is Bolt is running at a cadence of around 160 steps per minute which equates to a stride length of 1.88m per step. That’s not unbelievable given he’s 6’5” and when he’s in full sprint mode he’s averaging closer to 2.50 metre per step (and his cadence also up at 250 per minute). It’s deceptive watching the video because it really doesn’t seem like he’s covering much ground until you see his strides around the start-finish line. The slow cadence really does make it look like he’s taking it casually.

Even allowing for some play-acting, I doubt Bolt could currently run it that much faster – bear in mind his pace is 5:20/mile, it’s not that slow. He’s not overweight or unfit but of course he has detrained from his peak athleticism. As the best sprinter in the world, his genetics are geared towards speed. He stated in a 2013 interview that he could run the 800m in 2min05 so that gives us a reference for his ability when he was a trained sprinter. There’s also a segment from Superstars in 1986 on Youtube of Carl Lewis, who was the Olympic champion in the same events as Bolt – the 100m, 200m, 4x100m, where he ran 2min15 for the half mile. So I’m inclined to think a detrained Bolt couldn’t have run 800m much quicker than he did in the advert.

A short postrace interview with Bolt shows him lying on the ground having his legs massaged and breathing hard. His splits for this 800 were 35s and 39s for a 1:14 first lap followed by 44s and 42s for a second lap 1:26. That final 200m being faster suggests he did try to pick up the pace. These splits are fairly consistent with what I experienced in my 800m time trials – when I ran 2:53, my splits were 39 / 43 / 45 / 46 secs and I tried to sprint at the end but my legs were tying up with lactate. It’s a fast start and then struggle to hang on.

One difference is that Bolt can run a significantly faster 200m than I can – his world record is 19.19s – yet at 35sec his opening 200 isn’t much quicker than when I time trialled at 39s. His controlled start may have avoided building up the oxygen debt that leads to heavy breathing.


What I’ve found with all my distance races is that it doesn’t matter how hard you train for speed and to handle oxygen debt, there comes a limit to how fast you can go because the by-products seize the muscles up. When your body is trained for speed lactate and waste products are being produced from start to finish. It’s why for in distance running you need to build a good aerobic system to delay their production so they are only produced at higher speeds.

I can remember finishing parkruns when I was speed-trained, saying there was more to come because my legs never felt tired, yet it was only when I did more easy running that my times got quicker. I had to build aerobically through daily easy, steady and long runs to improve at parkrun and longer distances.

Some people are naturally full of slow-twitch muscle and therefore find it easier to build their aerobic capacity – they’ll start with a bigger base. For those with more fast-twitch, either you stick to the sprints as Bolt did or commit to doing the miles that will develop them aerobically.


Usain Bolt’s 800m in 2:40

Skip to 2min43 to see the race won by American footballer James Lofton in 2:03 with Lewis taking 2nd place

Return to parkrun

Even overnight rain and thunderstorms couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the return of parkrun. I was up at 6:15am for breakfast and headed out to Upton House parkrun a couple of hours later. As I parked the car, just a warm-up jog away, I saw familiar faces who I’d parked by so long ago.

Since I was last at the country park it’s undergone some renovations with bushes around the tea rooms being cleared and the children’s play area refurbished. Consequently the parkrunners have been shoved out through the gate to a new start line and the course revised. I quite like the new route as it’s more open although the uphill finish is going to be taxing when I get up to speed.

The Run Director struggled through the opening speeches because the PA system’s battery wouldn’t recharge after not being used in eighteen months but unusually all the runners stayed quiet so that was good. New parkrun protocols instruct the pre-start speeches to be over quickly and a prompt start at 9am to avoid runners gathering together too long. I was pleased we still had time to clap the one new First Timer who’d turned up, as well as the four runners who were about to complete their 250th run. Imagine being stuck on two hundred and forty-nine all that time.  For me, it was number three hundred and twenty-five – but no t-shirts for that!

It’s like Where’s Wally – I’m somewhere in there with the red headband!

With runners expected to seed themselves according to time, I positioned myself just level with the 25-min marker and it didn’t seem like there were too many ahead of me. I ran with Rob for the first 2K and it was nice to run unhindered, able to pass others easily whenever we needed to. At the start of the mini-loop, I left Rob as I took the brakes off and went with the downhill. Despite a light rain, it was all rather enjoyable and I gradually eased past some of the fast starters; always keeping my breathing easy. First mile 7:56, second 7:40, third in 7:26 to finish 49th in a time of 23:57.

Collecting my finish token there was lots of space past the funnel to go and get my token scanned. I then returned to the finish line, chatted to a friend and cheered runners in. The tailwalker came round in just over an hour to complete the field of 295. Elsewhere Poole had 565 and Bournemouth 529 which were the 3rd and 5th biggest attendances in the country, then add in Blandford 133 for a total of over 1,500 local runners out at 9am on a Saturday morning. A successful return for parkrun and I even had my result before midday. Admittedly it was 11:58am but it’s still impressive.

Return of parkrun

It’s been a long time since I ran a parkrun. Some countries and areas have been reopening sooner than others but finally England is ready to allow them again. Just one week to go and I’m wondering what the response will be.

Parkrun HQ have spent the past year figuring out the logistics to make parkrun Covid safe. Start speeches will be kept brief to avoid people gathering together for too long. A new app has been developed to allow volunteers to do the barcode scanning and timing from their phones rather than using shared equipment. The finish position tokens are to be washed or quarantined every week. Academic research supports the idea that gathering on a start line within close proximity of other runners is safe.

I’m guessing it will all work out as parkrun has been going ahead around the world with (I assume) the same changes in place and things haven’t collapsed there or needed a rethink. But different cultures have different attitudes and that’s the thing I’m wondering about. How will Englanders respond to the return of parkrun? Will we accept the changes? Will we believe the science? Do we care enough to get back out running on a Saturday morning?


My last parkrun was in early January 2020. I stopped going two months before the pandemic put them on pause. This wasn’t some prescient act of foreboding, it was my choice.

With New Year’s weight-loss and fitness resolutions kicking in, attendances swelled. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the average attendance at Upton House parkrun had been about 300; in the New Year it was closer to 500. It’s great to see all those new participants but I was getting trapped among them. I was running heavy mileage on Fridays and could only manage a recovery run on Saturdays. The narrow paths of Upton Country Park allow little room for manoeuvre past runners who’ve started off too quick and who then stop or walk to avoid stepping in the winter puddles. I found it hard to enjoy myself when my rhythm and flow were constantly being broken up.

New Year resolutions never last for everybody but parkrun was always a gamechanger and a high percentage of the newbies continued to come back. But more than a year on, will they? The not-parkrun stopgap that Headquarters tried to promote never took off. For whatever reason, people are only interested in going for a free, timed 5K when it’s part of something bigger. Their own volition and fitness weren’t enough for many people. Maybe it was really the coffee and cake afterwards.


In deciding whether to attend, will people accept the science that says standing on a parkrun startline is safe?  My initial instinct, knowing how close we stand to each other, is that they could become super-spreader events. Parkrun’s academic research says it’ll be safe but I have some reservations because it’s modelled on an attendance of 263 participants and March Covid levels that were much lower than they are now. Our parkruns are much bigger than that.

The reality of the situation is with about 2,000 runners attending our local parkruns, the current case rate of 250 per 100,000 suggests five infected people will turn up. My odds on actually standing next to one of the five seem little worse than I could achieve in the aisles of the supermarket.

The parkrun Covid Code asks runners not to attend if they’ve got any signs of it present e.g. positive test, high temperature etc. Generally speaking the parkrun community is good at looking after one another so there’s a good chance they’ll comply. Most people wouldn’t want to run if they’re feeling under the weather anyway.


I know the local parkruns have been doing trial events to familiarise with new processes and these events have been well-attended by members of local running clubs. That’s no surprise, they were invited and they are regular runners but what about the ‘ordinary’ runners who were parkrunning as something to do once a week? My guess is it’ll be a tentative return to action by those who aren’t regular runners.

While about 95% of England’s parkruns are set to return, Moors Valley and Brockenhurst are among those without permission – yet. That will probably push some of their regulars to Bournemouth and maybe further afield to places like Salisbury, Blandford or wherever.

As the restart coincides with the beginnings of the school holidays they may not be the only visitors to other areas. In the past, we usually saw an influx of visitors to our local parkruns either on their way to or from a holiday in the South-west. I assume that will still be the case as more families are choosing to holiday in Britain this year but of course some of our local families will also be going off to visit elsewhere so the net effect is likely the same. Nonetheless with family routines broken up and school out, I don’t think numbers will settle down to their regular levels until September. By then, we’ll know the new processes and have a true picture of whether parkrunning is viable in the new normal.


Ultimately I’m a believer in trusting that life will all work out in the end. Committed parkrunners will be back quickly, the more tentative will take time to return. It will be a while before it settles down but we’ll get there and adapt to whatever challenges come up. It’s quite possible there’ll be more hiatuses along the way.

Finally to say, if you’re not in England or your parkrun hasn’t been given permission to return, then stay strong, it’ll be back eventually. We’ve been through the worst of this and life is gradually returning to old activities.

How much do you want it?

I was woken early by the tap, tap, tapping of a bird outside my bedroom window. With it being nesting season, the birds have built a nest up in the eaves and are flying in and out of it frequently. Trying to locate exactly what part of the house the bird was tapping, I looked out from behind the curtains and noticed my neighbour working out in his back yard. It was 6:15am. Most of it was stretching and limbering up as he prepared to do pull-ups on a frame he’s bought. I was impressed as I watched him machining up and down, one, two, three; nice square angles at the shoulders and elbows, four, five, six; barely pausing or fatiguing as he went on all the way up to fifteen. A little rest then another set before pulling the tarp over the frame and going in.

I’d love to be good at pull-ups but I’ve always struggled with them. I claim that with my long arms, I’m mechanically disadvantaged. There may be some truth to this. Most people have a reach (measured from fingertip to fingertip across the chest) that is the same as their height. This is one of those anatomical novelties* you can easily test. Lie on the floor feet against the wall and put a marker against your height. Then lie the other way and stretch your arms from the wall to the marker and you should find you can just touch it. Except when I do this I stretch out four inches wider than I’m tall! Of course doing pull-ups isn’t simply about arms, they’re also about lats, shoulders and other body muscles which I’ve never been dedicated to working out. My days of going to the gym didn’t last long, it always seemed so soulless.

My “I’d love to be good at pull-ups” never translated into action. I may say it when I see a parkour runner effortlessly pulling themselves over a wall, or when I try them at the gym but I’ve never really committed to getting good at pull-ups. It’s the same with playing the keyboard, playing the harmonica, being able to do handstand press-ups, dunk a basketball or win the lottery. They’re all things I believe would be cool or, great to be able to do, but I’ve never taken committed action long enough to be able to do them.

This isn’t uncommon. I’ve heard the words “I’d love to break …” followed by a time for parkrun or a marathon leave the mouth of numerous runners who then take very little action to achieve that goal.


I felt somewhat in awe of my neighbour’s commitment at being out there, working out at such an early hour until I realised I was doing the same thing with my own plyometric and hill sprint workouts last summer, my 800m training this past winter and my current Sunday long runs at 5am.

It takes a dedicated, longterm approach to get good at a sport or complex activity, few people are naturals.  Before the 800m training, I know there were other things I took action to get good at. I began playing volleyball as an adult and scraped up to playing National League 2nd division. I took golf lessons for three years to be able to break 80 and score a hole-in-one. My running took three months of dedicated training to build a base that took me sub-20 at parkrun and onto other running glories.

I’m not sure why some activities find the power of inspiration to invoke perspiration while others fall by the wayside after a week of trying. But if you ever find yourself saying “I’d love to break 20 minutes for parkrun” or “I’d love to run a marathon in under four hours” ask yourself what’s stopping you. Would you really love to do it or are you in love with the idea of doing it?


If it turns out you do want to improve as a runner (or even just think you do) my weekly sessions can help you improve your speed and fitness, along with oodles of free training advice. If you’re interested in personal coaching to help you reach goals you’d love to achieve then I can help you out with that too. Just drop me a line from the Contact page.

* Another anatomical novelty is your foot should measure the same as the inside of your elbow to the crease of your wrist!