The Ageing Runner – Part 2 Sprinters

If you missed part 1 you can find it here

This series grew out of my attempts to write about Sports Psychology because it’s a topic which dominated my reading for a couple of decades. I wanted to impart the wisdom I’d learned along the way, but it’s a big topic ranging across all sorts of areas such as goal-setting, attributions, mental skills, relaxation and learning among many more; so being unsure of how to start writing it, I did the obvious thing and gave up for the time being!

During my research however, I looked up Dr Steve Peters to sharpen up on the details of his work. He’s famous for writing The Chimp Paradox; a best seller that brings together many of the ideas and methods he used while working as a sports psychologist for Great Britain Cycling to support their successful Olympic programme of the past two decades. Given his association with the cycling programme I was surprised to find out he’s been a highly successful Masters athlete in sprinting, to the extent that he won multiple gold medals at the World Masters Championships in the M50, M55 and M60 categories between 2005 and 2015.

Steve Peters competing in the British Masters

On the UK Athletics’ website, The Power of 10, there are records of his performances in the 100, 200 and 400 since 1996 when he was age forty-three up to pre-pandemic. It makes for interesting viewing to see the decline, or should I say lack of decline in his sprinting over that period. Even in his late sixties, he’s still running under 13s for 100m, under 26s for 200m and breaking a minute for 400m. There’s been a noticeable decline in the last couple of years which is more likely due to lack of competition or injury than age itself.

Would you have thought those times were possible for someone who was never an elite sprinter in the first place? At fifty I can’t even run the times he’s achieving in his late sixties. Not because it’s necessarily beyond me but because I’ve never trained specifically for them. How you train is a bigger determinant of your performance than your age.

Steve Peters is the World Champion for his age group, so he is obviously something of an outlier, but there are many former Olympians who are no longer competing who could be faster. Steve isn’t even the world record holder in his age categories. Below are tables of the age-graded world records for both men and women, correct at time of writing in June 2021.

Age group world records for 100m

TimeMaleDateTimeFemaleDate
World Record9.58Usain Bolt16-Aug-09 10.49Florence Griffith Joyner16-Jul-88
V359.87Justin Gatlin30-Jun-19 10.74Merlene Ottey07-Sep-96
V409.93Kim Collins29-May-16 11.09Merlene Ottey03-Aug-04
V4510.72Willie Gault24-Jun-06 11.34Merlene Ottey12-Aug-06
V5010.88Willie Gault07-May-11 11.67Merlene Ottey13-Jul-10
V5511.3Willie Gault07-May-16 12.24Julie Brims13-Feb-21
V6011.7Ronald Taylor04-Jun-94 13.63Karla Del Grande18-Jul-14
V6512.31Damien Leake16-Jun-18 13.91Karla Del Grande11-Aug-18
V7012.77Bobby Whilden06-Oct-05 14.73Ingrid Meier30-Jun-17
V7513.25Kenton Brown03-Oct-20 15.03Carol LaFayette-Boyd04-Aug-18
V8014.35Payton Jordan10-May-97 16.26Kathy Bergen06-Jun-21
V8515.08Hiroo Tanaka25-Jun-17 19.37Emiko Saito21-Oct-18
V9016.86Hiroo Tanaka01-May-21 23.15Mitsu Morita06-Oct-13
V9520.41Frederico Fischer30-Jun-12 30.18Diane Friedman22-Jul-17

Age group world records for 200m

TimeMaleDateTimeFemaleDate
World Record19.19Usain Bolt20-Aug-09 21.34Florence Griffith Joyner29-Sep-88
V3520.11Linford Christie25-Jun-95 21.93Merlene Ottey25-Aug-95
V4020.64Troy Douglas09-Aug-03 22.72Merlene Ottey23-Aug-04
V4521.8Willie Gault26-Apr-08 23.82Merlene Ottey27-Aug-06
V5022.44Willie Gault07-May-11 24.33Merlene Ottey18-Jul-10
V5523.24Willie Gault07-May-16 25.07Julie Brims07-Mar-21
V6024.00Ronald Taylor10-Jun-94 28.11Karla Del Grande22-Oct-13
V6524.65Charles Allie26-Jul-13 28.53Karla Del Grande05-Aug-18
V7025.75Charles Allie21-Jun-18 31.3Ingrid Meier02-Jul-17
V7527.73Robert Lida05-Aug-12 31.56Carol
LaFayette-Boyd
09-Sep-18
V8029.54Hijiya Hisamitsu16-Sep-12 35.34Kathy Bergen06-Jun-21
V8531.69Hijiya Hisamitsu17-Sep-16 41.58Emiko Saito12-Nov-17
V9036.02Hiroo Tanaka23-May-21 55.62Mitsu Morita30-Jun-13
V9548.69Friederich
Ernst Mahlo
10-Sep-07 01:13.0Diane Friedman22-Jul-17

Age group world records for 400m

TimeMaleDateTimeFemaleDate
World Record43.03Wayde
van Niekerk
14-Aug-16 47.60Marita Koch06-Oct-85
V3544.54Chris Brown30-May-15 50.27Jearl Miles Clark20-Sep-02
V4047.81Enrico Saraceni25-Jul-04 52.50Geisa Aparecida Coutinho09-Apr-21
V4549.09Allen Woodard18-Mar-17 56.15Marie Lande
Mathieu
12-Jul-03
V5050.73Roland Gröger25-Jun-17 57.66Marie Lande
Mathieu
14-Sep-07
V5552.24Charles Allie12-Jul-03 59.36Julie Brims23-Jan-21
V6053.88Ralph Romain22-Jul-95 1:04.3Caroline Powell12-Aug-15
V6556.09Charles Allie18-May-13 1:08.0Karla Del Grande12-Jul-19
V7057.26Charles Allie11-Sep-18 1:11.8Barbara Blurton10-Dec-20
V751:02.4Guido Müller28-Jun-14 1:19.5Christa Bortignon22-Aug-13
V801:10.0Hisamitsu Hijiya09-Sep-12 1:29.8Rietje Dijkman09-Sep-19
V851:17.1Earl Fee12-Jul-14 1:41.6Emiko Saito29-Apr-17
V901:29.2Earl Fee19-Jul-19 2:16.2Melitta
Czerwenka-Nagel
14-Sep-20
V952:21.8Orville Rogers12-Jul-13 3:21.0Diane Friedman27-Jul-19

It’s my guess that most runners, male or female, can’t even run the times being set by the 80-year-old women; let alone run close to the times for their own age or gender. It’s only when these runners get into their eighties that the times begin to noticeably degrade and I suspect this is as much down to circumstance, as it is ageing. There are fewer of these runners competing and most of them probably took it up later in life.

Lots of facts and figures so far but here’s a chance to enjoy watching M70 Charles Allie in action over 200m.

You can read Part 3 by clicking here

Update on my 800m training – April 2021

April arrived and I was excited, after four months of following a Jack Daniels 800m training plan, to see how it had paid off. I know I’ve been feeling fitter, faster and stronger but how would it affect my 800m time?

Back in December I ran 2:58 with estimated splits of 39sec followed by 45, 45, 49s.

My fastest 200 in training has been 37.45s, which multiplies to 2:30, so that gave me a cap to what my top end could be. There’s no way I was going to run all four at 37½ so any thoughts of hitting 2:30 were out.

At the other end, I’ve been feeling fairly comfortable running 200s at 44-45s in recent weeks so figured this would be the pace I’d slow to before the final sprint to the line.

This was my realistic range for what I might achieve – 2:35-45. I was hoping I might break 2:40, as that seems like a nice round number. Here’s what happened …

Time Trial #1 – Friday 9th April 2021

I had two recovery days after my last workout and, on the morning, I went for a 1½ mile run to loosen up. It didn’t feel that good aerobically but my legs felt ok.

I had a light lunch, earlier than usual, to ensure it would be digested by the time I ran at six in the evening. I’d selected this day and time predominantly based on weather. My original plan had been to run on Saturday morning thereby giving me three recovery days but the forecast was for it to be 15mph windy by 8-9am. Friday evening’s weather was only 5-6mph and gave the added bonus of having the day to eat and hydrate going into the run. I usually find my body is happier in the evenings.

While I know the 800 is all about effort, and I’d advise anyone to go out at about 90-95% top speed; I was no longer sure what 90-95% would feel like after all the training. I’m now going faster in sessions, even when legs are tired, than I was in December. Unfortunately I didn’t do any prediction workouts and even if I had I probably wouldn’t be able to pace accurately. I decided to just go out reasonably hard and hang on.

On arriving at the park, I ran warm-up and my legs/breathing felt ok. I did three sets of strides and while I felt I put a decent effort into them, my watch was suggesting they weren’t that quick but I put this down to my Garmin being unable to adjust quickly enough so I remained confident.

I gave myself an eight minute break between warm-up and the time trial to let any waste products get out of my legs. But it was a cold, grey evening and I felt a few spots of rain; so I didn’t hang around as long as I might have liked.

I went with the standing split start I’ve been learning, which makes it harder to start the watch, but I was away.

Oh my word, my legs felt unbelievable.

The first time I’ve run hard in months without any lactate in them. They felt so quick and unhindered that it surprised me. I was almost stumbling. I got to 300m and began to start breathing harder but it didn’t feel as tough as it did last December.

Further on my shoulders began to ache. A lot. This only happened to me once in training but apparently also on the last time trial. My legs began to tie up and stumble but I kept going and overall I was feeling confident that I was cutting through the air at pace.

I reached the final stretch, jumping into the empty road and then back onto the path because of walkers and then gave it my final sprint.

My time was astounding …

I could barely believe it …

Two minutes fifty-five seconds.

Only a three second improvement over last time.

It’s so far below expectations that I couldn’t even feel disappointed about it. Four months of good hard training where I’ve felt fitter, faster, stronger and leaner yet no notable improvement.

Perplexing is the word I’d use about it.


Before the next time trial I did recovery runs. On the Sunday I went for a 10-mile long run and began to wonder whether I was really getting the hip or knee extension required to get full force. I started looking at videos on sprint mechanics. Youtube videos and internet articles, the bane of all self-coached sportspeople, but for once I did glean some information that changed how I’ve been thinking about sprinting.

By the time I ran on the Monday, my legs felt like they’d recovered from the time trial and my mechanics were feeling powerful in a way they haven’t in years.

Time Trial #2 – Wednesday 14th April – five days after the first time trial

I decided to start off slower. The first time trial had estimated 400m splits of 1:23 / 1:32 – which are too far apart – ideally there should only be two or three seconds difference. I decided to go out slower, aiming for around 43s on the first 200 (it was 39s on TT1), and if I could replicate that for the second 200m it would take me through halfway in 1:26. In truth, I expected the first section still to be too quick but hopefully by not putting in as much effort, I would be closer to a decent pairing.

It didn’t work out anything like that. I started with less effort but once again my splits for the first 100-200-300 metres each came in at 20 / 40 / 60 seconds but by the 400m mark I was at 1:24 (compared to 1:22-23 on TT1). Once again I started to struggle with the lactate build-up in my legs and arms, and I began to feel my stride ebb away and become uncoordinated. I went through 600 in 2:12-13 (4=5 secs slower than TT1) and finished off with a somewhat lacking sprint to clock 3:00.  Eke!  Worse than my original time trial.

What to make of all this?

While the three second improvement between December and TT1 is technically quicker, to me it’s a negligible improvement, TT2 shows this. I feel there’s something I haven’t unlocked because as I said before I’ve felt fitter, faster and stronger as the months have gone by.

Thinking back on the training, I’ve struggled throughout on the longer intervals of 400 and 600 metres, which points to an endurance issue. I’ve definitely improved it but perhaps not as much as I needed. My Sunday long run has improved from around 8:35/mile to 8:10/mile but that’s still a long way from my 800m pace of 5:50/mile. I’m hoping the upcoming phase of endurance training will bring them closer together.

With regards to following Jack’s plan, I’ve been 95% faithful. I’ve done every effort of every session as he defined them. I’ve not dropped any workouts, swapped days around or changed any of the parameters of workouts. Admittedly my long runs have been longer than his suggested 1-hour but I don’t think that diminished anything.

The one omission that may have been crucial is not doing strides on two of my weekday Easy runs. That might have dug out more speed for the Time Trials but I deliberately didn’t do them as my running history has shown my endurance goes backwards when I do. Even without them, I have found my top end pace is registering as faster. Back in December I couldn’t break 5min/mile but when the time trials rolled around I hit 4:38/mile.

The next six weeks

I decided there wasn’t any point in doing a third time trial, after the second one came in slower, but to begin the endurance phase immediately. It was noticeable that in the following long run, my easy run pace had dropped.

My new schedule through to June involves running eight mile Steady runs on Tuesdays and Friday with a twelve mile long run on Sunday. The rest of the week will be recovery runs and I’ll slip in strides occasionally to keep all the faster muscles involved.

Week 1 – the Tuesday steady peak with an 8:10 mile and the last four miles were all run closer to 9min/mile. Three days later I was hampered by strong winds on the outward leg and pushed home with a peak 7:55 mile for a two-minute improvement.

Week 2 – the first Steady run of week 2 brought calm conditions and a decent improvement. The fastest mile came in at 7:29 and all the miles except the last were under eight minutes. Seven minutes taken off the previous Tuesday’s run. The Friday Steady was relatively calm but my legs must still have been recovering as the last five miles all came in at about 8:05/mile. The Sunday long run, straight out of bed and fasted at 5:55am, was a season’s best on a hillier route via Gravel Hill and Broadstone averaging 7:58/mile

Rounding up my thoughts and feelings

Overall I’m not too unhappy with how this went. As I’ve already said, I know I’m fitter, faster, stronger and lighter. I’ve lost about half a stone in weight since the beginning of January as I began to fire up some of the muscles fibres I’ve stopped using over the past few years. Simply from that perspective, the training has been worthwhile.

I am slightly frustrated though. I’ve done everything by the book and got no result from it. I’m questioning whether Jack’s plan is right for me as I know I’ve self-trained to run whole kilometres at quicker paces than my all-out 800m. I have one or two thoughts on how I could adjust things but I’m going to stick with it for another round of training. I have a suspicion that the endurance training I’ll be doing through May will actually lead to a faster 800 in June.

It became clear to me in February that, entering this training plan, I had a big gap between my easy pace and my 800m pace that needed to be closed up. I hadn’t run faster than 7:30/mile in the build-up and there was nothing to bridge the gap to my 800m pace. While the training did that to a good extent, I believe I now need to cement over the gap and then I’ll start making progress in my 800 time.

I’ll follow the plan again, which will take me through to September and then see where my 800 is at. But parkrun is due back in June so I may find myself attending one or two of those. If I do so, then I’m going to have to go off Jack’s plan somewhat but so be it.