ST: Master running as you age

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 26 Aug 2018

EVAN CHEE – Running for me is a sport and a journey that started in 1990. Changi Airport Terminal 2 had only started operations that year, and our East-West MRT line was just completed. That also happened to be the year I raced with my Primary 4 class 4x100m relay team, in what felt like a lifetime ago.

Fast forward 28 years later, I still put on my racing shoes and compete regularly in both local and overseas races, taking on distances which include the fabled 42.195km marathon. At this age, it is natural to ask whether one can be too old to run a marathon, or do better results await in the days (and miles) ahead? Unfortunately for those young-at-heart, existing literature and research seem to suggest the former. Seize the moment. Time and tide wait for no man, let alone an athlete. While a runner’s aerobic capacity, muscles mass, and recovery inevitably decline with age, not all is lost. At least that’s how my story would read.

Believe that it’s possible

At the age of 35, I clocked my (then) personal best marathon timing of 2:56 at the 2015 Singapore Marathon and placed 3rd in the local men’s open category. Barely 12 months ago, I lowered that mark by 14 mins to attain my current personal best record of 2:42 at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Today, my passion for running still burns strongly as ever. Just as I am clocking faster timings across all race distances, than my legs ever did in their youth, I’m looking forward eagerly towards sub 2:40. Benjamin Button is real, as it would appear.

My sister, Yvonne Chee, similarly ran her personal best marathon (3:23) last year at the age of 37. I recall that she was visibly pregnant during the Straits Times Run 2017. Even after giving birth to my niece this year, she is becoming fitter than ever and even ran the 2018 London marathon 5 months postpartum.

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The Chee Siblings, Evan, and Yvonne. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Be aware of potential challenges

As we age, our muscles and tendons become more injury-prone due to accumulated wear and tear. Recognising this helped me manage the issue before it gets out of hand. I would always allow time for my body to be conditioned during the start of any training cycle before ramping up the intensity. It also helps if you can build up a strong aerobic base with 3 months of easy runs (conversational pace) under your belt. Here are some of the key training principles that have guided me along the way:

  • Progressive – Increase your weekly mileage progressively till you reach your target peak training mileage. Rule of thumb for weekly increment – about 10%. The ceiling to which you increase your mileage to will be dependant on your fitness and experience level. It will be wise to seek help from a coach if in doubt.
  • Effective – 80% of training should be easy runs. Mix in good quality speed sessions with enjoyable easy runs. You don’t have to always run hard.
  • Variety – Vary the terrain you run on and don’t stick to the same type of running surface. Adding gravel, trails, and grass to your list is good for training and also helps with fitness maintenance.
  • Consistency – Make regular running a part of your lifestyle. This is key to improving and building up fitness. Find time to run, not excuses.

As Dr. Malcolm Mahadevan had mentioned in his earlier article, an aged body is less forgiving to intensive training and therefore it is important to know your body and not overstrain it. Here are some training safety tips, especially for masters/senior runners in the box insert, by Associate Consultant of NUH Sports Centre, Dr. Wang Mingchang.

SAFETY TIPS FOR SENIOR RUNNERS

  • Undergo Pre-participation Screening

Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is more common in older athletes, especially if there is a preexisting family history. It is recommended for older endurance athletes to undergo pre-participation cardiac screening. They are also advised to seek medical help if they develop exertional chest pains, unexplained breathlessness or fainting spells during exercise.

  • Tweak your running volume

Degeneration of articular cartilage(e.g. in the knee joint) occurs with age and is the most common cause of musculoskeletal pain and disability in senior runners. Running can still be done with adjustments in running volume depending on symptoms. By strengthening the hip and core muscles, improving running biomechanics and reducing stresses to the knee joint, physical therapy may also help to alleviate and/or address the symptoms.

  • Maintain muscle strength

Tendons, such as the Achilles’ tendon in the heel, tend to become stiffer with age and are therefore more prone to injury. Older endurance athletes are encouraged to maintain muscular strength through resistance training and flexibility routines (e.g. stretching after runs) to reduce the risk of tendon injury.
Dr. Wang Mingchang

Associate Consultant, NUH Sports Centre

Be conscious of recovery

Over the years, I have come to realize that my recovery has become slower while taking up more time and mindful attention. What has greatly benefited me is a keen knowledge of my body, and its limits, and the clockwork-like recovery sessions in my training regime. For as long as I can remember, there would always be a rest day (usually Monday) after an entire week of training. On occasions, I have also replaced training runs with cross training sessions such as cycling or core strengthening exercises when I have felt the need to afford more rest for my fatigued body. In triathlon, there’s a saying that besides swim, bike, and run, recovery is the 4th and most important discipline. Having a regular recovery maintenance regime is definitely an integral, and important, part of training. Let’s not forget – your body also needs to be ‘pampered’ regularly and this is why I make it a point to arrange for a sports massage session fortnightly.

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Evan during a training run with the Adidas Runners. Photo credits: AIK SOON / Adidas Singapore

Make time for personal commitments

As we grow and mature, our lives are hardly run single-mindedly with a child-like insistence and innocence (much as some of us would have preferred). Instead, we have come to realize, and for reasons good and bad, that there is more to our lives that exist outside of the track, like friends, family, food, and work (unfortunately). For me, I have a habit of scheduling most of my runs first thing in the morning before everyone else is awake. This way, I allow myself quality time during later parts of the day to bond and socialize with family, attend to work commitments, or simply to relax and unwind.

If this story of one (mine) is of any encouragement, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel for runners to keep chasing, whether you are 35 years old, or young! In fact, hitting the tracks and roads regularly might just help to slow down your body clock or even wind back time. Age is nothing but a number. Someone once told me that running is a game of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter. So lace up and run on!

Evan during a training run in July 2018. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / LIM SHU ZHEN
Evan Chee is a National Marathoner and was the 2nd Runner-up at SCSM 2018. He works as an engineering manager. The 37 year old runner has a personal best of 2:42 hrs and is managed by ONEathlete.

Week 13 Question:

“Barely 12 months ago, I lowered that mark by ___ mins to attain my current personal best record of 2:42 at the 2017 Berlin Marathon.”

Submit your answer to the question on #LearnWithMok and stand to win a race slot for ST Run, happening on 23 Sep 2018!

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