Charles Allen: Why we must train smarter as we grow older

Neil Featherby, Jason Wright and Charles Allen on their Hadrian's Wall charity challenge. Picture: M

Neil Featherby, Jason Wright and Charles Allen on their Hadrian's Wall charity challenge. Picture: Mark Hewlett Photography - Credit: Archant

Head of Physical Performance at Walk to Run Charles Allen discusses growing older and perhaps a little wiser

It gets tougher as we get older but wisdom allows us to search deep and still be amazing.

When I think about myself, I would say the last time I was in what I'd call 'good running and fitness shape' was five years ago when, as part of a Round Norfolk Relay team, I won the Scole to Thetford leg.

Since then life events and other priorities have meant that I have found myself at a fitness level I'm not as used to, something I was required to consider a lot whilst training for the Hadrians Wall challenge with Neil Featherby and Jason Wright last September.

Ongoing issues with my spine, an extra 4kg in weight and the loss of, what I consider to be, considerable muscle and strength all impacted my self-esteem and self-efficacy around my fitness and performance potential. I was concerned I'd be the weak link in the team.

Training needed to be viewed and shaped differently. More time spent on keeping healthy, trusting in the science and covering no more than 20 miles as my longest run.

At times it was hard to believe in the science and not feel compelled to react to my mind's want to run.

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I think for all of us who have run to their personal fatigue point you will understand the roller coaster of emotions and feelings you work through. There are many places your mind, body and dare I say it as a scientist, your soul, can potentially visit on these draining sessions.

Over the 21 hours and 87 miles of the event the fears I had in training never left me.

With great company it's easy to bounce these emotions around, it is likely that those you are with are having similar experiences.

You have to work together, as a team. Be that supporting each other through the emotions, pulling together to fend off cows (whilst also propelling Neil Featherby to his highest vault ever!) or sharing the high that comes from looking forward to food only to be presented with an ex-squaddie smiling and handing you charcoal burnt pizza. Memories that will linger for a long time.

Sharing these similar challenges and experiences with those you are with adds another level as you open your mind and test your body in the beautiful rolling countryside. For me, it not only helps the miles fall away but releases a sense of problem solving or reminder of our own resilience.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group hereAnd then, as we crashed in the camper-van at the end of the challenge, I sat wondering what had I achieved? At that point the focus was on the charities we had raised money for but by the next day the inward thinking had started.

By the Monday I woke to a day off but something was whirring in my mind. It slowly dawned on me as I ate breakfast. I was happy with all aspects of my life apart from my fitness level. I could no longer live with the feeling that I was just 'getting through' the challenges I was taking on. I wanted to get back to being able to meet any challenge I set myself and complete it on my terms.

This year I have been challenging this state. Knowing that training can result in a day or two of poor mobility it has been a completely different experience for me. Instead of the want to push on, feel empowered with any improvement. I find myself double checking weights, repetitions and effort points in the hope I can avoid further setbacks or injury. What confounds it more is all the current training levels would probably have not even registered in my 20s and early 30s.

It's been tough. It's been a cathartic experience. No longer am I able to continue the lifestyle of a 20-year-old. For the first time in my life getting in great shape is not easy. I see gains but the belly fat no longer melts off quite as easy and the fatigue of regaining muscle means the quality of my nutrition had to improve to help recovery.

My running frequency has had to drop. With the need to protect the health of my skeletal system I am currently running once, maybe twice a week. I spend much more of my time diving into cross training. I must remember even though my passion is to run, as I get older the need to maintain flexibility, bone health and movement potential are more important so my answers are no longer always found on a running track.

I have trained people in many sports arenas. I can see the obvious benefits of cross fit, yoga, I Move Freely program and of course pure strength training can bring to the body and its continued development.

I wonder if this scenario runs true with others. I certainly think it does with many of my clients. All I can say is maybe get a little clever? Think around your barriers, accept limitations and work with them and not against them.

Move your markers slowly and most of all keep consistently doing the things that make you take a step closer to your goals and continue to reduce the behaviours you know stop you.

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