Neil Featherby: The art of changing your training as you get older

Malcolm Tuff has changed how he trains as he got older

Malcolm Tuff has adjusted how he trains as he got older. - Credit: Supplied

It’s always good when seeing people react to mine and Mark’s weekly columns and whether they agree or not with what might have been written, if it has led to constructive debate from others, then job done.  

My column last week with regards to “getting out what you put in” most certainly got a few people talking which led me to speaking to Ryston Runners Malcolm Tuff who apart from being a superb Masters Athlete, also made some really good points when it came to training particularly with athletes who have taken up the sport in later life or indeed just through the processes of aging.  

Tommy Hughes, at 60 years of age, is smashing world records from 5K up to the marathon in his age category and can still pound out 100 miles a week, but he really is a one-off.  

Malcolm, whilst having a background as a quality athlete during his younger years, fell away from the sport after leaving school and it was only through taking his daughter Rebecca, to Ryston Runners in 2005 when aged 40, that he decided to give it another go.  

Very quickly he soon discovered that the talent which he possessed in his youth was still very much intact whilst building up a reputation not just locally, but on a much wider scale too.  

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Just like another Ryston athlete, the great Peter Duhig, who for many years seemed to get better with age across a huge wide range of distances, Malcolm was attaining high national standards on the track, road and cross country from 800 metres up to the marathon.  

However, his best years came between the ages of 45 and 50, where he not only attained at least 85 percent age grading at all distances, but also represented England at cross country and ran a 2hours 44mins marathon just before turning 50.  

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When asking him his thoughts about training he really has given this a lot of thought and like so many of us he has had to learn the hard way at times.  

“Having learned over the years much to my cost, as a masters runner, you really do have to consider a different approach to that of what might be set out for athletes in their prime years,” he said. “I failed to recognise the amount of recovery time I personally required. Like lots of others, I learnt from my own experiences rather than listening to those who were advising me at the time which led to my body breaking down every few months. Everything I read at the time stated that to be a good runner and be the best you can possibly be required 70 to 100 miles a week whilst also including three fast sessions. Due to inadequate recovery between these hard work outs and high mileage, my progress was definitely hindered which restricted my chances to compete consistently at the top level nationally.”  

There are no two ways about it, what Malcolm says is correct and as already said, most of us are guilty of learning from mistakes made along the way. As the saying goes, “a wise man is a man who learns from other people’s mistakes.” If only though! 

I was always at my best running around 100 to 120 miles each week, but when I pushed it up to 130 to 140 miles, I was just running tired all the time.  

I could run all day, but the freshness in my legs just wasn’t there anymore.  

The problem being for me was that I was so zoned in with thinking more would be better, I dare not back off in the hope that it would all come together. Even in the week leading up to a marathon I would still run 70 to 90 miles.  

I still believe to this day that it was okay for me to push such a high mileage out, but not every week. I think it is fair to say that I let my obsession for running mile after mile rule any intelligence which I might have had. 

Looking back, Malcolm now recommends to anyone who asks him for advice that they should find a coach who not only supplies their athletes with training schedules, but liaises with their charges regularly to monitor the programme and dietary needs throughout the week and make adjustments if need be.  

“Train fast by all means, but find out what works best for you and maybe instead of trying to cram everything into a seven-day cycle, think about fitting it all into 11 or even 12 days to allow for more recovery as that is what I now do to much better effect,” he said.   

After 14 years of great achievements, Malcolm is still very ambitious and I don’t doubt for one moment that he will continue to progress as an athlete and keep learning at the same time. 

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