Erin King has tried a lot of running training plans.
After running in high school and then taking a 20-year break, the 47-year-old Canadian mom found an affinity for the marathon in her late 30s. She started out following the standard seven-day schedule with her local running group, which included a tempo run on Tuesday, speedwork Thursday, and long run Saturday. A few years later, though, she found that the plan wasn’t serving her well anymore.
“I was getting hurt a lot. I was overtraining, pushing too hard,” King says. “I needed someone to actually look at my training load as a female pushing 40, with kids and a job.”
It’s a common experience among masters runners, especially women. Kids, jobs, social commitments, aging parents—the life stressors can pile high, which, as we know, compromises running performance. Compounded by the physiological facts of aging, the bottom line is that masters runners often need more recovery than the typical seven-day schedule allows.
No Arguing with Science
When you push yourself in a workout, you are intentionally creating microtears in your muscles. The next day, when you recover—either by running easy, cross-training, or resting—your muscles go through a period of supercompensation, when they rebuild themselves to be even stronger.
As you get older, your ability to super-compensate doesn’t vanish, but it does take longer. Therefore, the older we get, the less tenable the 24-48 hours of recovery in the classic week-long training plan becomes.
Listen to Your Body
So how do you know if you need a change in schedule?
For King, it’s all about listening to her body. “I tried lower mileage… I tried just one day of hard work and a strong long run,” she says. “Somehow I still seemed to feel pretty overcooked at the end.”
Perpetual fatigue is a big indicator. The trick is to make sure you’re seeing patterns and that your “dead legs” aren’t due to one-off events, like having pulled an all-nighter at work.
The other major indicator is overuse and chronic injuries. To head these off, start by tracking nagging pains in a running log or make note of them on your regular calendar. If they persist over time, this is a sign that you need more recovery in your schedule.
Recalibrate Your Training Plan
To add recovery into your training cycle without sacrificing performance, start by considering your own strengths and weaknesses. As Mario Fraioli, a full-time running coach and podcast host in Novato, California, points out, no two athletes are the same; we all respond differently to different types of workouts. Maybe you can bounce back quickly after a tempo workout, but short intervals on a track leave you sore and depleted. In this case, consider adding an extra day of recovery specifically after speed sessions.
|Day of the Week||7-Day Schedule||Day of Cycle||8-Day Schedule||Day of Cycle|
|Thursday||tempo||4||easy/cross-train - this is the extra recovery day!||4|
King tried three different types of plans before landing on an eight-to-nine-day cycle, so if her experience is any indicator, you’ll probably need to experiment to get your schedule just right. If you’re consistently too fatigued to hit your harder workouts, add extra recovery days between them all, which will stretch your cycle out to nine to 14 days. Whether you run, cross-train, or rest on those recovery days is up to you, but if you choose easy running, make sure you really take it easy.
Health and Happiness are the Goals
At the end of the day, the purpose of adjusting your training schedule is to keep you healthy—attending to what your body needs, but also to what your schedule demands and to what brings you joy. As Fraioli points out, there’s no sense in creating a situation where you’re trying to “cram it all in” and running starts to feel like a chore.
“There is no universal magic formula, so even if it takes an extra two days or three days to get the same number of sessions in but you’re happy, you have more time, you’re not feeling as rushed, you’re able to get some extra sleep, then it’s worthwhile,” he says, “and you’re actually getting more out of your training.”