Running Defence

Need for Speed


I would like run a sub-1:40 half marathon. I am 59 years old, have been running for 31 years, retired from Comrades after 20 finishes, and have a half marathon PB of 1:14:35. My best time in the last five years was 1:49. My current training is three days a week, doing one 10km fartlek session, one 13km and one 20km. Is age a major cause of slowing down? Also, how can I overcome an injury i.e. spinal bilharzia, which I contracted while paddling five Duzis five years ago. It took two years to start running again and I have battled to get my speed and strength back. How can I change my training to improve speed without breaking down? – LES BRUYNS, PIETERMARITZBURG

They say that old age is not for sissies and I really relate, as I’m now 57. There is no doubt that advancing years rob us of our speed and getting it back is quite a challenge. Your 21km PB is really impressive, so rest easy that you have the genes, but now we need to turn back the clock.

Your current programme is, I believe, lacking in strength and speed work. As you will know from the past, if you want to race fast, you have to train fast, but should also balance the strength and speed work with easy days. At our age more rest and greater recovery time are as important as quality sessions. Err on the conservative side and take a day off if you are feeling tired. The benefit of rest outweighs the benefit of sessions you miss.

My medical knowledge is limited so I would not be able to comment on the effects of spinal bilharzia. Suffice it to say that I know it leaves you with no energy, so I’m sure it has
been a long way to get back up.

Head for your sub-1:40 with some caution, understanding that after 31 years on the road, your body will be tired. You have the class – no one can ever take that away. Your speed will come back and you will be able to convert it into decent racing times – but only if you are fresh and not over-trained. For us old timers, less is often more.


Barry Holland
Running coach with 33 years’ experience. Member of Jeppe Quondam, has run 37 consecutive Comrades Marathons. His PBs include 1:17:21 (21km), 2:39:30 (42km) and 6:29:22 (Comrades).