The comeback at 40

Athletes who come back after age 40 generally fall flat.

I often think back to Jim Palmer, tossing grapefruits as a geriatric Oriole in spring training. I recall Ray Leonard, Sugar all dried up, getting his rear kicked by Macho Camacho. Mark Spitz attempted a swimming return in his 40s, which only led to mild embarrassment … America’s greatest living swimming putting up Division I college times.

I am not a great athlete, and was never a great athlete. I ran one mediocre year of college track and cross country at Delaware. As a kid, I was one of Putnam County’s top youth distance runners which, along with a quarter, might get me a gumball. I’ve competed in 11 marathons, with a PR of 3:11. That came in 2006, on a beautiful day in Chicago.

Now, at age 40, I want another taste.

This October 28, I will be competing in the Marine Corps Marathon. It’ll be my first 26.2-mile race since an absolutely diasterous 3:40 in Philly four or five years ago (by far my slowest time), when I entered in horrific shape, then waddled through miles upon miles of hell. My legs cramped up, my psyche was dead, I made the rookie mistake of running with an iPod. Just a disaster.

So here’s the question: At 40, can I break 3:10? On the bright side, I don’t feel as if I ever 100 percent put in to marathon training. Oh, I worked hard and ran the requisite distances. But, in the back of my mind, I always knew there was more that could have been done. Weights, better eating, more speed work, etc. Generally, I was young and spry, and I knew my body would make up for any real lapses.

Now, however, I’m old. Well, older. The body doesn’t recover nearly as quickly, and I bruise and hurt much easier. Hell, right now I’m suffering through some sort of upper left left leg strain/pull that made last night’s six miler sorta difficult.

I’m babbling. What should I do? How should I train? I have five months to get in fighting trim. I weight about 198, and wanna drop to 185-ish. I want to build my body up without breaking it down. Swimming? Speed work? How many days of rest?

I used to be a running know it all. No longer.

I’m all ears.

4 thoughts on “The comeback at 40”

  1. If you think 3:40 is bad, how do you think I feel with a PR of 4:33? I blame miles 11-13 where I thought, “Hey, this is easy! I can go faster than this.” Mike, meet wall. No iPod required.

    Do you feel better now? 🙂

  2. Jeff,

    Curious about your comment about it being a rookie mistake to have an iPod. I’m a rookie training for my first marathon (NYC) and always have an iPod when I run. Why would this be a mistake?

    1. because marathons are colorful and vibrant and exciting and engrossing. they distract and absorb—especially nyc. to hide in an ipod is to miss the experience. and, i believe, a huge mistake. at least for me it was, ken.

  3. Jeff, you might want try a program that I’ve used in the past called the First Training Program. It’s basically quality over quantity; three runs a week, with some cycling or swimming mixed in. I like it because I’m getting up there in age (53), a bit more susceptible to injury, and am usually very busy with “life”. You should be able to find more info online. Good luck

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