FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – For every aging runner with aching knees and a feeling that the fall is inevitable and inevitable, the elite field of this year's marathon in New York brought proof that age and speed can co-exist.
On Sunday morning next to a dozen or so well-understood runners from East Africa on the starting line at Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge were Americans Abdi Abdirahman, 41 years and Bernard Lagat, 43, and Juan Luis Barrios from Mexico, 35 years old. Barrios led his fastest marathon (2 hours, 10 minutes, 55 seconds) earlier this year in Tokyo and says his best times are ahead of us. (Barrios' Sunday was 2:13:55, he finished 11th in the general classification).
The three men have spent the last few months running along the trails and roads in the high Arizona desert and gathering at the Flagstaff coffee center in Macy & # 39; s European Coffeehouse & Bakery to develop a strategy and list some of the recovery and competition information they have obtained with more than six decades of combined competing races. Mo Farah from Great Britain, 35, a four-time Olympic champion, trained with them before his first marathon victory, last month in Chicago.
Do not appreciate them at your own risk, they insist. And although they did not win Sunday in New York, their opinions are still difficult.
"People pay too much attention to who you are on paper, not who you are on that day," said Abdirahman, who finished third in New York two years ago when he was the best American finisher. "I still do better than 80 percent of boys in my competition." He is confident that he can make his fifth Olympic team in 2020, but he gave up on the Sunday race near 30K, still worrying about the recent hip contusion.
The presence of these veterans in the elite field in New York, during the ages in which athletes from other sports disciplines decided to retire, says something important about what the best runners are capable of when they grow up – assuming that they train with a mix of distance , speed and, most importantly, strength exercises.
"I'm ready for it," Lagat said before New York, his first marathon after a long career spent mainly on the track. Lagat won a bronze medal in the 1500 meters race at the 2000 Olympic Games and silver in 2004. And he is still fast: On Sunday he ran 2:17:20, 18th overall and the eighth fastest American. He ran 62 minutes for the Houston half-marathon in January, over 40 American records.
After this race, Barrios told him that he must try the marathon. Prior to this year, Lagat never ran more than 17 miles, but said he was not afraid of a new challenge. "Running," Lagat said, "this is something I need to do to work properly."
Experts in sports medicine claim that their research has made themselves felt during the late-stage jumps experienced by elite runners such as Lagat, Barrios and Abdirahman. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Specialist Surgery Hospital in New York who completed tens of Ironman marathons and races, said that fast twitch fibers in muscles that produce speed are worsening before the slow vibrations of the fibers counted on the distance runners.
"The nerve supply with fast twitch muscle fibers dies, and the fiber, which once had the ability to quickly contract, transforms into a slow-twitch fiber," he said. "While you still have functional muscle fiber, the fiber is now a durable fiber."
Because fast-twitch fiber is designed to produce strength and power, people naturally lose both as they age. This affects the body's ability to maintain a fast pace when it is tired – unless the runner activates speed training and strength training to prepare for races. In this way Mef Keflezighi, who is 43 years old and retired, but plays back, set a personal record in 38th place in 2014 and two years later qualified for the American Olympic team, defeating many younger runners by ten years.
In addition to running from 85 to 130 miles a week, at various intervals and speeds they were preparing for New York, Abdirahman, Lagat and Barrios spent several hours a week in the gym to maintain the strength that this age naturally moves away from them.
In fact, these trainings are becoming more and more popular among laymen, which can help explain why more serious runners far below the elite level can be faster.
Earlier this year, the Boston Athletic Association announced that it must lower the qualification standards for runners attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Boston is a rare marathon that requires runners to qualify for a place in the field (unless they choose one seat reserved for those who raise money for charity).
In recent years, the organizers of the race have not been able to accept all runners who have met qualification standards that differ in age. In 2017, the runners had to be 2:09 below the qualification standard. In 2018 they had to be 3:23 lower. In 2019, they will have to lower by 4:52. Due to the increasing number of applications and a clear increase in the number of people running qualifying times in 2018, race organizers have reduced the qualification standards for all age groups by five minutes this year, which means that their analysis suggested that not only younger runners were faster, but also older ones too.
Metzl and other experts said the reason was simple: runners of all ages and skills are getting smarter about how they train, and this allows them to stay as fast as they get older. The same can happen with Lagata, Abdirahman and Barrios, even if it requires some flexibility. There is nothing wrong, they say, taking an extra day to regenerate after a hard workout, although their definition of a day of rest is running from 8 to 12 miles at a rate of 1 mile for 61/2 to 7 minutes.
Recently, they looked out the windows and saw that a rare October snowstorm had descended to the northern country of Arizona. They had planned speed training on the local track, but Abdirahman decided he would be too clever and windy for him. He made a treadmill in his home for the morning run.
Barrios and Lagat went down to Sedona, about 45 minutes, where it was raining instead of snowing. They made an 8-mile warm-up run, then five intervals of 2 kilometers at a rate of 4:55 miles and a mile of cooling down the highway. Then we returned to Flagstaff to practice strength and strength training, which combines work with flexible straps and dynamic jumps, squats and leg lifts.
Barrios said he had long admired Lagata's dedication, his longevity and understanding of how to adjust his training with less weekly miles and more focused intensity as he got older. That's what he's trying to imitate now.
"I follow his lifestyle," said Barrios from Lagat. "I can learn more from a person than an athlete."
For his part Lagat carefully listened to the advice of Barrios and Abdirahman about the mentality required to overcome the race, which will last more than two hours. Sometimes a marathon can be quick at the beginning or in the middle, they told him. Ignore it, they said; the most important thing is the ability to wait for the last kilometers, where it may be necessary to compete with unrelenting pain.
"I can still improve," said Abdirahman, who will be 43, when, if he is healthy, he will compete in the Olympic marathon in 2020. "I can learn something every day, and if you can learn, you can improve."