Women can run faster in their 30s and 40s – here's how to do it

Want to run faster? Not sure if it’s possible? We talk to one running coach on how she got faster and fitter in her 30s – and how we can too.

It may be a privilege to get older, but that doesn’t necessarily make the process any easier. Once you hit 30, the hangovers start to last for days, your skincare has eight new steps and you can no longer head out on a run without warming up first. Yet, while you do have to spend longer limbering up, it’s a fact that plenty of runners are getting on in age.

In fact, according to Dr Neil Baxter, the mean age for runners in the UK is 40. And according to some 2014 Strava data, people aged 40-49 finished the London Marathon faster than those in their 20s. Clearly, when it comes to running, older doesn’t necessarily mean slower. 

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As get older, perhaps we’re better able to control our egos and our pacing. Maybe we need running more (to get away from kids/work/partners/midlife crises) so invest more time to training. Or perhaps we just prioritise different things – preferring to invest in our health than propping up our local boozer. 

One person who knows it’s entirely possible to get faster as you creep towards middle age is Kim Clark, aka @trackclubbabe. An unstoppable source of #runspo on Instagram, Clark recently posted a reel that caught my attention. The caption? “Age used to feel like a barrier to my dreams before. Now I know better – it should never be a limiting factor.” 

The post explains how she went from a 6:08 marathoner to a 3:11 (if you don’t run marathons, know that that is FAST). And even more impressive, she started running 10 years ago, aged 29. Approaching 40 and post children, she’s three hours faster. 

When I ask her how important she thinks age is when it comes to chasing running goals, Clark says she doesn’t believe it to be as relevant other folk might think. “Even the elites who are setting world records are doing this at 38-40 years old. (Eliud Kipchoge set the marathon world record at 38 years old.)

“If they can be setting world record breaking times, then we certainly have more years in us to be running PBs. I think understanding how to work with your body so you’re not overloading it and training it for the recovery that we need as we get older is key.”

That’s all well and good, but professional athletes have coaches, nutritionists and sleep experts on hand to micromanage just about every part of their lives. For us mere mortals, we’re squeezing in 10ks on Saturday mornings before weekend chores or pub trips, dragging our bodies out of bed for a 30-minute wheeze before work and schlepping to the gym on our way back from the office. For us, it’s a win just to have laced up and got out there… and we wonder why it hurts so much on the days we do push our speed. 

The two-step hack for running a PB, whatever your age

Clark puts her own dramatic improvement down to “understanding run training finally. It’s very, very simple,” she says. All you have to do is break your training into two.

Run slow

“Run very easy recovery runs. This is the base of your running. We want to be running it in our aerobic zone. When we run them too fast, we aren’t building our aerobic fitness.”

You should be able to hold a constant conversation on these runs. You might even be able to sing as you jog.

Run fast

“Then, running very fast speed workouts. We want to build our VO2 max. And lastly, focusing on recovery. If you’re not recovering, you’re not improving. Once I dialled in training like that, it made everything so much clearer.” 

You shouldn’t really be able to say more than a few words at once. 

The key to running faster lies in running very slowly and very fast (it’s far more simple than it sounds).

That kind of sounds suspiciously simple. Run very slowly and then run very fast. But if you think about it, those runs that feel like a horrendous slog probably wouldn’t feel so awful if we just ran them slower. And if we ran most of our runs very slowly, we’d probably have way more energy to sprint once a week (on a treadmill, a hill or wherever you can do intervals).

“It’s not about your age, it’s your training that’s been limiting you. Once you understand how to train, everything changes and you’ll realize that you have so much more you can do.”

And it’s for that reason that Clark has come up with a series of FAST guides, to help runners focus on speed as a priority “because that’s what is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck in training”. 

To get to a place where you can battle your ego to run slower or dial up the courage to sprint, you need to feel confident. We know that many women really lack self-confidence when it comes to running – whether that’s linked to how they look, feel or perform. And again, that’s something Clark’s discussed before. Back in the summer, I noticed how few women were running in shorts, despite temperatures soaring to 40°C. We’re constantly holding ourselves back from enjoying and excelling in running because of poor body image.

The interesting thing is this is something that can affect runners of all abilities and speeds. Clark’s posted before about navigating body confidence issues and the importance of not waiting to feel better about our bodies before we decide to go out and run.

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“It’s so important to run in what makes you feel good and fast,” she tells Stylist. “For me, I pick my outfit based on what makes me feel free, fast and able to move. The older I get, the less I care about what people think. And truly, most people aren’t even thinking about you.

“When you’re doing amazing things, you don’t have to overthink how your body looks – it looks great!”

In other words, stay in your lane and try not to think about what other people are doing around you. So long as you’re either going super slow or super fast. 

Images: Getty

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