Speed and the Masters Sprinter

Speed decreases with age.  That’s a fact of life.  Check the World Records in different age groups if you don’t believe me.

I call it "The Law of Attrition".

I used a random sample of the 2007 WMA results in Ricionne, using the M40 – M65 5 year age groups as my sample pool:

  • 100m 0.4 seconds attrition
  • 200m 0.8 sec
  • 400m 1.6 sec

If you really want to get depressed, you can look at this at an absolute level and estimate an attrition rate of almost one-tenth of a second per year for the 100 meters, or 0.35 seconds in a 400m every year!


This is one reason why some masters athletes don’t bother showing up when they reach the tail end of their age group. Sure, injuries, scheduling and financial reasons also factor in the equation, but these statistics show just how difficult it is to compete with athletes even 4 years younger than oneself.

Some rare elite athletes like 40-year-old Troy Douglas of the Netherlands and 47-year-old Merlene Ottey of Slovenia (formerly of Jamaica) still competed at the elite level.  Genetic freaks like Usain Bolt do exist.

You really have to forget your past if you want to run Masters Track.  Muscles have a memory – if you sprinted before, the chances are you still "have it".

With the odd exception, the faster you were in your prime, the faster you’ll be as a Masters sprinter compared to other athletes.  The law of attrition doesn’t lie.  Of course, some Masters athletes like Holland’s Eric Roese or USA’s James Chinn could still run relatively close to their prime.

I get a chuckle when I hear good amateur golfers dreaming to join the Senior PGA tour when they turn 50.  Sorry to break the news guys, but I think when Greg Norman or Tiger Woods turns 50, they’ll have the edge on you already.

Same with track.  Bill Collins was an alternate in the 4x100m Olympic relay in 1972.  And he just kept it up.

But I’m not here to discourage you.  I believe in the "absolute" rule.  It’s all about YOU improving relative to YOURSELF.  No one else.  Just you and the clock.  If you win some medals, that’s bonus.  The post-race beer taste just as good.

3 Considerations before Starting Masters Sprints

But seriously, in addition to the neuro-muscular facts of life, there are 3 important considerations for Masters sprinters for anyone contemplating a comeback:

  1. Compare your fitness today to your peak in your Youth, College or Elite.  Have you kept in good shape?  How is your over-all fitness?
  2. Flexibility usually decreases with age, unless you’ve been doing Yoga the last 10 years
  3. Most people gain weight after College for a variety of reasons.  Are you heavier than in your running prime?  Sure, you may claim to be the same weight, but do you still have the same body composition in terms of muscle mass and fat? 

By now, you’ve read hundreds of articles on this blog and other informative web sites.  You may have purchased books and DVDs, too.  You know WHAT to do, but HOW do you get there?

Focus on the Training Plan

Here are my 3 simple rules to consider in your training plan:

  1. Maximize speed training
  2. Maximize efficiency & technique
  3. Avoid injury by monitoring your workouts in terms of speed and volume.  Over-training is a natural reaction for the enthusiastic athlete.

Okay, those are just vague guidelines, so here are some helpful and specific tips:

  1. Start with getting in shape, improve flexibility, and losing weight
  2. The warm-up is even more important, as your body has to be ready when the gun goes off.  Consider a dynamic warm-up over the traditional static stretching.
  3. Instead of the traditional 3X per week hard workouts (with 1 rest day afterwards), consider 2X per week hard (2 easy or rest days after each hard workout)
  4. Balance speed, speed endurance, and special endurance (see my article on the 6 types of workouts)
  5. Train on grass surfaces (use old spikes with long needles) or simply use training flats
  6. Spend more time (and money?) on recovery, regeneration, and staying loose and supple.  Maybe incorporate Yoga?  Since you have more money than in College (hopefully!), a good massage therapist cost $70-$90 an hour for a good session.
  7. Alternate training methods: weight training and plyometrics.  Weight training and dynamic Olympic lifts are great for CNS stimulus leading up to the big meets
  8. Focus on technique, staying relaxed, reach top speed more efficiently more important
  9. Really watch the diet and caloric intake, and if you must, consider extra supplements, including brain supplements like Tyrosine or Theanine.

Phil Campbell’s Summary

Phil Campbell’s summarized it best with his 4 tips on running a 40 yard dash:

  1. Cover the First Ten Yards in 5.5 to 6 Steps in Perfect Acceleration Position
  2. Stretching to Improve Range of Motion
  3. Correct Technique, Especially when Squatting
  4. Train for Explosiveness – Even in the Weight Room

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at SpeedEndurance.com
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee