Running and Aging: Picking Your Spots

AJW ruminates on how being flexible with our workouts becomes increasingly important as we get older.

By on May 10, 2024 | Comments

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the unique opportunities and challenges of growing older as a runner.]

On a recent long run, I had reason to reflect back on an interview I did several years ago with accomplished American ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter. In the conversation, I asked Dauwalter, who is well-known for her relatively unstructured training, how she typically plans her runs.

In classic Courtney style, she replied, “Well, about half a mile from our house, I come to an intersection. If I turn right, it’s a short, easy run, and if I turn left, it’s a longer, harder run.”

In my opinion, Dauwalter showed tremendous wisdom in her wonderfully simple concept. When constructing and executing endurance training plans, we often say, “Make the easy days easy and the hard days hard.”

AJW volunteering at Western States 100

AJW (center) while volunteering at the Western States 100. All photos courtesy of AJW.

As an aging long-distance runner, I have found that one of the most important ways I can incorporate Dauwalter’s wisdom is to simply pick my spots. On any given day, about a mile into my run, I often know what the day has in store. Regardless of what might be in my training plan — sometimes I have it, and sometimes I don’t. On the days I feel good, I  quickly make a decision and usually go harder, or longer, or both.

As a younger runner, I probably would have never deviated from my plan, as I tended to focus more on staying disciplined. As I have aged, I have realized that by making more on-the-fly decisions and picking my spots, I am showing more discipline than I would be by sticking more closely to a plan.

A good example of this was from a recent weekday run. After leaving my house on a random Tuesday with a plan to run an easy six miles, I quickly realized it was a good day. Turning left instead of right onto Oak Street, I changed my plan and ran eight miles. After crossing 16th Street, I added a dozen one-minute hard intervals over the next three miles. Since those felt so good, I decided to go an additional two miles to make the run an even 10.

AJW getting awards at Western States 100

AJW (second from right) at the 2014 Western States 100.

What started as a planned easy six miler morphed into an eight-mile tempo run and ultimately ended up as a swift 10 miler. This is certainly not something I would have done years ago, but through experience, listening to my aging body, and being willing to stay flexible during a run, I have learned that picking my spots can make a huge difference in my fitness and add purpose to my training without too much obsessive planning.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Wallace Brewing Company logoThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Wallace Brewing Company in Wallace, Idaho. The 1910 Black Lager is incredibly refreshing and brewed in the German Black Lager tradition. Crafted with rich malt and Idaho-grown hops, it’s well worth a trip to Wallace if you are in the area.

Call for Comments

  • Do you follow a set training plan or subscribe to the turn-left or turn-right philosophy?
  • Has your training philosophy changed over time?
AJW and his family

AJW (third from left) and his family.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.