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Get older, run faster

LOOKING for that magic, simple answer is something that drives a lot of us. What will be Saturday's winning lottery numbers? Can I devise a method to select them? What should I eat to make myself run faster? Wearing what socks will knock how many minutes off my time?

Of course, there’s never one simple conclusion, but I have to say my eye was drawn to some fascinating new research that claims will stop the inevitable – getting slower as we age. And better, it promised to be very easy.

Assuming aging hasn’t meant an increased love of shepherd’s pie and the resulting extra 15lb being a couch potato involves, the key to all of this are your ankles and calf muscles. Keep those bits of you in good shape along with your aerobic system and weight, and you might even be able to run faster.

As you can imagine, ankles and calf muscles play a huge role in your stride pattern. The study showed that older runners tend to have the same cadence as younger rivals – about 165 strides per minute. However, older runners have a shorter stride which therefore means they run slower – about a 20 per cent decline in the years 20-59. In that time, ankle strength drops off by a whopping 48 per cent.

Further research says it’s not actually your ankles that are solely at fault but rather it’s your calf muscles as well. Work these and this you’ll gain the most benefit with more lower-leg strength and power training. Ankle joint mobility is hugely important in all of this, but all the forward propulsion of your run comes from your calf muscles.

Of course, it goes without saying you shouldn’t just jump into doing loads of leglifts or hopping, or any other type of explosive work that strengthens the appropriate muscle groups. Chances are you haven’t done exercises like that for years and given they have been declining in strength and becoming less mobile, anything unusual will almost certainly end up with you getting injured.

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