Running for Longevity: Lessons Learned from the 47 Year Running Career of Kirk Larson
By: Leda McDaniel
If you are reading this blog geared towards endurance athletes and runners, my guess is that the “running bug,” has bitten and you are as smitten with running as I am. There are many reasons to enjoy running and many ways that it can enhance your quality of life. Some of these factors that I’ve experienced and perhaps you have too are the feeling of freedom of movement that running provides, the exhilaration of running in nature, the feeling of accomplishment when running a PR, and of course developing friendships as part of a running community. I would also imagine that, whatever age this blog finds you at, you would like to extend your running career as long as possible as you age. How long would you guess that you will be able to keep running in your life? 20 years? 30 years? How incredible, then, to hear stories about those who have been running for over 3-4 decades! Kirk Larson is just such an inspiring individual. Kirk competes as a master’s athlete for the Atlanta Track Club and has been running for going on 47 years!
In Episode #39 of the More Than Miles Podcast, physical therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr. Kacy Seynders interview master’s athlete Kirk Larson, who has been running for 47 years. They discuss Kirk’s introduction to running in graduate school, his love of how running makes him feel, and his competitive successes as a master’s athlete. They also discuss some of his training and recovery habits and especially those that he feels have kept him healthy and running for such a long (and successful!) career. Kirk emphasizes that he has been able to maintain his longevity in running because of his attitude and structure related to training, his recovery habits, and finding ways to stay motivated and engaged in competition as he ages. Keep reading to learn more about each of these variables to his success!
Training Attitude and Structure
One of the very sage pieces of advice that Kirk shares during the interview is to individualize the way you incorporate running into your life. As he says, “If you want to have longevity in running, do what you want to do with running…” He goes on to explain what he means by this in relation to training and competition and gives examples, such as for some people that might mean running lots of marathons but for others shorter distances may be more fun. He also stresses that running must fit into your life in reasonable ways. If you are not inclined to compete in running but enjoy the race day comradery and the myriad of benefits including improved physical health, mental health, and fostering positive relationships, there is so much to celebrate in that approach as well!
Kirk also describes how he structures his training with 5 days per week of running including some speed work, long runs and strength training. He describes that one of the adjustments that he has made as he has aged is to focus on the effort and time for speed work versus a distance and time approach. For example, choosing to run a workout that may be intervals of running 8-10 minutes at race pace at a 7/10 effort level versus structuring intervals as doing 4x1 mile at race pace for a speed workout. This is just one example of how the willingness to adapt training approaches as you age can keep you healthy and able to sustain the demands of training.
Importance of Recovery
One of the key factors that Kirk factors into his ability to stay healthy and running for so long is the priority and consistency that he has had with integrating recovery tactics into his life. Some of these recovery techniques that he has found particularly important are his dedication to stretching throughout the week, regular massages, and a priority to work with physical therapists such as Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy at Precision Performance and Physical Therapy. He has used these strategies to largely stay injury free in running and also credits these habits with keeping him functioning at a very high level in his daily life. In the podcast interview he says, “…I get up in the morning, I’m 71 (years old) now, I don’t get out of bed and walk around all stiff until I’ve moved for a bit…you know, I get out of bed and I’m just up and moving around and I feel good!” This high level of functioning also takes some discipline and structure. Kirk describes his habits of getting up before 5am some days to work in pre-run stretching to his routine so that he can feel ready for an early morning run.
Also, as one might expect, trying to stave off injury via engagement with physical therapy (PT) exercises, strength training and massage can help with maintaining the ability to run as you age. Kirk says, “…massage, PT, stretching, light strength work, all that stuff…It helps you perform better, but you’re just going to feel better too because, you know, who wants to run when they’re injured. Who wants to do anything when you’re injured!”
“Age-Grading” and How to Stay Motivated and Competitive in Older Age
In the podcast interview, Kirk talks about the idea of, “age-grading,” which has allowed him to stay motivated to compete at a master’s level as he has aged and no longer is experiencing PRs as he continues to race. The concept of “age-grading” refers to the practice of factoring in a person’s age and sex to predict what times may be expected at different ages and, “grade,” these factors into an overall performance metric. This, “age-grade,” is reflected as a percentage that can be compared across ages and sexes. Just as it has been for Kirk, using age-grading to think about race performance can be incredibly motivating for athletes as they age and (expectedly!) watch their race times get slower.
Kirk relates one of his experiences with factoring in age-grading for a 10k race performance as a master’s athlete. He says, “…So, that 44 minute (10k race time) that I ran as a 70-year-old equated way better than my 10k PR that I set as a 29 year old…” (because it had a higher age grade, or percentage score). He has found this to be a motivating factor that gives him feedback on the success of a race independent of overall time and helps keep him competitive with himself across time and age. For more information on age-grading and access to an, “Age-grading Calculator,” check out this running website:
Each of these factors has contributed to Kirk’s longevity with the sport of running. But ultimately, the enjoyment Kirk has had from running importantly has rested on the relationships and community that he has cultivated within the Atlanta Track Club, with his wife who also runs, and friendships built around the common enjoyment of running. He describes this by saying, “…running is a great sort of global community!” Kirk’s passion for the sport of running and his extensive experience with across decades of life is very uplifting. You will not want to miss this conversation with Kirk Larson!
To listen to the full interview with Kirk Larson, check out the full episode here: Episode #39 of the More Than Miles Podcast with Kirk Larson.
Atlanta Track Club:
Precision Performance and Physical Therapy:
Age-grading For Running Calculator: