at the races Will You Know When It’s Time to Give Up on PBs?

Will You Know When It’s Time to Give Up on PBs?


The Raptors developed ‘load management’ for Kawhi Leonard. They had him take off games during the regular season so the more mature athlete, who’d struggled with injury, could be ripe for the NBA Finals. Leonard’s skills didn’t deteriorate, he was the NBA Finals MVP. But does load management make sense for runners? As we age, do we need to decrease volume, race less and, if so, at what point does that begin?

Tantalizingly, frustratingly, and yet half the battle, like most things running: it depends.

“There’s a biological age and a training age,” explains Reid Coolsaet, two-time Olympian, marathon coach and elite coordinator of the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon, pictured below post-PB. “You can get faster in your first ten years of your Training Age, so if you weren’t crushing it in your 20s and 30s you can absolutely PB (like my athlete Brian Murphy) in your 60s.” 

Natasha Wodak and Malindi Elmore, 42 and 43, respectively, have both run miles for decades and both aim to compete this summer at the Olympic Games (Elmore has qualified, Wodak looks to qualify this spring in Hamburg). It’s hard to get faster as you get older, but many runners hit new PBs as they age. 

“I’m 54 and I sometimes feel like I have one more really quick one in me,” says Doug Kells, pictured below of BlackToe Running. “I’m faster than I was when I was 40. I’m just not as fast as when I was 49.” 

Ed Whitlock, pictured up top, icon, the world’s all-time greatest masters runner—who broke three hours at 74 and broke four hours at 85—believed the records set by older runners were too slow. Assiduous in his arithmetic like he was consistent in his training, Whitlock told me desire was an aging runner’s greatest handicap. “Everyone’s potential as we age is gradually reduced due to physical strength reduction, reduced heart and lung capacity,” Whitlock wrote—by hand—in a story for iRun, “but a sub 3-hour marathon at 70 shouldn’t be that great a challenge for a talented marathon runner. The 85 and 90-year-old records are soft.” 

According to Whitlock, if a runner decreases performance by 1% each year, the standard at 70-years-old should be 2:49 and three-hours flat at 76. He believed his 2:54:49 at 73 was superior to his 3:25:43 at 80. 

“I’m not convinced that continued running accelerates terminal injury issues and I think runners can continue to run well into their old age,” wrote Whitlock, pictured below in all his glory in 2016.

So do runners slow down more than we have to?

In my own running, it’s a mixed bag. Certainly motivation decreases, the miles add up and my competitive edge wains; does that make me slower more than anything physical going on? Last summer, Reid ran his guts out at the 25K Quebec Mega Trail.

“I had a huge battle with this guy—eleven times we changed positions—and I wasn’t thinking, Oh, do I want to push this hard? I was going by instinct to win a race,” says Reid. “For me, changing race venues made me feel young again. It’s invigorating to find new ways to race.” When Reid switched from the track to the marathon, his motivation grew; similarly, when he moved from the marathon to ultras, the same thing happened: motivation staves off deterioration and, even if you’re running slower, your effort can remain the same. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard is competing for another championship—while observing load management—as he tries getting back into the finals of the NBA. Maureen Buckley is 56-years-old. Tough as nails, often smiling, up for adventure, she’s still chasing a PB.

She told iRun, “It hadn’t crossed my mind that I’m too old to crush.”  


  1. My pace has plummeted in the last six months. I’m having this ongoing argument with myself as to whether it’s age (I’m 74), muscle loss, limited running (one injury after the next) or all those things 🤷‍♂️. Anyway whatever it is it’s annoying the hell out of me. 😡

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