I was recently in Yellowstone National Park on a hiking trip, ambling along with my friend Mike, when my mind filled with the ways in which we humans can get from Point A to Point B. I’m known to perseverate and hypothesize a bit (as a reader you already know this), and Mike was kind enough to take part in a lively discussion of all things ambulation.
Earlier this summer I had written about running (a mile or so) and its relationships to health and fitness as well as some concepts regarding training and testing. Humans can locomote in three broad categories when they are upright on two legs: sprinting, running, and walking. Each of those forms of movement is a bit unique in terms of biomechanics and physiologic demand. If we leave sprinting and walking out of the discussion for now, we are left with running, this is basically everything that falls between a brief dash or a long stroll. Running at an easy pace is considered a jog, and a brisk effort is often termed a cruise, tempo, or race effort. Regardless of the semantics, Mike and I talked about running a mile as a performance marker, how one might quantify such a thing, and what might be meaningful in said pursuit.
Shout out to Grand Funk Railroad, who in 1974 gave us “The Locomotion.” And since running is a form of locomotion, we should take note of the advice to “…come on, come on, and do the Locomotion with me.” Mike and I chatted about how running a mile can fit into a comprehensive fitness program, which includes resistance, low-intensity steady state, mobility, and high intensity interval training. This is the type of all-around conditioning program that Mike has utilized for over 20 years, and at 66, he is a strong, lean, fit, and healthy locomotor. Mike is not a long-distance runner nor does he have any desire to be one. Instead, he lives at the intersection of high performance and maximum longevity, where maintenance of muscle mass and power are complementary with aerobic fitness and endurance. Mike uses running as a tool in his fitness arsenal and he also recognizes it as a natural function that is genetically programmed into all humans, as long as congenital issues, injury, or disease has not diminished this capacity.
So, as we hiked along, we started pondering just how one could potentially determine a reasonable performance marker for a mile run, taking into account age and gender. We came up with a very interesting paradigm that I think you will find useful. It’s a sliding scale based on current world records in the mile run, specific to males and females as well as every year of age (from 35 and up). By applying an arbitrary percentage to the world record time for the mile at any age, we have suggested a potential performance target for most fitness enthusiasts and recreational athletes. Keep in mind that we are not suggesting that this system has been validated, or that there may be substantial health benefits to running a mile as fast as you can. There is probably a cutoff point which will be individually-based and difficult to determine. An example would be that there is indeed a performance difference if you can run within 20 seconds of your hypothesized goal time versus 2 minutes, but this may constitute no difference in overall health, disease risk, or longevity. This is more about setting a target for high achievers.
Here are the instructions for determining your high-fitness target performance in the one mile run. Go to the wikipedia list of world records in track and field, and scroll down to find the record-holding performance for your gender and age. You will probably be impressed and amazed at the speed of these runners. We need to recognize that in all cases, these world records represent statistical outliers in human performance, so let’s use those times as a source of motivation and not one of depression. Once you have your age and gender record time, convert it from minutes to seconds by multiplying each minute by 60 and adding the remainder of seconds back to the total. For example, in Mike’s case, he would select the 65-69 age group and find the time of Derek Turnbull of New Zealand, who in 1992 ran 4:56 (rounded to the nearest second) for the mile. This time would convert to 296 seconds. This is where it gets fun. Check the table below and use the adjustment criteria to find your goal time. We estimated that a percentage of performance, compared to the world record holder, and tweaked up a little every year, might just produce a viable standard.
|AGE GROUP||ADJUSTMENT FACTOR|
Now if we continue with Mike’s example, he would take 296 seconds and multiply it by 1.61, because he is 66 and thus adds .01 to the starting range in his age group. This results in 477 seconds, or a mile time of 7:56. The result represents a challenging, but probably attainable, goal for Mike.
We set the scale to provide more leniency with advancing age. This is not to suggest that we think aging is in and of itself the primary determinant of physical capacity. No, we definitely believe that lifestyle is a powerful factor. That stated, we respectfully recognize that any athletic accomplishment gets exponentially more difficult with each advancing year, or decade, and this is indeed multifactorial. You’ll also notice that this system yields relatively challenging standards for the first few age groups going up from 35. Performance capacity is indeed nonlinear across the lifespan and this proposition is designed to provide motivation to pursue excellence and not to be condemning or judgmental. But humans are not robots, so getting close to the goal times in your 30’s and 40’s may just well lay the foundation to hit them consistently in your 50’s and beyond.
The goal with this time prediction method is to provide a target that represents high performance, but is still generally attainable by most recreational athletes with a little training and a maximum effort. A highly competitive runner will find these times to be easily attained, or “soft,” but our focus is trying to capture the bell-shaped curve and to address most locomotors. My perspectives in suggesting this paradigm are severalfold. First, I really want to encourage everyone to be active, healthy, and long-living. And if you can exercise, in any way, I want you to get the health and fitness benefits that are available from training, even if it’s not running. If you can run, I’d like to suggest that you consider this approach as a way to challenge yourself and test your performance capacity. And finally, if you already run a lot, it would be awesome if you maintained this high level of function for as long as you can.
So that’s it. Let me know what you think. I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions. Let’s do the Locomotion!