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Sara Ellen, Linsi Scottow and George Henderson

Mastering the Masters Lifestyle - A Guide for Athletes


Balancing commitments and getting on top of your nutrition

For many of us training and competing past the age of 35, long gone are the days where we can eat what we want, juggle several team sports alongside athletics, warm up for ten minutes without risking injury, and enjoy track and field without having to shoehorn it into six other commitments every weekend.

(If anyone knows how to do that as a masters athlete, I’m all ears!).

Instead, most of us face having to be more prescriptive with our nutrition, balancing work and family life with evening training sessions, and trying to counteract the almost inevitable decline in performance that sadly comes with age. And let’s not even talk about attempting to sprint after anything less than twenty minutes of drills and mobility.

That’s the reality for Sara, Linsi, and George, who’ve all had to adjust their nutrition and training while working and even studying. 

However, they’re all very much mastering the athlete lifestyle, with plenty of medals and accolades between them. 

I asked them to share their stories and top tips for maximising performance after the age of 35. 

Sara Ellen (masters athlete)

"I work 50 hours a week, and study for 20 more" - Sara's story

Sara’s been competing in various sports for 22 years. As a teenager, she ran cross country and was also a keen swimmer, as well as having a love for skateboarding. 

I did the whole running thing the wrong way around!, she says. I competed in marathons in my 20s and have dropped down to middle distance track in my 30s. 

Sara has clocked up over 100 half marathons and 4 marathons, but it’s as a V35 where she’s really flourished and is most proud of her achievements. She’s had success at British Masters Athletics Federation championships both indoors and outdoors, as well as on the trails. 

So, how has she managed it? 

Sara puts a lot of her success down to good nutrition. As an older athlete, I’ve noticed I have to prioritise protein more than I did as a youngster, she explains. 

“When I was younger, I could get away with eating pretty much anything."

Now, in my late thirties, if I was to eat anything I wanted I would put on weight very quickly and would feel fatigued. It takes me a lot longer to recover now than it did in my twenties!"

I prioritise fruit and veg, eat lots of protein (meat and fish), I don’t shy away from carbs, and I’m careful with my portion control."

But I don’t diet. I think of food as fuel, and consider what I can eat to aid my recovery”. 

Sara’s well-balanced diet doesn’t just aid her training and competition, but also her chaotic work life. 

Work-life balance is my biggest obstacle, she admits. 

I work in a busy hospital as a respiratory physiologist. I work fifty hours a week, and commuting takes me another twelve hours, Sara explains.

On top of this, she also studies for over eighty hours a month. 

Many people would look at Sara’s schedule and assume she had no time for anything outside of work, let alone training.

But she ticks off around 45 miles a week by running part of her commute. She does a weekly track session on her day off, uses Parkrun as a tempo session and then does a long run on a Sunday.

She works closely with her coach, and together, they set realistic targets which fit around her unrelenting routine. 

And it’s working – she’s already clocked one PB this year, with a 12:29:52 3k at the British Masters 3000m Championships in Sheffield in January. 

So, what are Sara’s top tips for other masters athletes? Her advice is simple: 

“One – you’re never too old. Ever."

“Two – try new things."

“Three – if I can do it, you can too!” 

Linsi Scottow (masters athlete)

"I spent 15 years away from athletics - I'm now back but taking my time!" - Linsi's story

Linsi started athletics aged 12, and, like many juniors, tried her hand at several events.  

She found a knack for horizontal jumps, and for a decade, Linsi was a regular on the podium at the AAAs (as they were then), as well as racking up points in the UK Women’s League. She even claimed a couple of GB junior vests. 

But after moving away for work, settling down and starting a family, Linsi didn’t train or compete from 2008 – 2023. 

Now, after 15 years away from the sport, Linsi has recently been inspired to pick up her spikes again after her daughter joined her local club.  

“For me, the easiest part of returning to athletics was finding that competitiveness again. I think once you’ve had that it never goes away."

“But that made gradually increasing the training intensity and limiting the number of competitions I did difficult. I thought I could do it all and do it too soon”. 

After suffering a hamstring tear early on after her return, Linsi has now learned her lesson and is slowly increasing the amount of training she’s doing.  

I’m yet to reintroduce any free weights to my training, she explains. But over this winter I’ve concentrated on speed, plyometrics, and circuits to see how my body responds."

My knees were always problematic when I was younger so I’m always aware of how my joints react to certain sessions now”.

However, one benefit of returning to athletics later in life for Linsi is her ability to fund regular sports massages, which she says is helping with her confidence as she gradually increases her training load. 

But, like Sara, injury worries aren’t the only obstacle Linsi has to contend with. 

My job involves 12-hour shifts (days and nights), so planning is key."

I’m used to having to sleep at different times with being a shift worker, and I’ve done so for 17 years now, so I’d like to think I’m managing that as well as I can."

My role changed location in January 2023, so I’m now spending a lot less time commuting. That has probably been the biggest factor enabling me to come back to the sport, she says of her busy work schedule. 

Linsi’s work means she works different days each week, so she’s become a meticulous planner. “I have two calendars one on my phone and a wall one at home, she says. I like to be able to see a whole month in one view on my wall, and then use my phone for planning while I’m out and about. 

So, with her busy workload and family life and attempts at not doing too much, too soon! what training is Linsi managing in her quest to master the athlete lifestyle?

Generally, I manage two or three track sessions a week and two or three gym sessions, and I vary the intensity depending on what my working week looks like."

I use a bit of annual leave to allow me to plan for competitions and even plan summer holidays around big competitions. Thankfully, athletics has become a family affair in our house, which is amazing!, she adds. 

And it’s the family love of athletics which Linsi credits with helping her fit everything in. 

I think it helps that for my track sessions I train with my daughter."

“We’ve found a nice balance with fitting everything in and having time to rest and socialise too!.

And, as someone who’s enjoyed track and field success at both a junior and masters level, Linsi is perfectly placed to give advice on maintaining a high standard of training and competition post-35: 

“Stop when something doesn’t feel right."

Allow enough recovery between sessions. Get a massage and foam roll."

“And enjoy it!” 

George Henderson (masters athlete)

"You can't out-train a bad diet - I can't stress this enough" - George's story

George’s love affair with athletics began in earnest in 1982, having enjoyed cross-country running at school.

He joined his local athletics club, but, after about 18 months, decided running wasn’t for him. And for thirty years that was the case. He played other sports, including regular cycling and taking part in various martial arts, but found that nothing quite resonated in the same way running had done. 

So, in 2014, he took up running once more aged 45. 

Starting slow, George challenged himself to run from lamppost to lamppost and then did his first ever Parkrun in July 2014, finishing in 31.23. By 2016, his time had come down to 24.11. 

And, after discovering the Arthur Lydiard training system, in 2018 he broke every one of his PBs from 800 through to the marathon.  

There are two main factors which George credits for his success – strict nutrition, and self-belief.

“I became vegan in 2018, and I try to eat as much fresh food as possible. My diet is about 80% carbohydrate, 10% protein, and 10% fat. I eat as many whole grains, pulses, legumes, fruits and vegetables as I can. I only drink decaf coffee and green tea, he explains. 

“In my mind, nutrition is the most challenging part of conditioning for any sport. I’m like a sponge – I soak up information, so I learnt a lot about nutrition myself."

What I’ve learned and put into practice enables me to recover faster and train consistently at a fairly high level."

I see so many athletes who neglect nutrition, which leads to their downfall – you can’t out-train a bad diet”. 

And George combines this strict nutrition with a steadfast belief in his own decisions and abilities.

“I believe that you don’t need validation of any kind from anyone else, he says. 

We must all have a vision, a goal, and a destination. We must decide for ourselves how we are going to see it through to the end no matter what; history has shown that the most successful people believe in themselves when no one else does, George adds. 

George completes the vast majority of his training sessions alone, spending hours on his own with his thoughts, and is an avid believer in the saying “as within so without” meaning that our inner state reflects our external reality. Everything should come from within us, not from outside, he explains. “Find what works for you and hold on to your individuality. 

As someone who puts a strong emphasis on self-education and improvement, it’s no surprise that George’s top tips for mastering an athlete lifestyle over and above excellent nutrition and self-confidence are all literary-based. 

“I’ve found all of these to be superb references:Top of Your Game: Eating for Mind and Body’ by Ronnie O’Sullivan; Eat to Win: The Sports Nutrition Bible’ by Robert Haas; 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days’ by Dean Karnazes and Matt Fitzgerald; and The Fast-5 Diet and the Fast-5 Lifestyle’ by Bert Herring”. 

If, like Sara, Linsi and George you’re keen to make the most of your athletic ability post-35, the British Masters Athletic Federation website is full of information on competitions, masters clubs, and age grading (a way of measuring your athletics performance, taking into account your age and sex). 

About Becki Hall

Becki Hall is a masters athlete based in Lincolnshire.

She's competed in athletics since the age of 10, starting her journey as a multi-eventer but settling into life as a thrower and part-time sprinter in more recent years. 

She competes for Peterborough and Nene Valley AC, is a higher-claim athlete with Bedford and County AC, and also a member of Eastern Masters AC

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