It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re too old to start running. Heck, 20-year-olds find themselves thinking that after that first surprisingly hard mile, but if you’re already receiving jokes about being over the hill, then why bother to start as an older runner?
The question you should be asking, however, is whether you can afford NOT to run?
Clearly, I’m I biased because I freaking love what running has done for my health, my confidence, my body and my brain…obviously.
BUT the CDC is on my side as well.
Checkout these benefits of starting to run at any age:
- Lowers the risk of diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and stroke
- Maintains strength and stamina as we age
- Reduces the risk of falling and breaking bones
- Minimizes symptoms of anxiety and depression and improves mood
- Helps keep those bones, joints, and muscles strong
- Controls swelling associated with arthritis
Are you ever too old to start running?
No, you’re not too old to start running.
Do you need to train differently, of course!!
Luckily, now you’re smarter and your mental fitness will in fact make you a better distance runner.
Don’t believe it?
Here are some quick stats for you then:
- 50% of marathon finishers fell into the 40 or older category in 2016
- The average age for women running the Boston Marathon is 40 and 45 for men
- The 90-99 age group showed the most significant growth during the duration of a study conducted between 2014-2017, with participation increasing by 38.74 percent.
More and more often, race directors have to add new age group categories to races. Years ago, the oldest age group award went to someone 70+. Now, it’s not uncommon to see 85+.
And I personally am here for the long haul and looking to BQ by 80. :)
What does it mean to be come a masters runner?
I love the title because it sounds like you’ve really cracked the secret to some special club.
But in reality a masters runner is anyone over age 40.
It changes your award groups and often qualifying times for different races. Your performances start being judged on an age graded calculator (more on this below).
Incredible Masters Running Records
Still have doubts? Let’s take a look at some bad ass older runners:
- Canadian Christa Bortignon began competing in masters track and field at the age of 72 and holds 13 world records in her age group.
- Christa’s mentor and fellow Canadian, Olga Kotelko holds more than 30 world records in various track and field events. She began competing after retiring from softball in her mid-70s and continued to compete until she died at age 94.
- Margaret Webb, author of Older, Faster, Stronger (a must read!) set some lofty fitness goals at the age of 50: Become fitter at 50 than she was as a 20-year-old varsity athlete, race against some of the fittest 50-year-olds in the world at the World Masters Games, and qualify for the Boston Marathon in 3:35, which was the time set for 18-34 year old women (in 2013)
- Pam Reed is an ultramarathoner who has won the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon twice, at ages 42 and 43. She defeated the remainder of the entire field by five hours in 2002 and smashed the women’s record by 1 hour 51 minutes. People thought it was a fluke to have a woman win the race, so she went back in 2003 and did it again.
I could go on and on and on, but I think you’re starting to get the picture.
Running doesn’t have to stop because we hit a certain age and we aren’t precluded from starting at any point. But we do have to be smart and treat our bodies differently than at 18.
Older Runner Training Tips
Are things different if you start running after 60 years old? Yes and No.
Even turning 38, I can’t train the way that I did at 20.
How does a runners body change with age?
- A decrease in hormones (yup running after menopause requires changes)
- Easier to lose muscle without specific training
- Takes longer to recover between hard efforts
- Balance and flexibility decline
- BUTTTTT for someone who continues to run and cross train we can off set much of this
Luckily the tips I’m about to share apply to runners of every age and will allow all of us to embrace the benefits of running in old age.
- Increased time between hard workouts
- Spending time on strength training and flexibility
- Focusing on balance movements
- Ensuring most workouts are EASY in intensity
- Taking rest as needed, not just according to a plan
Don’t you want to be in one of those viral videos of 90 year olds bustling around a track at a masters race?!
Ok even if not, read on for the masters running tips you need.Photo of the incredible Foxxiruns
1. Changing Focus on Goals and Recovery Time
Running as you age will be different.
While some people can continue to run long distances and train for marathons, most will have better success with finding some moderation in their running.
Everyone is different, so while one runner can stay healthy and uninjured running four days a week, others will have better success with two, three, or even one day a week.
The key is to find what works for you and accept that this is the runner you are now.
- Yes, you can and should do speed work! Just a little differently.
- Yes, you can and should adjust your distance goals based on how YOUR body specifically recovers.
- Cut back on the number of races you’re doing to allow for the longer recovery period.
- Consistency is still a winning formula at any age (with your running, strength and flexibility)
“Both studies and anecdotal evidence have come to the same conclusion: We masters runners take longer to recover than younger runners,” says Masters coach Pete McGill.
One thing to do initially is plan for a bigger gap in between high intensity sessions (speed work or long runs).
I’m a huge proponent of recovery, no matter your age, but recognizing that you may no longer be able to do twice weekly speed sessions or that you may need to do only those 2 sessions instead of 6 days of running is key.
- Do more low impact cross training activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, or cycling
- Alternating the high impact days of running with lower impact days
- Embrace the benefits of consistent recovery methods like chiropractic care, massage or acupuncture.
- Try things like Low Heart Rate training to build that strong cardiovascular base
Photo from pp_runs
2. Increase Focus on Flexibility and Balance
As you age, muscles and tendons lose elasticity, resulting in stiffer bodies and a decline in balance. Did you realize you need good balance to run?? You’re essentially performing a one legged exercise!
Smart masters runners are incorporating this on a near daily basis:
- Dynamic stretching before any run to improve blood flow and release tension
- Post run stretching to maintain the elasticity
- Yoga for runners or pilates classes for a variety of core strength and flexibility
- Stretch before bed, while watching tv, when you wake up in the middle of the night
3. Carry Heavy Things (Strength Training) Frequently
We naturally lose muscle mass as we age, but the great news for masters running is that we can retain and regain that muscle strength.
An episode on aging athletes on the Science of Ultra podcast discussed strength training in length among four running coaches.
As with any long distance runner, strength training will make you a better runner and will help prevent injuries, which are unfortunately more common as we age due to those changes in muscular power to maintain good form.
- Heavier weights are required to actually build muscle
- Have a personal trainer design a plan to help you build up to those heavier weights
- Don’t neglect consistent core training
- Don’t be afraid of weights if you’ve never really done them before. You’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt and that it can benefit every area of your life (I can carry my own 4 loads of groceries thank you!).
- Start incorporating beginner plyometric exercises to maintain power
4. Pay Attention to Your Body Signals
If you want to keep on running well into your senior years, pay attention to your body right now. Small injuries frequently turn serious if they’re ignored or if a runner chooses to “run through” them.
Pay attention to the signals your body sends you, instead of just chalking them up to age. Frequent soreness means you need to cut back, injury means you need to take time off, and poor performance may signal that you just need to get some rest.
- Visit a Physical Therapist for a movement screening. They can assign exercises to fix any weak areas.
- Don’t neglect the core, hip and glute strength as part of your warm up or strength
- Check with your doctor to rule out low levels of Vitamin D, Iron or Magnesium which are super common and contribute to fatigue or aches.
- Embrace tools like CBD oil or Turmeric which help the body recover faster between sessions.
- Focus on getting enough sleep, unfortunately as we age there’s often trouble with our sleep habits, but this is one of the TOP ways to recover. Checkout these tips to help you get more shut eye.
photo from sixtymillionsheep
5. Embrace The Benefits of Age
Face it, we are all going to slow down as we get older (though there are some ways to hold off the inevitable). That’s why we have age group awards and an entire association devoted to Masters Running.
Don’t worry if you can’t win the race anymore. Your target is that other old guy or gal running ahead of you.
Running over 70 years old used to be an automatic age group award, but more folks are showing up each year so you should have some fun competition to keep you focused on race day!
Now that we’ve got that little mental hurdle out of the way, let’s talk about one area where older athletes excel over the younger runners: mental fortitude.
Compared to a 20-year-old runner, older and wiser competitors have experienced the gamut that life throws our way. Whether it be childbirth, raising children, job loss, divorce, or any other hardship, middle age runners know how to get through the difficult times.
This comes in handy when you’re hitting the wall at mile 20 of a marathon.
You know that when things go wrong, everything will be ok, it’s part of the reason in distance running that many of the champions are women near 40!
“My times continue to get slower and slower. And, therefore, the “me” that I am is different. But the me that I am has developed insights and wisdom that I did not have before. What I have lost I can afford to lose. What I have gained is something I cannot do without.” – George SheehanDebunking the idea that running over 50 is too hard on the body Click To Tweet
BONUS TIP: Change Your Shoes
This one might sound a bit random, but guess what it’s important!!!
There are only a few things on us that continue to grow and shift (ok besides maybe our waistlines) and one of those is our feet!
Feet change over time, so be sure to have your size and stride checked out by a running shoe professional every few years.
Follow these tips and you should have a long and healthy running life.
✅And remember if you’re looking for a masters running coach, our team is here to help. With coaches who are 40 and over, we’ve got not only experience coaching, but running through different phases of life.
Do you know any inspiring masters runners?
Do you aspire to be one?! (I do!!)
Other ways to connect with Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish
Pictured up top is Denny (70) from Wintergarden Runners in FL. I met him and was thoroughly blown away by his speed, his kindness and his humility…he just does what he does! He is running a half this weekend and another full next month with no signs of stopping.
Secondary photo is from the England Athletics road masters.