older runners

What Do Older Runners Need to Know

I didn’t set out to be smart about running while old, but I’m amassing some first-hand knowledge on the topic 😉. And it turns out that one of my closely held values is Athletic Longevity. Many in my circle are people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s who love to be outside in motion. Those that run have come to appreciate certain practices that help them in their pursuits. In that spirit, let me share with you some of those practices.

older runners

Basically, Everything Matters More Now

The subheads below are all things you might encounter in any decent Tips-for-Runners article targeted at younger ages, it’s just that now, they become essential to staying in and on top of your running game. So where you might have, in your youth, said “oh yeah, that”, now pay attention and start doing this stuff, okay?

Have a High-Quality Diet & Stay on Top of Hydration

The quality of your nutrition will contribute to the health of your bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and will allow you to recover faster. Eating enough in general, getting lean protein in every meal (and right after workouts) for tissue rebuild, and colorful fruits and vegetables for antioxidants all help to keep your body in peak condition for running. Protein intake is especially important as we age because the processes for making it in our bodies breaks down. It’s also easier to become dehydrated as we age, so paying attention to a daily hydration schedule (water, tea, broth) becomes more important in general and to support running.

Good Posture Pays Dividends

A body in good alignment can run with less effort. If our posture degrades as we age–usually the head juts forward, the shoulders round–we become less efficient runners (i.e.; we work harder, but don’t go as fast), and we reinforce the postural problems. Self myo-facial release (for example foam rolling) and postural exercises can help restore alignment and return to more biomechanically smooth running. My running form assessment sessions include sample exercises for improving your alignment and efficiency. 

Respect Warm Up and Cool Down

Preparing for a run and taking your time to gradually return to a resting state are more important as we age. You may notice that it takes longer to warm up, so perhaps you don’t feel smooth out of the gate, but ache and feel stiff for a mile or two, but ultimately do feel better once warmed up. So make a point of tacking on an intentional warm up rather than just going out your door and right into the run. Brisk walk for a few minutes, do some dynamic stretches, then ease into an easy pace for a mile or two before going into more demanding paces. Likewise, the cool down phase is where recovery starts. Ramp pace down gradually so that blood pathways have a chance to constrict and tissues return to their normal lengths via post-run stretching.

Your Superpowers: Strength training and PT

Cross training, and strength training in particular, make every runner stronger and provide protection from injury; that goes double for older runners. With natural degeneration of tissues, you want the protection around joints, the ability to activate hip and leg muscles effectively, and the core strength to stabilize, protect the spine and transmit energy. A short strength and mobility routine including squats, lunges, deadlifts, planks and side planks done a couple of times a week is an essential practice for older runners. If you have specific injury history, known imbalances or muscular or joint issues, tap into a physical therapy resource and develop a library of PT exercises you can return to regularly to mitigate and manage your ailments. This is gold for older runners.

Make Recovery Intentional

As an older runner, you may find you need more recovery time between workouts, especially higher intensity ones. Folks who used to run 5-6 times a week may find that they do better with 3-4 runs a week, and that the recovery and cross training days in between runs are more crucial to being able to feel strong in each workout. I encourage athletes I coach to have a menu of recovery activities of different types and timeframes and to approach recovery as they do training. If they spend 10 hours training in a given week, they should devote an hour to recovery related activities throughout the week. For 15 hour training weeks, up that to 1.5 hours focused on recovery. This might distribute over a few different recovery activities: 10 minutes of foam rolling on one day, a 20 minute soak on another day, getting a total of an hour extra sleep over the course of the week. The point is to recognize what helps you recover and to make a point of including those things consistently.

Am I too old to start running (or come back to it)?

Based on age alone, no, you’re never too old to start. We have a runner in the Unstill Life Half-Fast Walk & Run group who got started with running as she approached 80. Her journey has been a blast to witness. She has run many 5Ks, including with her children and grandchildren, and she often wins her age group. The keys to running in your 70s and beyond are realistic goals, patience, consistency, keeping a positive mindset, and attending to the elements on this list. And the benefits to physical and mental health are tremendous.

Can older runners get faster?

Depending on their personal history with running, older runners can definitely do speed training. If they are new to running, they will very likely get faster. If they have been running for a while, but never included speed training, they may well get faster. If they ran when they were younger and focused on speed training then, they may not get as fast as they were in their relative youth. But speed training has great cardio and musculoskeletal benefits, so it’s a very worthwhile way to develop fitness.

Have a mindset of gratitude

One trap for some older runners who have been running since they were young is comparisons to their former selves. At a certain point, you will no longer be able to achieve paces or race times you did in earlier decades. So what will you do with that? The runners I work with who have dealt with that with the most success and grace have found other aspects to running that they love and value. Some will still compete and have revised their goals for racing to suit their current abilities. Some opt to remove the pressure of competition so they can enjoy running with a friend. Appreciating ever evolving aspects of what you are capable of as a runner beats obsessing negatively over one dimension of the activity every time.

Got more questions about aging well as a runner? I’m here for you! Let’s talk about how to make your running aspirations a reality.

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