7 Golden Tips for Older Runners
So, who are ‘Older’ Runners? How old is ‘old’?
The majority of clinical articles and studies refer to older runners as those in the 40+ age group.
While we can all agree that 40 is far from old, that age is just a number, and we may exercise and keep fit, the inevitable decline will kick in regardless. Our muscle mass starts to go south, it gets harder to catch breath, our bodies get less flexible, we tend to forget things on our shopping list and it takes longer to recover after a workout.
Of course, running will not stop nature’s natural laws but if managed carefully it can help us stay physically active, fitter and healthier for longer.
Young runners have less to worry about as their youth will take care of many of potential running issues. Older feet need more tips to stay healthy, strong and less injury prone, so here are my 7 golden tips for older runners, all tried and tested on my humble self.
Tip No 1: If new to running, be the Tortoise
Let’s assume that you haven’t run…..for decades. Maybe not even since childhood. And now you’re in your forties, fifties or older. I was 52 when I started running, officially an ‘older runner’ with nearly 35 years since I had last chased a basketball.
The idea is to be honest and take a close look at yourself first. Any underlying medical condition that would require the ‘all-clear’ from your doctor? If concerned, have that checked out first.
Be the Tortoise, not the Hare.
Find a novice program, preferably run/walk method that will ease you back into running. I went with Couch to 5K and was able to run continuously for 30 minutes after just 9 weeks.
Don’t simply start going as fast as you can. You will most definitely get injured very soon.
Get perfect shoes from a specialist shop, preferably staffed by runners. If they cannot answer the crucial question, ‘what are the best shoes for me’, go to another shop.
Tip No 2: Body awareness – always listen to your body!
Listen to signals that your body will start sending right from the start.
When starting to run in your ‘older age’ you will experience discomfort and strain. That’s fine, that’s expected. You haven’t used your running muscles……in what could be a very long time.
If you develop an actual pain ignore ‘no pain-no gain’ and stop running.
There is a difference between sore muscles post run, and a painful discomfort leading up to an injury. Observe those signals. Rest up. If pain doesn’t go away in a few days, see a specialist. But, most importantly, try and seek advice that will determine what caused the pain.
Shoes? Hard running? No rest between the runs? If you don’t, it will come back to bite. You don’t want that.
Also, remember that you’re unique. Do not compare yourself to other runners, not even the same age beginners. We are all different. Trying to copy somebody by running faster can cause you troubles in the beginning.
Tip No 3: Flexibility through regular stretching (or: The extra special Golden Tip for older runners)
Without stretching our muscles will shorten and become tight.
We need to keep them flexible, healthy and strong – the only way to maintain a range of motions in the joints. If not, if they remain weak, unable to extend all the way, they won’t be of much help when we decide to go sprinting out there.
Remember, dynamic warm up before running and static stretching afterwards (ok, maybe not quite like the lady in the picture below).
Stretching will improve your posture, and can reduce muscle soreness as well as injury risk.
The runners are normally tight in the muscle groups at the back of the legs, the calf muscles and hamstrings. We normally get injured in those areas, hence we should stretch them more.
More flexibility in your hamstrings and hip flexors are likely to improve the knee function. Likewise, the Achilles and plantar fascia are much happier when your calves are flexible.
I have gone from no stretching in over three decades to an hour of stretching every single day. As a result my lower back pain has disappeared, shoulder and neck pains are just memories, and I can at times position my body better than I could when I was 25.
And yes, I can run in more comfort as well.
You can stretch everywhere. Even at your work desk. Don’t ignore it!
Tip No 4: Healthy diet and regular water hydration
Look after your body. It is literally that simple.
Healthy diet plus regular exercise is a powerful combo designed to keep us going for longer than we thought possible. Too good to ignore.
Tip no 5: Strength training
My knee problem was a result of weak hips. When treating my knee injury, the physio pointed at the issue concerning my underdeveloped abductors, adductors and gluteus maximus.
Basically my hips were suffering from decades of poor activity. (You can bet that any older runner starting to run for the first time, or after a long period of time, will have an underdeveloped group of muscles.)
By working on those areas through specific exercises I increased not only the stability in my hips but also in both legs, all the way down to my ankles. Those strengthening cross exercises further protected and strengthened the knees. My body was much better balanced as a result.
You don’t have to spend hard time in the gym, lifting tons of iron. In order to keep your lower extremity joints and pelvis positioned properly, work on your lower leg, core and hip strength training.
The idea is to gain balance in your muscles.
No balance and you’ll lose the symmetry. No symmetry, and you are in trouble as I was before I learned how to deal with it. Time to claim the youthful stride back!
Tip No 6: Cross training and maintaining active rest
Running can be hard on the body. We create impact forces several times our body weight each time we hit the ground. And that can be even more punishing when running downhill.
Hence it’s beneficial to take at least one rest day between the runs.
We can rest fully with no aerobic activity but we should also consider cross training through cycling, swimming, rowing or even walking during non running days. That will maintain or even improve your aerobic fitness.
But, as an older runner, go easy and gentle. Move your body in a relaxed way, help your muscles work out without getting strained through hard effort.
Just because you are able to sprint 40km on your bike does not mean you should do it. Cross training is preparation for your running efforts, it is not meant to add onto your heavy workload.
Yes, many young runners will cycle or swim hard when not running – simply because they can. As older runners we should take a more realistic, age appropriate approach. The key is to keep going, not getting injured and then being forced to stop.
Tip No 7: Three horrible toos
Too much. Too soon. Too fast.
Many young runners can get away with it, the seniors – the ‘older runners’ – definitely can’t.
Do the opposite.
Run little and build distances gently by following an appropriate plan. Don’t jump to another phase before you’re ready. It takes time to get to 5K, and equally it will take time to reach another level of your choice.
Go slow. Run slow. The body will move faster when it’s ready.
We are here to run for fun and health, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Take a day’s break between the runs. Day’s not enough? Then take two, or more.
Run rested. Run in comfort.
Your bones, muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons need time to repair from micro tears, damages and fatigue gathered by the previous run.
How long does it take? You will know. Sometimes a day, sometimes more. You call the shots, it’s your rules, do it when you’re ready. No shame in taking walking breaks during the runs, and it’s perfectly fine taking longer breaks between the runs.
The more we look after our running bodies, the longer they will last.
I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.
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