Can you be too old to Run? You need to slow down. Protect your joints or you’ll regret it. You’ll burn yourself out. You need to take life easier now you’re getting older! If you’re an ‘older’ runner how many times have you heard people say these sorts of comments to you, but is there really any truth in it? Can you keep on training and running well as you age?
Something many of us dread is the day we must hang up our shoes as we can no longer do our regular run. Running is a sport that we can all continue to enjoy and improve at well into older age.
So how does aging affect our ability to run? There are some indisputable side effects of aging. From the age of 30 onwards our bodies begin to decline and we are no longer at our physiological peak. Aerobic capacity and lung elasticity declines, muscle mass reduces, muscles start to lose their elasticity, bone density decreases, our metabolism slows down and body fat increases. In general, our speed will decrease by approximately 1% per year and aerobic capacity will decrease by 9-10% a decade.
But older runners can still be amazing runners. Just take a look at 85-year-old Canadian athlete Ed Whitlock who ran a sub 4-hour marathon, smashing the World Record for the marathon in his age group!
Despite the inevitable physiological changes to our bodies, there are many significant benefits of running, and it’s a sport we can continue to do when many other contact sports such as football and rugby are no longer possible. With the right training, you can slow the rate of decline considerably and offset the effects of aging. The general benefits of running include reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. It’s great for weight control, improved bone density, mobility and coordination and improved muscle strength, not to mention the uplifting psychological benefits of running.
There are many things you can do to ensure you enjoy running and remain injury free as you get older. Perhaps the most important tip is to train smart and listen to your own body. With age comes wisdom and you have the experience to know your personal limits. Keep working on strength and flexibility and include weight training to compensate for muscle decline. You can still do your track or threshold sessions, but start to add extra recovery time and cross training to your routine to avoid over training. Always warm up well and stretch after. Remember that less can often be more. Focus on your training quality but cut back on overall mileage. What’s more, where speed might decrease, you can make up for it with stamina. A lot of older runners move to longer distances and even ultra marathons where they can continue to compete to a very high level.
Even when your speed does begin to decline, there’s many ways to stay motivated. Age categories in races offer a great compensation, and a bit of fun, to those of us who can no longer strive for personal bests. Runners can compete against others in their own age band, compare themselves and gain recognition for their achievements. Rather than focusing on how fast we can run as we get older, another goal for runners of any age is to aim to achieve ‘Good for Age’ status. It’s often satisfying to still be able to mix it with runners far younger.
Then there’s also age grading which allows you to compete on more even terms with younger runners. It’s great for motivation when you can compare your performance in a race regardless of age or sex. Factoring out age with age grading also enables you to track your own performance over time to see if it has relatively changed or improved over the long term.
No matter what age we are, success for us all takes lots of hard work, training, sweat, effort and commitment!