A familiar refrain from many of our non-running, but well meaning friends is: You aren’t getting any younger.
Never been exactly sure what that’s supposed to mean. Obviously, it’s true but not a soul ever gets younger. Anyway, simply because all of us are getting older doesn’t necessarily mean we also have to slow down. Eventually we will slow down, but because you’re about to turn 30, 40 or 50 doesn’t mean that the ravages of time are going to force you to the sidelines.
Hardly. Go to any race in Texas and you’re certain to see runners in their 60’s and 70’s, and even 80’s, running alongside people 30 and 40 years younger. And, in some cases, beating them to the finish line.
You or I may not be able to stop the aging process, but if you continue to run the right way and do certain things with your running, you can slow Father Time down a bit.
Certainly, there’s a significant physiological difference between when you were 20 years old and 50 or 60. You should be smarter, but your aerobic capacity (your ability to process oxygen) won’t be as great. But many aging runners who continue to train, lose very little in the way of aerobic capacity between the ages of 50 and 60. Their leg speed might not be as quick, but they are just as fit as ever. Maybe even more so.
The secret for defying the aging process is astonishingly simple: Don’t reduce the level of your training. And, if in fact, you can improve your training—exercising more—you can actually stall the inexorable progression of aging…for a time.
But the key is to maintain your training level, rather than allow it to drop significantly. If you can, you can minimize such typical aging events as weakening of the heart, stiffening leg muscles and accumulating extra body fat that normally occurs as you get older.
The best ways to maintain your running fitness as you age is to continue doing speed workouts on a weekly basis. You might not be as fast at 40 or 50 as you were at 20, but if you make a commitment to do some faster workouts you are more likely to retain whatever speed you have.
You don’t have to go to the track and pound out 20 times 400-meter repeats like you might have done 20 years ago. Once a week, simply run 10 minutes at 10-K race pace about 3-4 times. Or, in the middle of your weekly long runs, pick up the pace for about 10-15 minutes. Any type of speed training works to maintain your aerobic capacity—and your leg turnover.
Cross-training is also important as you age. By supplementing your running with cycling, swimming, deep-water pool running or elliptical training, you save your legs from the constant pounding and yet strengthen your cardiovascular system. Either cross-train on a day off from running or simply add a cross-training session after a light day of running.
As you age, consistency in your training is key. Develop a weekly training regimen—days for long runs, speed workouts, easy days, cross-training—and stick to it. Don’t be a slave to the schedule, but if you know that every Saturday morning you will do a long run of varying lengths, you can better prepare for it the rest of the week by filling in the blanks.
One of the harsh realities of aging though is injuries. You are more susceptible to injuries and you recover slower from them as you age. Sad but true. That’s why it is even more important to stretch diligently after every run. As you age, you will lose some of your flexibility, but a good, post-run stretching regimen will help preserve muscular looseness.
Another good idea is to strength-train with weights or resistance machines. This will not only help protect against muscular injuries and imbalances, but it will preserve the integrity of your joints such as the hips, knees and ankles.
Ponce de Leon may have found the fountain of youth, but so have we. We’re the lucky ones. We are committed runners and it is our fountain of youth. Without a doubt, running is one of the best things we can do to delay Father Time.
We may not get faster as we get older, but if we can continue to run, stretch, eat properly and cross-train, we have to slow down.