Many folks never even begin running until they are well into their 40s and, in some cases, their 50s. Heck, Vance Taylor of the Austin Runners Club, didn’t start running until he was nearly 60 and now wins his age group. Good for him. It’s never too late to start a running program.
Typically, older beginning runners find that running is a fountain of youth and quickly become extremely passionate about it. And while running as the centerpiece of a active, healthy lifestyle will add years to your life, remaining free of niggling injuries is always problematical.
What we could easily do in our 20s and 30s becomes much harder as we age. Not only that, we recover slower from hard workouts as we age and injuries tend to take a heavier toll on older runners than younger ones.
If you are an older runner and still trying to train as hard as you did 10-20 years ago, you’ll find out real quick that you can’t for one simple reason: You’re older. You might not like it, but sooner or later you will have to come to grips with the physical inevitability of slowing down. It happens to everyone.
It isn’t just speed that you lose. As we age, our muscles lose their elasticity and simply can’t process oxygen as efficiently. As a result, older runners can’t run as fast as they could a few years ago and are more prone to injuries. But by taking certain precautions, you can protect yourself against injuries.
Here are some tips for older runners—especially beginners–to prevent common running injuries:
1. Stretch daily. If you have never stretched or done yoga before, it’s time to start. Take a yoga class, learn the poses and develop a post-run stretching routine. Spend at least 15-20 minutes stretching every day after running (not before). Proper stretching will partially compensate for the natural loss of flexibility and shortening of your stride as you age. Emphasize hamstrings, calf muscles and hip flexors.
2. Start slower. Instead of bursting out the door and hammering a hard run, ease into it. Begin your runs with a few minutes of walking to warm up your muscles and slowly begin to run. After a few minutes of walking and easy jogging, you can settle into your normal training pace.
3. Don’t compare yourself with your younger self. If you just started running again after a long layoff or have been running for many years, don’t compare race times from 10-15 years ago with what you’re running today. It doesn’t serve any purpose. You were a far different runner (and person) back then. Sure, you’re slower. You’ve aged. Everyone does. Be happy you’re still able to run and race. What counts is today; not ancient history.
4. Give yourself complete rest and recovery time. Another by-product of aging is it will take longer to recover from long, hard races and workouts than it used to take. If you used to take only one easy day after a hard workout, you might need two or three recovery days now. Or, you may have to schedule in a greater number of complete rest days with no running at all. Do whatever it takes to stay fresh and healthy.
5. Emphasize proper hydration. As you age, some of your lower leg muscles don’t get as much oxygen and nutrients as when you were younger. That’s why it’s especially important to maintain proper fluid levels before, during and after running. You might have been able to run 20 miles without any water as a 20-year-old, but attempting to do so as a 50-year-old is an invitation to dehydration disaster.
6. Uphills are OK to push; downhills are not. You can still power up hills on training runs, but ease your way down the other side. Best advice is to run the downhills very gently. Doing so, eliminates plenty of unnecessary pounding on your back and hips.
7. Utilize alternative bodywork therapies. That is, get a massage regularly. Visit a chiropractor to keep your body in proper alignment. Go see a sports muscle therapist. Consider acupuncture. Take a Pilates class. Do whatever it takes to keep your body fit, healthy and in proper working order.
8. Cross-train at least twice a week. Either cut your run short or eliminate a day’s run and substitute such non-weight bearing activities such as swimming, deep-water running, rowing, rollerblading, cycling or even walking. By cross-training twice a week, you can eliminate some of the pounding your body takes from running while still maintaining your aerobic fitness.
9. Lift weights. You not only lose aerobic fitness as you age, you lose muscular strength, muscle mass and bone density. Weight training will help to prevent those losses and give you some injury protection.
10. Consider supplements. You may never have taken vitamins or nutritional supplements when you were younger, but as you get older, the more important they may become.