They say life begins at 40. And that it’s ‘never too late to start something new’. That means your new haircut, starting a new job, moving to a different city or, starting (or returning to) running.
Running is renowned for its health benefits, from physical to mental and back again, but so many believe you can only benefit when you’re young. Some consider running later in life as dangerous – well I’m here to squander that.
Naysayers can splay whatever they wish about 40-50-year-olds lacing up and taking to the streets because running t is extremely popular within this age group. In fact, ‘masters runners’ are those over a particular age (40 and up usually) and are the fastest-growing age group for the sport.
Yes okay, you are likely to have some declining physiological qualities as you get older. VO2 Max, cadence, lactate threshold, maximum strength and other variables we can measure such as stretch-shortening cycle efficiency are sure to escape us as we age. HOWEVER, it is not all doom and gloom.
Running performances are not dependant on your physiology solely. Long-distance running is multifactorial. The further you go, the more reliant on other aspects it gets. Actually, ultrarunning is probably one of the most multifactorial you can get in endurance sports.
You’re rewarded on patience, resilience, consistency and the ability to adapt. – something you learn from experience. So although you’re physically not on peak anymore, per-se, you can still improve in your running.
So, whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned veteran runner heading into a new age category, there are plenty of ways you can keep running enjoyable, accessible and effective from your 40s and beyond.
First things first, make sure you get medical approval to start running training (or restart after a long break). Just make sure your healthcare provider is aware of what you’re doing and are healthy enough to embark on a 5k, 10k or even marathon plan. Chances are, they will be supportive and encourage you to get started, but best to check first, eh?
Understand your bodies limits.
The bane of ageing means yes, your body has more limits than it may have done in your 20s and 30s (the peak of physical fitness). Naturally, even the most elite of athletes start to feel declines in performance after hitting the big 4-0, such as:
- Muscle recovery is slower
- Overall strength decreases
- Balance and coordination starts to drop
- Cardiovascular endurance subsides
It probably goes without saying but lacking in exercise as you age feeds into the physiological changes. However, your very own ageing experience depends on factors such as lifestyle, diet, activity levels and the lottery of genetics.
Beginning a running routine is one way to keep these ageing gremlins at bay, however, the answer is not to ramp up the training. What is the answer?
Train smarter, not harder!
How to work WITH the ageing process (not against it).
- Start slowly
- Manage expectations
- Set realistic goals
- Take recovery seriously
- Add some strength, balance and flexibility training
For any runner, starting low is key. Any type of overenthusiastic, sudden increase in speed or distance is a recipe for injury. The general rule of thumb (and you’ll want to take note of this) is; The 10% rule. Make sure you DO NOT increase distance or time on your feet that exceed 10% of the week before.
It might be frustrating, but going slow and building up your fitness incrementally keeps you injury-free, avoid burnout and is on the right track for the long game.
It’s a fact of life that you will slow down with age. So trying to compete with younger you, or results from way back when are not going to help you now. Understand you are unlikely to smash your old PBs or have the capacity to do as much as you once did. Instead, we can change the game completely. Hitting 40 graces you with a bit more patience, perfect for hitting the marathon distances (and up). Have you thought about going longer?
No matter what you are training for, you always need a goal. Are you looking to get to a certain length of time, able to cover a particular distance? Perhaps it’s weight loss or you use it as a social meet up with a friend. Running can fit almost any goal but let’s not go out there thinking we can do something every day.
If you’re new, then having a set run plan might work best for you, give you ideas on what to do and how to work. Otherwise find what fits in with your lifestyle, your current fitness level and something appropriate for your age.
For example, until September I was training 5-6 days a week. However with work demands, I am lucky to fit in three days a week at the moment and although I grumble, let’s be realistic…
SMART goals are the acronym we know best, set goals that are:
I will forever shout this from the rooftops: You NEED to give your body sufficient time to rest. Remember the old saying ‘sleep is when the magic happens? yes! Because the body has the chance to do all the recovery, restoration and growth it needs. And did you know women need more rest than men? (that goes for sleep too).
Recovery doesn’t HAVE to mean being a couch potato and doing nothing (I mean you can if you like) but ‘recovery’ also can be active – stretching, light swimming, yoga. Take a leisurely stroll. Keep moving, just not ‘training’.
Please do not force runs. If you’re not feeling refreshed, or your heart rate monitor indicates your pulse is high whilst resting… take the day off! It will do you more damage to make yourself run than it will to skip a run. No guilt.
Strength training will benefit any athlete of any age or ability. Frankly, it is the bread and butter of physical fitness. As you’re aware, ageing comes with muscle mass loss, so regular working out will help you forgo that inevitable shortcoming, at the very least – delay it.
Strength training doesn’t have to mean the gym, you can have a sufficient workout with bodyweight – pull-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges and planks are a runner’s staple. Of course, you can take it further, use bands, weights, or rope in a partner. Improve your muscle mass, injury resistance and give your running performance a boost!
Balance work keeps you grounded, centred ad less likely to take trips slips and falls. Balance training looks like single-leg stances primarily. Fancy them up with specific yoga poses (tree pose, eagle pose or king dancer pose). If they’re too easy, try closing one eye (Hey! it is harder than it seems!) there are Bosu balls, medicine balls and all kinds of kit to really test and fine-tune your balance.
Whilst in some yoga balancing poses, you may as well look into stretchy poses. As a runner, it’s important not to overstretch (we need the elasticity in our muscles for the stretch-shortening cycle and power output). BUT not stretching also leads to injury. For the sweet spot, aim for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, soleus, gluteal complex, chest, shoulders and abs. A full stretch routine, or foam roller routine would be perfect after you run, and on your down days.
Pre-run, Start with a 5- to 10-minute walk or easy jog, followed by some dynamic stretching (active movements of muscles, moving you through a range of motion without bouncing). Post-workout, stick to the more static, yoga poses.