By Andy Jones-Wilkins
CTS Ultrarunning Coach
When I turned 50 I felt like an old man, just like that. While I know “age is just a number” there was something about the Big 5-0 that felt a bit different. Put bluntly, it felt to me that after 50 I was on the downhill side of life.
So, after being depressed about this realization for a little bit, I began noodling around with thoughts of what in my life gives me pleasure and how I can takes those things and find ways to maintain or enhance them in this stage of life. And, of course, running was close to the top of my list. It is certainly one of the most pleasurable parts of my daily existence and so, as both a runner and a running coach, I began to reflect on what things are most important to the aging runner. And, in the process, I came up with five key tips to keep running happily into old age. Here they are:
Start Runs Slowly
At my age, gone are the days when I could just roll out of bed every morning, jump into my running clothes, and bust out out sub-7 minute miles right off my doorstep. Now, I spend the first creaky 10 minutes or so of every run making sure everything still works, getting blood streaming out to the extremities, and cranking up the heart rate to a somewhat sustainable level. As such, it’s important to not stress about the laborious nature of those first few miles, but rather to embrace them as part of the process and allow them to be a gateway into something better during the second part of the run.
Take More Easy Days
Many younger runners have, over the years, practiced the hard/easy training pattern on a weekly and monthly basis. And for much of my running life, I did the same. However, with age I have gravitated toward a hard/easy/easy cycle. Simply put, it seems the extra easy day between hard efforts allows the hard efforts to actually be hard rather than just another attempt at a slog when I really should be going easy. Having quality hard efforts also builds confidence, so even though I have fewer of them these days I find I get more bang for my buck out of them.
Build Up Over Months, Not Weeks
Though we are getting older, many of us still have long term goals, whether they are big summer 100-mile races, an elusive loop we’ve always wanted to complete, or simply coming to the starting line of the local 50K as fit as possible. In my experience the older athlete needs more time to build to a peak than a younger one. A fitness level that may have taken 8 weeks to achieve in our 30’s may now take 16-20 weeks to achieve. I like to think I’ve traded in my old sports car for a large diesel truck. It simply takes longer to crank up the old engine than it used to.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Your Younger Self
It’s inevitable. At some point, you’ll realize you can’t run a sub-20 minute 5K anymore. In fact, it may be a struggle to run a sub-30. And guess what, that’s just fine! Rather than being demoralized by the phenomenon of slowing down with age, either live in the moment and be content with the runner you are now, or flip that comparison on its head and be proud of your experience and all the things you know now that you didn’t know then.
Revel in the Fact You’re Still Running
As we come to grip with the fact we are slowing down physically, we must remember we are not slowing down cognitively. As such, it’s important to put our brains to good use and continue to train the mind. One simple way to do this is to remain positive, optimistic and hopeful; not just about running, but about life. And the best way to do that is to give ourselves a daily reminder that it is a gift we can still run at all and running is a gift that should be nurtured, savored, and celebrated.
And there you have it, five tips to keep running into the Golden Years. Hopefully, you can use these tips to help stay motivated and fresh even as Father Time marches on.