“If you can find pleasure in moving your legs quick enough and in such a manner that for an instant between each step both feet are off the ground, the benefits of fitness, focus, camaraderie and mental health care for the cost of a good pair of shoes, (plus arch support) will be yours for keeps.”
By Jan Spalding, RPM editor
It’s been 10 years since I have trained for and run a road half marathon. Thank goodness my son’s girlfriend has encouraged me to join her on her first, as I would have missed an entire age group—the Middle Masters. My last true half was Sunburst in 2008, when I was a spry 43.6 years old and not yet privy to the special training accommodations of the 44 to 54 population.
I humored myself with my first Google search—“Half marathon training for old women.” You have to face the facts. From 20 years of running, I have chronic sciatic issues, a diagnosed “over-stretched piriformis,” feet and ankles that feel 80 years old when I stand up in the morning, and a wont to avoid strength and cross-training.
Two articles struck me as sympathetic to my predicament and offered some on-point counsel. Here’s what I gleaned as especially useful (and somewhat patronizing) from “Mastering Running as you Age” https://www.runnersworld.com/masters/mastering-running-as-you-age/slide/1 and “The New Rules of Running for the Over 50s.” https://www.tnp.no/norway/sport/4728-the-new-rules-of-running-for-the-over-50s.
Our Physical Situation
- “As we age, our ability to train intensively declines . . . due to a loss of our muscle mass and the loss of moisture from our tendons.” You don’t have to tell me twice — I am injury-prone.
- “At 50 plus, much more rest and recovery is needed for the body to repair the damaged micro-tissues that undergo wear and tear during training.” Better put, find your new point of diminishing returns!
- “The best cycle for an over 50s runner may be 10- or even 12-day cycles, where, for example, there are extra days for recovery runs during the week.” Brilliant!
- “Pretty much every coach recommends spending as much time as possible on soft surfaces. Run too much on pavement and your days are numbered.” Amen.
- “Running is a very strenuous activity for anybody, let alone the over 50s. Good aerobic fitness can also be gained from activities such as cycling and swimming etc. These activities take great stress off the legs and go a long way to preventing injuries and actually complement running. You mean I can’t just run anymore?
Minding the diet of an over 50s runner
- “Diet is one of the major discussion points between over 50s. The extra stress of training with a body that is slowly degenerating through age requires the nutrition to handle declining VO2 max, reduced strength, increased body fat, reduced lactic acid processing by the muscles, and declining bone density.” Degenerating – really? There are synonym finders you know.
- “It is of vital importance to eat correctly each day so that the body can repair itself. At 50 plus, this means getting rid of processed foods and getting onto natural foods as much as possible.” OK, got that one, but for an occasional Skinny Cow.
- “On a daily basis, 15-25 grams of carbohydrates are needed before a morning or evening run to sustain energy levels (really important for the over 50s). This is especially important during the morning, as the blood sugars from those carbs are turned into glycogen, which is needed late in any long run or sustained training session.” Good tip.
- “It’s also important for the over 50s to eat and replenish vital electrolytes during a run. For example, sodium is considered a ’no no’ for an average over 50s person due the adverse health effects to a non-active person. But for the active person, sodium is needed to help replenish the salts that are lost through sweating. This is counter-intuitive to general medical advice given to people.” Does this justify a post-run grande salted carmel mocha? (Light whip, of course.) I’ll also add that if you are on a reduced sodium diet for heald reasons, check with your doctor before adding sodium to your diet.
It’s all in the head game
- “Don’t feel guilty by putting a session off for a day and just go out for a light ’happy’ run without any GPS or stopwatch.” If I’m running, I’m happy.
- “It’s not the person who trains hardest who runs well. It is the runner who trains smartest who runs well.” Sadly, I have never been accused of either.
- “There must be a strong element of give and take, flexibility to train according to how you feel, rather than any set schedule.” Live in the gray . . . but pay to cover it up.
- “Running motivations of the over 50s are different and mixed up between desires for better health, camaraderie and a hobby or lifestyle that has some challenge to it.” Patronizing but true.
- What is important to most over 50 runners is being at the event, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, and sharing the ‘competitive experience’ of finishing the race within their time objectives, if possible as well. Evidently, we tell ourselves this to minimize the disappointment when we see our finish time.
As I train in the twilight of my Middle Master years (just seven months shy of the gently stated, “Climbing the Age Ranks” group of age 55 – 64,) I hope I can hang in there long enough to impart to my young padawan the true sentiment of what it means to “go for a run. If you can find pleasure in moving your legs quick enough and in such a manner that for an instant between each step both feet are off the ground, the benefits of fitness, focus, camaraderie and mental health care for the cost of a good pair of shoes, (plus arch support) will be yours for keeps.