You hear it all the time, often accompanied by an inspiring video or story of someone in their later years doing some, often, athletic feat with the proclamation that “Age is Just a Number.” After we agree that what was viewed, or written, was indeed inspiring we need to ask if age is really just a number.
Well if you are speaking of tipping the stereotype cart that tends to go with age then age is for a sure
A little about me for those that do not know me: I have been running, with a stint racing bicycles competitively for about 10 years, since I first ran in High School in 1973 after not making the tennis team. After high school I ran for the University of Arizona for 3 years as a walk on, or is that run on, but as we had a very strong team even though I ran 5k’s in around 15:00 I was still probably the slowest guy there. I had some good workouts but probably left my best times and efforts in those training sessions. During that time I also ran some marathons with my best being 2:30:52 when I was 19 in 78’ and pretty much stayed at the 2:30 range for a number of years. I share these times because as we age and look back often our times from days gone by it can be an issue if we do not keep things in context.
Let me add here if you are one that started running later in life you will have avoided this possible road-block and that is a good thing. You will also not deal with some of the trials of seeing yourself slow down as being new to sport later in life you will still progress but age even for you will come into play at some point. For me I do not see this as negative but as a challenge to meet and deal with.
Running, as much as I enjoyed and did well at cycling, is just one of the things I enjoy and want to do as long as possible and to do that I need to make sure I heed many of the things I will mention in the rest of this post. If one does not live in reality, reality will often jump up and bite you to get you to notice it. I also want to add that I have to admit to people they need to do as I say not as I often do because I still struggle with many of the topics covered and often fail to follow through with what I know needs to be done.
What I want to do in the rest of this post is to look briefly at a number of areas where I, being 58, have seen the affects of age on myself, and others: Training, Mobility, Racing, Shoes and Diet
First lets look at training as that is often where issues crop up as one has to adjust intensity, quantity and expectations among other factors when it comes to how we prepare for whatever ones goals are. If you are new to running some of the trials of adjusting to age are not as apparent as you start with a somewhat clean slate but still have to be aware of your physical limitations presented by age. Having run for many years I have had to realize I needed to lower miles and slow down on slow days – including having more slow days – so as to recover. If I in training for a particular race need higher miles I look at weeks in chunks so that I up my mileage and then back off in a wise manner. I often look at my mileage and see 40-50 miles and it just seems low when I think back to my days of 100+ but in truth back then I ran 7 days a week and now run 4-5 so in some ways the mileage is closer when looking at daily mileage but I just have more rest days.
Speaking of rest days, they become even more critical because as you age you do take longer to recuperate after a long and/or hard run. Runs that are to be restful need to be slowed down and I have found using my heart-rate as my guide for slower runs is the best decision I have made. While not really new, as it is based on the principles of Arthur Lydiard, I use the MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) formula of 180-age with some additions, and subtractions for some, as a baseline. This helps make sure that my easy runs are just that, easy, and also my easy weeks are easy. I work to train in cycles so that I will have months of MAF runs alone with other months using MAF for the easy days only. I have found that this has helped greatly to allow me to be fresher and have less injuries. Now injuries are not negated as one can still run too many miles even when running slowly, and I have done this, so running slower does not negate a need to know your body and see your
limitations, yes we do have those.
Bottom line here is there are many ways to train but I have found that making MAF the central philosophy of my training has worked the best and was integral to working to be fat adapted, more on this under diet. The main point with training as you get older is to make sure when you rest you rest and that mileage, or time on your feet, is watched closely and monitored with how you feel and how your body reacts. When you are younger often you can get by if you over do it but as you get older that is not as possible.
This should actually be included in training but recently I have noted more issues that stem from a reduction in mobility. For me the mobility issues are in my ankles and hips but for you it may be other areas. As we age our mobility decreases and while being active may slow the reduction of mobility it does happen unless we are proactive. There any number of mobility exercises you can find on YouTube so just search and find what works.
I like to run trails, when I can, and often I hear people say they need more mobility in their ankles so as not to twist them on trails. For me, while I do work on my ankles, I have found the best mobility exercise for my ankles is to run trails. As we age we need to be honest that extra exercises need to be done even if you have to sacrifice some time running since maintaining mobility may in the long run allow you to run more and maybe even farther.
This is a hard one for me because even though racing can be stressful due to me being very competitive I still enjoy it. Also, as you age if you are competitive you may find age group racing
being an increased draw that can lead you to race too often. With so many 5k’s available to run often that is the choice of many and one of the nice things about a 5k is that you can indeed run one most weekends. That said just because you can do something does not make it wise to do so. For me I race about once a month and use that race as a speed day so that I am not overdoing speed work. When it comes to Ultra’s, which I have started running, I have run 3 ultras in 60 days and that is the maximum I can do but even when I did the 3 runs the first one was a workout time-trial to ready for my first 50 miler so I only really “raced” two of them. As with training you have to be aware of your body and this applies to racing as well. My advice is that as you get older be careful and make sure the racing you do fits into a larger picture. If you do races as a way to meet with other runners then make sure you run easy for some races so that even running every weekend is then not an issues since some races actually end up being simply training runs, albeit ones you pay to do.
First I want to say that I realize some people may have particular issues that require extra support or some other feature that comes in many shoes. However, often these added “improvements” in shoes instead of helping your feet prop up issues and in the end weaken ones feet and make them reliant on your shoes instead of the shoes simply being there to allow your feet do what they were designed to do. As I stated often all the new features added to many shoes can work to possibly weaken ones feet to a point of increasing the chance of injury. When looking at shoes make sure you differentiate between buying due to hype and actually needing what is hyped.
An alternative is to work to strengthen ones feet by exercises, just check out YouTube, and even moving to more minimal shoes. To do this while not moving to minimal shoes solely you might begin by using minimal shoes on a minimal basis but even that can work to strengthen your feet. Now the warning on using minimal shoes, as you get older many things you do can have negative affects if done too much too quickly and moving to a more minimal shoe is one of those things. Thus if you want to look at using minimal shoes later in life use wisdom and move forward slowly.
To be upfront I am a Carson Footwear ambassador but I share the following to illustrate what I have been saying. Over the last 6 months I have begun running in Carson’s which while not as minimal as some “minimal” shoes they are still a minimalistic design. I have gotten to where I could go up to 19 miles in the shoes but in doing that I may have gotten there too fast. Not so much due to the Zero Drop as I have been in no-drop shoes for a few years but in moving to more minimal support I may have gone there too quickly and in doing so have had some issues that has moved me to be more aware during this transition time. I am still working to make minimal shoes my go to shoes but need to allow more time and as mentioned previously have added mobility exercises to help in this move. As an example I still run long trail and road runs in my Carson’s but then also do some other runs in other shoes so that my feet get a rest as they transition. If I was younger I think the transition would have been OK but at the age I am I should have gone at it more slowly.
I would suggest at a minimum, even if you have no desire to run in minimal shoes, that you work to strengthen your feet as in the long run, pun intended, it will benefit you. As your feet strengthen so will your legs and the rest of your body. This is critical especially as you age and can only be a good thing. Just as having a strong core is critical to other areas so having strong feet as your base affects all else in the system. Also, as I said I am a Carson Footwear Ambassador, if you want to try a pair of Carson shoes you can get 10% of using this code: Run2017tonyk.
This is one that I had not really looked at till recently. Over the years since I took up riding then went back to running I slowly gained some weight. Now part of that gain was when I moved to racing bikes as I built more muscle. The rest of the weight that came on as I went back to running and at times not running much came slowly and in doing so was not noticeable till I realized I was up in the 230lb range from the 175lb I was at when I was racing bikes at 30 or so. The weight came on slowly and in some ways not all that noticeable. That is till I started running more seriously again and noticed the weight and the extra tire I was carrying around the waist. Initially with more running and working on our farm I did lose some weight and got down to the 200 range but could not get under 200. I ate well and worked to reduce garbage food but sort of stagnated at 200.
Upon investigating what to do and also looking to see what might best help my running I looked more into the MAF approach I spoke of earlier and in doing so came across talk of Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) and fat adaptation. While I had heard of being fat adapted and high fat diets from back in the 80’s the information was not as easy to find as it is now. My recent investigations led to trying Phil Maffetone’s Two Week Test which while used for discovering any carbohydrate intolerances is also a gateway to work on reducing carbs. After looking into things more I decided to give a LCHF diet, diet is probably not the best word, a go and see how it went.
What I found for me is I fairly quickly went down to 175 while still running in the 30-50 mile per week range and also noticed becoming more fat adapted so that on runs of 2-3 hours I could actually do them without extra food. Now what is Low Carb for me? For many Low Carb is limiting carbs to 50grams/day or under however for me after a number of trials and seeing what worked best with my health, work and life I found that I did best at 100-150 grams per day.
One other very important thing I have found was that reducing carbohydrates not only helped with weight it also helped in reducing inflammation and recovery was much quicker. Was I still sore the next day after a long run or a hard workout, yes. But nowhere near the extent I was before changing my eating habits and the amount of time to getting back to normal was greatly shortened.
The point here is that how and what one eats is important in all of life but as we age it can become even more important. If you want the best place to start with diet, diet here referring to how you eat, aim to hold to JERF – Just Eat Real Food – if you have not already. From there I can tell you it is well worth your time to try a LCHF diet. You may find you need to tweak things but you will never find out till you try and please give it time. Take it from me many any years of consuming carbs does not make it easy to change but it is worth it, well it was for me.
I did not write this post to be a bummer by saying age is a real thing. I wrote this post to make sure we take a realistic look at aging and running. It is when one takes a realistic approach that one will make strides, pun again intended, in not only improving in your running but working to stay healthy so you can run for years to come.
If you are starting running late in life or you never ran seriously in your youth you may have PR’s to look forward to. If you have been doing this for years after you readjust your perspective you to can look forward to PR’s relative to your age. If running faster is not your goal, no problem, then having a healthy view of aging and being aware that your body does indeed change over time will allow you to run much longer.
With the correct mindset and goals you can indeed defeat the aging serotypes while at the same being realistic to know you are not what you once were.