Lifelong runners tend to push their limits. We run despite injury often in the face of adverse weather and limited time. However, there are times as we age when we find ourselves questioning how we can possibly keep going. Our bodies change and become more vulnerable. Our stamina deteriorates and our joints become more fragile—and still we run. There are three stages in a runner’s career where it is time to step back and reflect on the best way to move forward:
Although many high-impact sports prohibit athletes from competing into their thirties, running is different. Marathonguide.com states the average age of a marathon runner is 38.7 years old. In fact, Constantina Dita was thirty eight when she won the gold medal at the 2008 Bejiing Olympics. Carlos Lopes was thirty seven when he won the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
Even though running may be high-impact, runners are often able to compete much longer than basketball or football players. They are, however, still prone to literally slowing down in this stage. So, although injuries may not be common yet, this stage does require a mental shift. Runners need to embrace setting less ambitious, more attainable goals in order to continue moving forward.
According to Amy Begley, a 2008 Olympian, every athlete has to be open to the change that comes with age. “There was a high point, and now they have to reset the goals.” While, yes, the body does continue to develop, it does so a slower rate and often discourages athletes. They become fixated on collecting a record of ‘personal worsts’ that creates a vicious circle of depression and thus more poor results.
Although you may not be able to perform at your career peak during this level, this bracket of competition can still be incredibly rewarding. It offers a newfound opportunity to be the ‘young runner’ yet again, and allows you to reset your goals.
Many who had a busy family life in their thirties—and could not be as devoted to their running practice as they were in their youth—may suddenly find themselves with more time than ever so as their children become older and require less supervision. This allows middle masters to return to running whole-heartedly.
It is also vital to remember that aging at this point is beginning to exact a toll, and the only way to ensure your forties aren’t spent fighting off and recovering from injuries, is to reevaluate personal records and adjust accordingly for a changing body.
Calves are of particular note. More specifically, inflexibility and muscle pulls are a plague that must be vigilantly guarded against at this age. The best way to accomplish this is to run upwards on a steep hill and count your strides as you climb. As you get stronger and faster, you should take less strides to cover the same distance. This way, you can measure your success and watch yourself grow.
For middle masters, the most important thing is to be aware of typical injuries and to run with an attainable goal.
According to Marv Metzer, an 87-year-old from McCook, Nebraska, training has become more and more like work. Naturally, this makes it hard to continue running; but no matter how hard, it is important to continuously wipe the personal record slate clean, and revise appropriately.
In the face of physical deterioration, most seniors agree the only way to stay healthy is to keep exercising. Mike Reif, the coach of the Genesee Valley Harriers (an upstate New York club that has won dozens of masters championships), recommends that seniors “Use it or lose it. It’s very important to stay active and healthy.” Essentially, in order to keep the ball rolling, you should keep running.
Some seniors may opt for alternative forms of exercise that seem lower impact like yoga when running seems like it’s too much strain on the body; but that’s not necessary. You can shift your mental orientation. You can wipe the slate clean and reevaluate your personal record goals so are challenging but achievable. Each stage represents a new bracket of masters competition. Keep your eyes on the finish line.