6 Tips for Running in Your Later Years

Advice for older runners on how to stay active and injury-free.


It’s true for all, but especially older runners: When something hurts, rest and recover. “Runners tend to be both tough and obsessive,” says former elite marathoner turned physical therapist Clint Verran. “They keep going when they shouldn’t, and then come back too soon. You shouldn’t run until you’ve had a few days completely free of pain.”


Plantar fasciitis becomes more prevalent as we get older, in part because our cushioned, supportive shoes can weaken the muscles in our feet, says Dr Irene Davis, director of the Spaulding National Running Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To strengthen them, put a towel down and use your toes to scrunch it closer to you. Do two sets of 20 scrunches per foot per day.


While there’s little evidence in favour of soft surfaces over harder ones, many lifetime runners swear by grass and trails. John Medinger, a 66-year-old with 170,000 lifetime KMs, has run mostly trails for the last 30 years. In addition to avoiding road impact, he believes running on uneven surfaces “keeps the stresses moving around, so they don’t cause an overuse injury”.


High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, gives you more bang for your buck. Most HIIT workouts involve six to 10 sprints of 10 to 30 seconds. This type of training maximizes oxygen and muscle requirements, but taxes the muscles and joints, inviting injury. The solution? Run HIIT hills for lower impact, says Verran.


Weak calves and ankles can increase your injury risk as you age. Jordan Metzl, M.D., author of Running Strong, recommends doing the following twice a week: single-leg calf raises from the floor; single-leg calf raises from the edge of a step (lowering your heel below the step’s edge); and walking on your toes for 60 seconds. Aim for three sets of 15 reps. Ramp it up by holding dumbbells.


The accumulating years can provide a platform for new perspectives. “Embrace changes in your body and your abilities,” says Harvard psychologist Jeff Brown, Psy.D.. “Instead of trying to set PBs, seek different but still measurable goals. Try to hit 1000 kilometres for the year, or to run in cities where you haven’t run before.”


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