Saturday, July 28, 2018

The New Normal: Running Over 50

53 And Feeling Good!
It's funny how age sneaks up on you. I've been running for almost 35 years (man that in itself makes me feel old). Started when I was a college kid in 1984.  Really didn't get serious about trying to set PRs until my early 40s. Set my 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon PRs when I was 42.

When you're in your 20s, the 40s seem really old. When you're in your 40s you realize that's not really old. You actually realize that you can be pretty competitive, even if it's just with yourself. If you check out the ages of many of the really good elite endurance runners, they're not in their 20s.

Then all the sudden you reach your 50s and the 20-year-olds seem like babies and you realize you're children are grown, you're now a grandfather and you're a parent again, but not for you kids but for your own parents. I've heard it called the "sandwich years." You're sandwiched between your adult kids still needing your support and guidance and your parents who now need assistance.

The 50s, however, is a great time. But just like when you were a teenager going through a growth spurt, you often feel awkward, confused, and out of place. Sometimes I forget that the runners I work with are 15-20 years younger than me. That is until I mention something like JJ from Good Times, Luke and Laura, or that the original One Day At A Time  TV show starred, Bonnie Franklin. Bonnie Who?

While I don't know that latest "in" movie or reality stars, recording artists, or socialites, I don't feel old.

Feeling and looking old are two different things, however. After turning 50, you experience little "reality moments" like when you find yourself sitting and watching TV one day, and you look down and, "OH MY GOD!" you're the person in the crepey skin ad! When? How? Why? You start googling franticly cures for crepey skin only to find that short of surgery and spending lots of money on snake oils, it's just a part of nature and heredity (thanks Mom and Dad).

Or better yet, you get that race finish line picture back and you realize your quad looks like a wrinkly balloon that's lost its air hanging off the side of of your thigh. It's almost like you've been cursed by the old gypsy women in the Stephen King novel, Thinner and you're slowly turning into a lizard.

I was sitting with my middle child one afternoon and I noticed her looking at my face. Then she says, "Dad, your skin is like leather." Then realizing that the comment may not have been that flattering, she follows up with...."Fine Italian leather." That one still makes me chuckle.

Or how about those mutant hairs that sprout on your ears! What's up with those?

So, once you get over the shock of the "new normal," you realize that it ain't so bad. Age, while it might start to show on the surface, really is more of a state of mind. Running in your 50s, 60s and above is just like any other thing in life. If you want to be successful and injury-free you have to put your mind to it and be committed. That's true of any age but maybe a little more so as a seasoned adult. The only difference is the approach to your training. As we get older, we have to  have to listen to our bodies and respond appropriately.

While you can still run long and keep a good pace, the focus of your running may change. Runners in their 50s, 60s and above often share with me that it's more about the experience and being with other runners. That sense of community and support. Runners really are one of the most inclusive and welcoming people I know. I had client (who is also a cyclist) tell me that when you visit a new running group, more than likely someone from that group will approach you, look you in the eye, smile, say hello, introduce him/herself and then introduce you to others in the group. This same client also shared that when you come to a new cycling group, if someone approaches you, there is no eye contact or hello. Their eyes immediately go to your bike and to checking out your equipment. I'm so glad I'm a runner.

Research shows more and more that runners who run their first marathon in their 50s tend to stick with endurance running and continue to do more full marathons or endurance runs. Runners who run their first marathon in their 20s or 30s, tend look at it as "one-n-done" and have less of an urge to do more. That's one reason why the over 50 group is one of the fastest growing groups in running today.

So, if you're in your 50s and new to running, it's not too late. And to those of you who've been running for years and are now in your 50's, you've got a lot a good running years ahead.

Keep the following tips in mind to keep you healthy and injury-free.
  • If you're a new runner, take it slow. Join a beginning running program. Check out the program before your sign up. Not all beginning running programs are for beginning runners. Programs for beginning runners should ease you into running, starting with short run segments of a couple of minutes mixed with walking segments and over the course of several weeks weaning you off the walking and increasing the length of the run segments. The focus should be on increasing endurance, learning good running form, and building your confidence as runner, not on pace or distance.
  • If you've been running for years and you're entering your 50s and 60s, you can still have ambitious goals and run those races you have on your bucket list, but respect the "new normal." Listen to your body. If your body is saying , "Uncle" take the day off, even if  your training plan says otherwise.  Incorporate more rest between runs to allow for proper recovery. Less weekly mileage can often reflect in faster race times and less injury. No need to keep high mileage weeks if you keep being sidelined with injury.
  • In addition to less weekly mileage, mix up your runs. Have a variety of runs, some short and easy, some hard and fast, some long. Research shows that runners that include a variety of runs in their weekly mix do better on race day than runners who either run all their runs easy or run all their runs hard. The reason has to do with adaptability. The bodies of runners who mix it up are better able to adapt to any situation or condition faced on race day than runners who don't mix it up.
  • Hydrate and fuel properly, before, during, and after your runs.

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