Ok, here’s the bad news: runners tend to slow by three to six per cent over the course of their 40s, by 10 per cent per decade in their 50s and 60s, and by 15 per cent per decade after 70, as their strength, flexibility and bone density diminish. Now for the good news: much can be done to fend off the decline.
Focus on strength
If you haven’t already started a strength training regime (which helps runners at any age), it’s more important now than ever. Muscle mass declines by roughly eight per cent per decade after the age of 40 and strength training helps to counteract that loss, while also building muscular scaffolding to ease the burden of running on ageing joints. Spend 30 minutes twice a week targeting muscles that running often misses (such as glutes, hips, core and arms). Use your body as weight, by doing squats, lunges, press-ups and planks.
Foam-roll every day
Flexibility is another casualty of age, but booking yourself a daily session with a foam roller can preserve and restore it. Foam-rolling your hamstrings, quads and glutes loosens up connective tissues and promotes blood flow, much like a massage.
Keep up some speed
Old injuries and a declining V02 max (the body’s capacity to transport oxygen to muscles) can put ageing runners off speedwork, but it pays to put your foot on the accelerator from time to time. Practising quick leg turnover is key for maintaining your neuromuscular coordination, range of motion and fitness. Start by adding some short pickups (eg 10-20 seconds fast, 30-60 seconds recovery, repeated 10 times) to a routine run. If you want to progress to something more challenging, try 60 seconds fast followed by two minutes slow, repeated three times.
Nurture your bones
To counteract age-related bone-density loss, which can increase the risk of stress fractures in older runners, make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, as well as tofu, broccoli and sardines. For your vitamin D hit, stick oily fish such as salmon on the menu, try cod liver oil supplements and spend some time in the sun.
Adjust your goals
You may not be getting any faster, but, in the words of Olympic-marathon gold medallist Frank Shorter, vow to ‘slow down as slowly as possible’. Look forward to any birthday that puts you in a new age group category. Explore new distances (such as a mile or a marathon) or new events (triathlons, trail races) in which you can still notch yourself a shiny new PB. And remember, the most important thing of all is this: even if you have slowed down a bit, at least you’re still out there, running and loving it.
These tips came from our expert panel:
Greg McMillan, world-renowned running coach and exercise physiologist
Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 Olympic marathon and still running regularly at the age of 67
Dr Jordan Metzl, sports medicine specialist and author
Dr Jim Afremow, sports psychology consultant and author of The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive (Rodale, £10.68)
Kim Mueller, elite runner, new mum and sports nutritionist