In the summer of 2019 right before I turned 50, I started running again. I hadn’t run for 30 years. It’s a whole different ballgame now. But I’m loving it. Here’s why.
Before I go any further, you might be asking, “But why did you want to start running again?” It ain’t for everyone. There are lots of choices when it comes to getting off the couch and moving your body. I suppose the number one reason is I simply missed it.
I was a very good track athlete in high school—one of the top 800-meter runners in my state my senior year. Co-captain of the track team. I ran on the cross-country team in the fall to keep in shape for the winter and spring track seasons. Then when I was 19 I was in a minor car accident that led to dealing with chronic pain throughout my 20’s. At the time any type of high-impact activity did not feel good. So, I stopped running. I did other things to exercise instead, like swim and walk.
When I turned 50, after years of learning to be more attentive to myself and my body—mainly with the help of the Alexander Technique—I felt I was ready to add running back into my repertoire for several reasons:
- I like being outside
- It gets my heart rate up
- I’m approaching menopause and need weight-bearing activities to help stave off bone loss
- I liked how I felt when I used to run
- It helps manage my stress level
- My body likes a variety of activity
And lastly, I have to admit you can’t beat what running does to shape your rear end—to be totally honest, my vain self likes how I look in my jeans when I run.
My primary goal for running at 52 is to enjoy it and not get injured. Every choice I make around running is informed by this overarching goal. Here are 5 things I’ve chosen to do to keep my running enjoyable and injury-free (so far!):
1) Don’t skip the warmup
Before I picked up running again, I attended a running workshop to learn a few basic things about the biomechanics of running. The workshop leader was a man in his 60’s and at this point in my life, I very much appreciated his age. At 52 I’m much more likely to listen to someone who has experience with an older body than a 25-year-old.
We learned a lot over a few days. But the number one takeaway from the workshop was to never skip warming up. “Even if it’s 10 degrees outside,” Malcolm said, “don’t open the door and immediately start running.” I’ve learned to use brisk walking or if it’s terribly cold, as many as 10 intervals of very easy and slow jogging for one minute, followed by a minute of brisk walking. My warmup can take 20 minutes or more (especially if it’s cold out). Sometimes I warm up for as much time as I actually run. If I want I’ll throw in some dynamic warm-up exercises, like skipping with high knees and kicking my butt with my heels or simply bouncing in place on the balls of my feet.
2) Listen to your body
Let’s face it, there’s no chance I’m going to make it to the Olympic Trials so if something is not feeling right one day, I’m not wedded to a specific workout plan. If I need to walk instead of run that day, I will. And listening to my body also goes for my warmup. Sometimes I need to do a longer warmup, sometimes shorter is OK.
When I first started back running, I used one of the Couch to 5K programs, which I can highly recommend. At least the first half of the program’s training used the run-walk method—running for a set amount of time followed by walking for a set amount of time—then repeating for a set number of intervals. The goal at the end of the program is to run the whole 5K. I found my body prefers run-walk as opposed to an all-out three-mile run.
The run-walk method as it’s become known has been around for a long time but was popularized by Jeff Galloway. According to Jeff, “Walk breaks will significantly speed up recovery because there is less damage to repair. The early walk breaks erase fatigue, and the later walk breaks will reduce or eliminate overuse muscle breakdown.”
4) Variety, variety, variety
I know from experience managing chronic pain for many years my body needs daily movement. It also needs a variety of movement. So, I never do one thing. I swim, I Nordic walk, I hike, I dance, and now I run. This variety spills over into my running as well. I try not to do the same run every time. I switch up where I run. If I run around my home I get to run on hilly terrain. Or I can go over to a local park with a paved trail that’s pretty flat. I mix up my intervals (see #3). Once in a while, I’ll do a warmup followed by a mile or mile-and-a-half open run. But that’s about as far as I’ll run without a walk break nowadays (because that’s what my body is telling me and I’m listening—see #2)
5) Rest and recover
I hardly if ever run two days in a row. I do something else on the other days or I just let myself rest if needed.
I’ve been very inspired meeting folks who started running at an older age. Because my husband is very involved in Minnesota’s USA Track and Field organization I often attend the annual awards ceremony. At the awards dinner, I love to sit at a table with the runners who are 70 and up. Many started running in their 50’s and are still going strong—some well into their 90’s. My favorite was a cute, petite woman in her 80’s who was there one year to receive an age group award. I asked her when and why she started running. She had started running in her late 50’s because someone told her it might help with her balance. She was “wobbly,” she told me. “Did it help you become less wobbly?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “but I kept on running anyway!”
Here’s to never being too old to start something new or revisit something you haven’t done for a while. What are you planning on doing in 2022?
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