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Running as you get older

There’s an age when the PR chase grows difficult, except for those who entered the sport later in life and are still relatively new to it. And even those runners have to accept the fact that try as they might to keep fit and youthful, their bodies inexorably decline. A little depressing unless you change how you think and train. It’s a process that on average begins sometime in our 30s. The rate of decline gradually increases to about 0.7 percent per year (with slight variations among events and between men and women) throughout your 40s, 50s and 60s
The reasons for this decline are mixed and not terribly well-understood from a basic physiological level. What is known is that age lowers VO2 max and decreases muscle mass. Accumulated wear and tear makes you less flexible. All forms of healing take longer, including recovery from hard workouts, something you can’t ignore unless you want to spiral into an endless cycle of overtraining and injury.

35-44 years

Start to add extra recovery time and cross-training.
Accept that things have changed
Learn to evaluate results in relation to your workouts and your effort.

45-54 years

Increase in recovery time and the decline in performance are impossible to ignore but this age can be one of the most rewarding of a runner’s life. Some people who had busy family lives when they were younger may suddenly find new time for training. Another motivation is simply to beat the age-grading curve. In fact, you can easily channel the energy you once put into chasing PRs into chasing age-graded PRs, with similar, if not greater satisfaction as you defy the hands of time.
Maintaining muscle strength and flexibility is important. Two muscle groups of particular importance are calves and hip flexors. For calves, the most common problems are inflexibility and muscle pulls. For hip flexors, they are the muscles that help lift your knees and swing them forward between strides—meaning that there is a strong correlation between hip flexor strength and running speed. But they can lose strength and flexibility, especially if your job entails increasing amounts of sitting as you get older. Tight hip flexors can also lead to hamstring problems. That’s because the hip flexors attach to the pelvis and to several vertebrae of the lower back. The result is a reduced ability to activate the gluteal muscles, less hip extension (the upper leg going out behind) and hamstrings that are overstretched and weak. To counter any of these problems do regular strength and flexibility training. Perfunctory stretches and just running are no longer sufficient.
Find new motivation with each age group or in beating your PRs with age-grading.
Use newly found extra time to train more.
Work on strength and flexibility, particularly in the calves and hip flexors.

55-64 years

The 55-59 age group is the first to show a truly marked drop-off in the number of competitors. Realise that a 0.7 percent annual decrease in performance translates to 3.5 percent over the course of each five-year age group. The younger ones in your age group are now 20–30 seconds per mile faster. You can wait until the next key birthday rolls around or use the upcoming age group as an incentive. But, you do need to make some training changes. Recognise that just as older runners don’t recover easily so you have to become more adept at monitoring and judging your recovery, not relying on timing rules or other runners’ experiences.
This is a good time to start taking extra rest days, even if that means taking two or three days off in a row if you feel a warning twinge.
Learn to appreciate your successes, recognizing that your running years are limited.
Make allowances for every year of aging.
Become expert at monitoring your recovery; no single formula works for everyone.
Take advantage of established fitness to maintain performances with less effort.

65-74 years

This is an age where simply lining up for the start of a race is something most people would never attempt. But if you’re careful and dedicated, it’s still possible to be good. You now need to be careful by monitoring the body’s twinges and react accordingly. Use active recovery, like swimming and biking.
It’s also increasingly important to pay attention to strength training. The average person steadily loses muscle mass after age 30—this can represent a 30 to 40 percent decline by age 70. Just because you run, don’t believe you’re immune to this. But you should be able to keep your speed going.
Join a club and befriend and train with others of your age. Look for races with strong masters fields.
Compete with the open field, defining success on your terms.
Make caution your top priority in training.
Get serious about regular weight training.

Adapted from ‘Runners World’ composed by Peter Davis