Shortly after I completed my first marathon as a junior in college, at age 51 my mom started running. A couple 5K’s and she was hooked. Then she ran a half marathon, and another one and another one. Then she did a triathlon. And not too long after she completed her races my Dad started running and then competing in triathlons as well. For several years they compete in local triathlons together.
But for various reasons, my mom has taken a two year break from running and now wants to get back into it. She’s healthy and has remained active, but running just hasn’t been part of her weekly routine for a long time. She recently asked me: how do I get back to running?
Starting to run or returning to running later in life can be a little scary and a lot discouraging. Maybe you’ve never run before and you’re scared that it’s going to hurt or maybe your worried you’ll be impossibly slow. Or if you’ve taken a hiatus from running, maybe paces that once felt easy feel downright impossible. You’re more sore than you ever were before and then there’s the fear that a nagging tightness might turn into a full blown injury and sideline you again for a long period of time.
All these things are real concerns, however you can still find joy, satisfaction and have a lot of fun running later in life. Here are a few tips to get you started:
See your Doctor and get a PT assessment.
If you’ve never run before it is important to check in with your doctor first and get the OK. And after you see them, find a physical therapist who specializes in sports injury. Some physical therapists can perform a gait analysis on a treadmill, take a look at your running form and assess you for muscular weakness and imbalances. Being proactive about your form and potential problem areas can go a long way in preventing injury. And the physical therapist can help design a strength training program for you that will help you build a strong base.
Before you even start running, consider taking 3-4 weeks to focus on running form drills and strengthening areas of weakness. Running without first strengthening any imbalances is almost guaranteed to cause injury. And imbalances you have won’t be corrected overnight, they are probably present when you stand, when you sit, when you walk up stairs. Those imbalances aren’t just physical you’ve been training those neuromuscular pathways for years, so it will take some time to undo it. Keep in mind when you’re doing your strength routine that the heavier the weight the more your body will compensate, often times reinforcing bad postural habits and making imbalances worse. Keep weights light and focus on form. And once you start a strength routine, keep it part of your weekly activity once you start running. You can find a quick strength routine for runners HERE.
Dynamic Warm Up.
Static stretching pre-run is a no, no and can make you more susceptible to injury. Instead opt for dynamic stretches that warm up the muscles and joints. Things like leg swings, butt kicks and walking lunges can help get you get warmed up and ready to run. Incorporate a few lateral motions in your warm up, like 1/2 squat side steps to get your body moving along all planes of motion.
As you age your recovery time increases. Muscles, ligaments and tendons take longer to repair after high impact activities like running. The intensity and duration of your runs and your cross training routine will determine your recovery time. This means creating a training schedule with frequent rest or recovery days after runs to ensure your body has time to repair itself. Schedule less strenuous activities like an easy walk or a short swim after a run day. Or if you run on back to back days consider making one of those runs 30-60 seconds slower than your “comfortable” pace and maybe do it on a softer surface like a track or treadmill.
Create a Recovery Routine
It’s important to have a recovery routine that will aid your body in recovering after each run and staying injury free. Your routine includes refueling and hydrating shortly after your run, click HERE for a quick and easy recovery smoothie recipe. If you don’t already have one, purchase a foam roller or some sort of self-massage tool. Set aside time to stretch and foam roll after your run. Regular massages should also be part of your recovery repertoire and will help you avoid injury. Compression gear and using a heat and ice therapy, alternating 10 minutes each (always finish with heat) for thirty minutes can aid sore and tired muscles in recovery.
Keep a Running Log.
Beginning running or a successful return to running don’t always progress in a linear way. Sometimes there are setbacks, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Which is why it’s important to keep a running journal. Writing down how far you ran, at what intensity and how you felt on a particular day can develop a self awareness that is critical in help you decide when to rest and recover. Keeping a log can also help you trouble shoot the source of aches and pains you may experience.
Let Go of Expectations
As with starting anything new, sometimes the best thing is to throw your expectations out the window. This is especially true if you’re returning to running after a long hiatus. Let go of the way you think things should progress or how they should “feel” and let each run stand alone. Run the mile you’re in.
If you’ve never run before or if you’ve taken a long break from running, like my Mom, you can still enjoy running. Start smart, make recovery a priority and you’ll be logging miles for years to come!
Sarah is a certified running coach with the RRCA and USATF. She and her husband Mark Canney, CPT CSCS collaborate in coaching clients of all ages and abilities to help them reach their running goals. You can learn more about their coaching services HERE.
I love connecting with readers! You can find me here:
Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
Daily Mile: dailymile.com/people/scanney