If you’re on the other side of the half century and your heart and joints are in reasonable health, aiming to complete a ten-kilometre fun run could add years to your life.
Running is convenient, mobile, social and affordable. Combined with some targeted strength training to help support ageing joints, jogging is good for your whole body, and your mind.
Before you head to the starting line, book in with your General Practitioner (GP) for an overall health assessment, including a full blood test. I’m not suggesting this out of caution alone. Not only can your GP give you the thumbs up to ramp up the intensity of your physical activity, you can get a good baseline – and let the results in twelve months’ time, speak for themselves.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global recommendations on physical activity for health, “adults aged 65 years and above should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activating weekly; or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity [or a combination of both]” in order to:
- Improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
- Improve bone and functional health
- Reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), depression and cognitive decline.
NCDs mean diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic lung disease, stroke and heart disease.
Ready to run?
Here are some tips to get started if it has been years or decades since you last jogged or ran, or if you’ve never been a regular runner.
This is absolutely the number one tip. It is easy to keep thinking about starting a regular exercise routine, the challenge is in starting. Start by scheduling in a fast-paced walk later today, or tomorrow morning. No excuses. Just start. Taking the first step is the biggest hurdle, cleared!
Register in a fun-run
This is the only way I’ve ever been able to commit to regular jogging or running. And it works a treat. Provided you plan a run that is ideally at least 12 weeks away, you’ve just set a goal to aim for. The atmosphere of a fun-run is electric. The City to Surf as an example takes you along some of the most scenic parts of inner Sydney. It’s too late to get started now for 2018, but it’s a great one to add to your 2019 calendar! There’s always the Maroubra Fun Run, or the Color Run Sydney (both in October). Here is a full calendar of Australian fun runs to plan for. Start registering!
Don’t overdo a training run
The number one mistake many first-time runners (or those that haven’t run regularly for a long time) make is trying to run distance at pace on their very first training day. Not only will you risk injury, you’ll end up so sore that recovery alone could deflate your good intentions. The Couch to 5 Kilometres (c25k.com) is a fantastic, free training program that is all about challenging yourself, but not overdoing it. You can download free training templates and there are even music disc jockeys (DJs) that specifically tailor musical track based on beats per minute, to help you cover the distance, at a gradually increasing pace.
According to Sports Medicine Australia, when starting a running program, you should:
- Start each run slowly at a pace where you can comfortably chat with a friend or running partner
- Gradually build up your running speed and distance at no more than a 10% increase week on week
- Always warm up and cool down by jogging slowly.
Walk three poles run three poles
If you use one of the free (or low cost) online running training apps or programs available, you’ll find most will kick off your running program with interval training. According to many fitness experts, interval training is one of the more efficient ways to achieve fitness.
As you move from fast-paced walks, to jogging a little, try this technique. Pick a physical feature such as street lights, or power poles. Plan to walk between three of them at a fast pace, then start running three, walk three and so on. Each week, you can pick up one extra stretch of running – walk three, run four, and so on. You’ll be running more than walking, before you realise it. If you prefer to exercise with others, consider finding a local running group or personal training group. You’ll find interval training will feature in their programs too.
Invest in running shoes that suit your gait
The way you move your body when your run (your running gait), and the wrong shoes can lead to all sorts of injury from heel through to hip. Believe me, I’ve been there, and you don’t want to experience deep hip bursitis – it took weeks before I could walk without pain again! In my case, a lack of strength training for an almost non-existent right gluteal didn’t help either. Tip: incorporate strength training to support your joints. More on that later.
If you want to get serious about running regularly, it is advisable to book into a podiatrist or physiotherapist that specialises in running advice to have your running gait assessed to help you find footwear that will minimise your risk of injury. And did I mention strength training?
Find a run partner that shares your goals
We all have those friends who share your enthusiasm, but not necessarily your longer-term goals.
“I’ll come running with you.”
This may be that friend who then goes out, buys all the gear, looks the goods and then cancels on you most mornings. That is NOT the running partner you need. As with all life goals, you need to find a running partner that will last the distance (pun intended). Better still, you need to find a running partner that may even be a challenge to keep up with! A good ‘running partner’ test is to agree to register for a fun run together and book at the same time.
Replace non-run days with strength, balance and flexibility training
Allowing your body time to recover between longer running sessions is a good way to reduce your risk of injury. As I’ve mentioned earlier, strength training can make the difference between being able to run regularly for years or being forced to take a 12 week break due to injury. As we age, balance and flexibility are helpful in reducing the risk of injury. Consider joining regular Pilates or yoga classes to help gain flexibility, balance and strength. DON’T skip the strength training step. Building muscle can make for much more efficient running. It can make the difference between huffing and puffing through a 5-kilometre run, to running 8-kilometres comfortably.
From my experience, strength training made the difference to never being able to crack the 10-kilometre distance without feeling like I was about to expire; to being able to comfortably run 12-kilometres at lunch time and finish feeling great. And that happened over just a couple of months of regular strength and flexibility training just a couple of days a week.
Change it up
Running exactly 7.5 kilometres every second day along the same route will not increase your fitness in the longer term. Change it up. Many of the free online running programs recommend a week that looks a bit like:
- Monday: recovery day (perhaps a Pilates class)
- Tuesday: run at your maximum pace for 2.5 kilometres.
- Wednesday: run at a comfortable pace for 25 minutes.
- Thursday: walk, run intervals for a total of 35 minutes.
- Friday: recovery day
- Saturday: Yoga class or other strength training
- Sunday: a 45-minute run at an easy pace.
… then gradually increase the overall effort by 10% week on week.
Compete against yourself
The surest way to improve your run is to set your baseline pace and then race against it! Smart watches and smart phones are all you need, along with internet access and your location tracker turned on, to start racing against yourself. It feels fabulous to know that you just finished that 3-kilometre run, 5 minutes quicker than a week beforehand. Constantly re-setting your personal best is a great motivator, even if you’re the only one who knows you’ve been smashing goals!
HELPFUL ONLINE RESOURCES:
Exercise and Sports Science Australia – Adult pre-exercise screening system
Sports Medicine Australia – Running fact sheet
healthdirect (a free government service) – Physical activity guidelines for older adults