For many runners, running is more than a way to stay in shape. It’s a way to clear our minds, connect with our bodies and test our limits. It provides a reliable escape from daily stress during all stages of a runner’s life.
We often hear that running can add years to our lives. But running is a high impact activity that causes stress to your muscles and joints. So, what can we do to increase our running longevity?
“The most common injuries we see in older runners are knee, foot or ankle, and hip overuse strain injuries,” explains Dr. Kevin Christie, a Florida-based sports chiropractor who works with members of Fleet Feet Delray Beach’s running club.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stop running as you grow older. Read on to learn how you can lengthen your running career:
When we’re about to go for our run, it’s tempting to just lace up our shoes and go. But it’s important for your muscles to warm up before any activity in order to reduce the chance of injury.
“You want to make sure to have a dynamic warm-up before your run that does not involve static stretching or uncontrolled movements,” Christie says. “This warm-up should last three to five minutes and should not require you to lay on the ground, so that you can do it on asphalt, concrete, or grass.”
Sonja Friend-Uhl, a master’s world record holder and member of the Atlanta Track Club, credits longer warmups, including mobility exercises and active stretching, for helping her stay healthy throughout her career.
“I’ve also placed more emphasis on strength training as I’ve gotten older,” she explains. Strength training is important because it can prevent muscular imbalances that lead to injury.
In addition to strength training, regular bodywork can also reduce your chances of injury.
“Bodywork such as foam rolling, massage, Active Release Technique or physical therapy can prevent adhesions that lead to injury,” says Christie. Take that as permission to treat yourself to a massage tool or a new foam roller.
Runners are often taught to push through discomfort and manage our pain. But listening to what your body needs is a tried and true way to lengthen your running career.
“When something feels off, address it right away. Don’t try to run through it,” recommends Friend-Uhl. It’s better to take a few days off than to be potentially sidelined for months.
“I’ve also begun taking two to three days of recovery between hard efforts versus the one to two days I used to take,” she says. She also advises runners to focus on the quality of miles rather than the quantity. “I’m really not high-mileage focused,” she explains.
Running too much mileage before your body is ready can significantly increase your risk of long-term injury. “Most running related injuries occur over time. Gradually increasing your mileage with optimal rest can reduce the overwork that leads to injury,” says Christie. In other words, less is more when it comes to staying healthy.
Fueling our bodies is one of the most important things we do as runners. Proper nutrition (or lack thereof) dictates how we feel during workouts and how quickly our bodies can recover.
According to the Mayo Clinic, runners need plenty of carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen and protein to stimulate muscle repair after a training session. Runners should also make an effort to consume healthy fats such as avocados, nuts or fish.
“Recovery nutrition and my specific supplement needs, identified by regular labs and bloodwork, has kept me competing at a world-class level even as I approach 50 years of age,” says Friend-Uhl. “I try to get in at least 15 grams of protein with 30 to 40 grams of carbs in liquid form within a half hour of finishing my workout.”
Whatever your running goals may be, it’s important to look after your body and treat it with care so you can keep logging those miles no matter your age.
By Caroline Bell. Caroline has been running competitively since high school. When she’s not writing for the Fleet Feet journal or training for her next race, you can find her looking at cat pictures on Instagram. She lives in Florida with her cat, Jade.