How to get back into running as you age

Picking up run training as you get older can come with a new host of challenges you may have never considered, here's how to navigate them...

two women run through a forest

by Trail magazine |
Published on

Like loyal customers, former runners returning to their first love are often ignored, with most training advice out there is concentrated on new runners. You’re not alone, though.

There are plenty of people who for one reason or another used to be runners – maybe in school, maybe at a club – and drifted away for a few years. You may feel like a beginner wondering how to start running again, that's where our plans like this six-week 5km training schedule can help.

“If you’ve been a reasonably good runner in the past, that usually says you have the physiological capacity to run,” says John Brewer, sports professor at St Mary’s in London (and a not bad runner himself). “If you stop, that genetic capacity doesn’t just go away. It may get hidden by layers of body fat and a decline in cardiovascular capacity, but it’s still there.”

You just need to take your time. Your body might have higher fat content than before, it may also have a reduced ability to process oxygen, tighter muscles, and degenerating tendons, which will tell you straight away that rushing your comeback is a foolish move. That being said, we want the record to state that older runners are often the fittest, most mentally determined, and best performing runners of the lot, especially over longer distances. So don't be detered if you're not there yet!

“You need to understand your body won’t respond how it used to,” says sports scientist Dr Sarah Rowell, who ran a UK record for the marathon of 2hr 28min 6sec back in 1985. Put simply, you will take longer to recover because of hormonal depletion and the damage running does to muscle fibres or connective tissues in your body.

Don’t worry though, there is a way you can get back into running without too much risk of injury or de-motivation. Here are our top tips for making your comeback.

Rest more

woman stops for breath during a run
Credit: Alamy

Understand the importance of recovery and you’ll reap the benefits. This holds true at any age. It’s possible to do the same kind of training you used to, but when you return to running you must realise you have to take longer breaks between races, long runs, shorts runs (heck, everything) to allow your body to repair. Forget the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra and put your feet up.

Enjoy yourself

Lifestyle is hugely important, and beer might be more important to you than it used to be! Do you have a mortgage, kids, an important job? They all play a role in your life, more so than when you gave up running. But don’t feel bad, having a healthy relationship with running is all about balance; drink a beer and reassess your goals.

Take it slow

two peopel clad in red run alongside a lake

Sessions that you used to do on a whim will cause damage – muscles have shortened, tendons have become less pliable. They can still work, but with time and care. And as for your heart – put simply, it will not beat as fast as it did when younger due to a steady fall in the number of receptors in your heart to tell it to do so. So don’t push yourself too hard too soon. You'll get there.

Think modern

Hydration, refuelling and even an understanding of how muscles react to speedwork has evolved hugely in the past decade or so. And we’re not even going to touch on the incredible world of modern trail running shoes, breathable fabrics and waterproofing like that in waterproof trail shoes. Synthetic fabrics are your new friend, as is compression clothing like some compressive running leggings – so get clued up on it all and use the tools at your disposal.

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