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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Gonzales

Running in the Golden Years

Disclaimer: I don’t look as old as I am...but I am. I credit running for my youthful appearance, although genetics might have come into play. As a distance runner for the past 25 years, I’ve been at it for a while. For the last eight years, I’ve been a coach for Run365, the official training program for the San Francisco Marathon. That means years of training those in the over-40 and 50 crowd.

What have I learned? It is never too late to start running!

Clearly, you want to be in good physical condition, which means checking with your doctor before you try to go from couch to marathon (or half marathon...or 10K). Having that clearance that says you’re in good enough condition to run is imperative. But if your doctor says no, do offer the option to walk because walking half marathons has become a craze.

Just to be clear, running isn’t the “cheap sport” that some seem to think. The phrase ‘tie on some shoes and go out for a run’ requires a tad bit of analysis: good shoes are a must and they typically aren’t the $29.99 discount table offerings at your local retail store. Invest in good running shoes! Head to Sports Basement or RoadRunner Sports and let someone who specializes in fitting put you on a treadmill or watch you run. Trust me - it makes a difference! If you pronate, meaning you run “inward” on your shoes, you’ll see it in those you wear more often: the inner parts of your soles will be more worn. Likewise, if you supinate, the outside of your shoes will wear more. The right shoes will address this and ensure your body is more functional when you start hitting the miles.

Got the clearance and the shoes? Great. Now its time to find a program. If you want to set of a goal of running a 5K, a marathon, or anything in between, the next step is to identify a program that helps you determine how far to run and how often. If you go from couch to running 5 miles a day, four days a week, I can just about guarantee you’ll get hurt. Endurance running means following a structured program so your body can adapt to the movement and pounding. Any good program won’t have you adding more than about 10 to 12% of your distance week after week.

The Run365 program is the official training program for the San Francisco Marathon (and all of its distances) and the program is designed to safely take a runner from couch to marathon. If you’re already doing some type of regular exercise, the training will be easy. And if you’re not exercising, the group dynamics and support from coaches and pacers will be the encouragement and support to get you across that finish line with a smile!

With age, also comes the concern about injuries. Aging isn’t always fun, as I’ve learned in my 40s and now 50s that I don’t bounce back as quickly as I used to. What has helped me is three-fold: I train with a team, I do a run/walk combo, and I cross-train.

The advantage of running with others is that I am surrounded by a group who will provide support and encourage me. They make it hard to sleep in when I’d like to because I feel accountable. Many of us, as we’ve aged, switched to a run/walk combo. Whether we run 3 minutes and walk one or run 90 seconds and walk 30, the strain on our bodies is lessened and we feel so much better. Finally, our training programs aren’t all about running. We bike, hike, swim, row, or walk to add a little variety and use our muscles differently.

And while there’s no magic elixir to training after 40 or 50, it really is so much more enjoyable than when I was younger. I’m not quite as competitive and finishing the race is sometimes more important than beating my last personal best. Hope you’ll give it a shot.

Please excuse me now. I’m off to take my Geritol.

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