Running has the potential to be a lifelong activity; however, it is necessary to adapt training as you age. The body’s ability to race and recover changes as you get older, as demonstrated by the Boston Marathon’s qualifying standards per age group, where qualifying standard times increase by 5-10 minute increments as age increases.
Running can be a lifelong activity provided you respect the changes that occur with aging and adjust your training accordingly. There are normal degenerative changes that occur with time. These include decreased muscle mass, bone density, and flexibility, as well as cartilage degeneration between the joints, and decreased VO2 max.
For runners, this means that they should not expect to maintain the same workout volume or training speed as they used to be able to when they were younger. For some, they may need twice as many rest days as they used to take, especially after a tough workout. It is also important to make sure that training consists of quality over quantity, which means nixing those “junk miles” in favor of cross training and maintaining flexibility.
It is important to adapt your running not only physically, but mentally, as you age. For seasoned runners, it may become difficult to earn PRs. Instead, it is more realistic to focus on age-group personal records, and compare yourself to other runners in your age category, rather than to the runner you used to be. Get comfortable with the fact that you may be running fewer days a week, with plenty of stretching and other self-care in between. Listening to your body becomes more important, as injuries will take longer to heal. Avoid running through pain and discomfort.
As long as you are not in pain or injured, running is a healthy and safe activity to continue as you get older. Altering your training focus and setting new age-group goals can be just as fun and challenging as you continue to log your miles.