One of the hardest things to deal with as an athlete, whether professional or amateur, is the inevitable fact of life that is getting older. It happens to all of us each day. This fact hits athletes more than others for several reasons, I believe. I won’t get into all of them but one big reason is that the body ages faster than the mind.
How do I know this? Because mentally I feel like I’m 25 but my body tells me a different story. When you feel 25 you believe your 40-year-old-plus body can handle the workload of someone that age. But it turns out that’s not true. Wear-and-tear is real. The body can only handle so much workload before muscles break down and need a longer time to repair. Also, the body slowly loses muscle mass as we age. If we believe we’re forever 25 and train like it, we’ll find ourselves with constant injuries.
So this information likely isn’t new to you and it’s not new to me. There’s a reason why you don’t see 50-year-old professional athletes in track and field or other high-intensity sports competing at the highest levels.
So this raises two questions. First, if this is the case, then why bother competing at all once you hit a certain age? Second, if you know your body can’t handle the same training load as when you were younger then why not accept it and adjust?
Just because you age doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals or even improve. You can and people do. But you’ll have to adjust. If you consider yourself a competitive amateur runner, you’ll have to give your body more time to recover one you begin your more intense training cycles. 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi won the race at age 38. He realized his body couldn’t handle the traditional 7-day training cycle. He needed a couple more recovery days so he switched to a 9-day cycle. You can read about it here. Did it work? Well, he ran in the 2016 Olympics at age 40.
Let’s try to answer the second question. For me, it’s just stubbornness. It’s taken a couple years and several injuries to realize adjustment is necessary if I want to meet my goals. I’ve learned a quick buildup in mileage won’t work anymore. I need to gradually build up and that’s what I’m doing now. Second, I’m doing more strength training exercises than before. It’s not much. Squats and calf raises three times a week as well as push-ups. But these exercises should strengthen my muscles enough to withstand the upcoming increase in mileage. I’m learning that there are many different training methods out there that can lead you to where you want to go. It’s ok to change things up.
It’s important to know you can still achieve great thing running as you age. It’s ok if you can’t run a mile as fast as when you were 18. It’s ok if your best marathon is behind you. Set new goals and try to reach them. I realize I’m starting over in a sense and it’s given me excitement to see how much I can improve from where I’m at now, even if I never reach the level I was at just a few years ago. If this helps, keep in mind that almost everyone your age can’t or won’t do what you’re doing. Take comfort that you really are among an elite group of people who compete and run. The older you are doing it, the more in awe people are of you. That’s always a nice ego boost!
Let me know what you’ve learned about getting older and running.