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How To Start Running in Your 50s

There’s a myth going around that running is something you have to get into when you are young. If you’re over a certain age, the belief goes, then it’s just too hard to get into. Well, we’re here to tell you that nonsense. Running is a great way to get in shape no matter what your age. Especially as you get into middle age, keeping yourself healthy and active is paramount. And running is an ideal way to do that. If you haven’t run in a long time, or if you want to try running for the first time, it can feel intimidating. And that’s especially true if you’re older.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to get into running in your 50s. We’ll cover how to prepare, how to plan workouts and what to expect, and conclude with a variety of tips that will help you out as an older runner.

Although you might feel like you’re too old to get into running, that’s not true. You’re never too old to take care of your body and be physically fit!

Get the Right Gear

The first step to running at any age, but especially in your 50s when parts of your body that never hurt before can start to give you pain, is to get the right gear. Obviously, since running centers on your feet, properly fitting shoes are a must.

If you’re serious about making running a habit, it’s definitely worth spending the few extra bucks to get a good pair of shoes. Skip the department store options and get yourself to your local running store. Make sure you ask about what your needs might be, too. If you need a wide toe box, some shoe brands are better options than others. If you need support, pick the brand that will give you that. Your local running store can help you find the right shoe.

Additionally, you’ll also need a few outfits that can wick sweat. Although you might want to wear just an old cotton shirt, it will be uncomfortable. Get at least two wicking tech shirts that you can run in so that you can rotate the two in the wash.

Finally, sunglasses, a hat, and a GPS watch are nice-to-haves as you get more involved in running. For me, getting a GPS watch made me get more serious about running. Because I had the gear, I felt I could say that I was a runner. Of course, you don’t need the gear to be a runner – you just need to run. But there’s nothing wrong with looking the part, too.

Find a Training Plan

Next, you’ll want to give yourself a goal and a program, which you will do through a training plan. Couch to 5k plans are the most popular because they allow people to start from any fitness level and run 3.1 miles (5k). It’s not a crazy long distance, but it is also something to work toward.

Make sure that whatever plan you select is in line with your current fitness level. Even if you used to be a super-fast runner in high school and college, but haven’t run since then, you’ll want to consider yourself as someone who doesn’t run and pick a plan for that.

Finally, if you’ve never run before, welcome to the club! Just make sure that you start with a run/walk program, which will allow you to ease into running and plan out your walking breaks so that you aren’t just walking whenever you feel like it.

Go to Your Doctor

Like any type of exercise, you’ll want to make sure that you talk to your doctor before starting a running program. And this is regardless of how you feel. Make sure that you check with a doctor before you start.

Begin to Run

As you begin running, you should have some expectations for what the next two-three months will look like as you add running into your routine. In the first three weeks, don’t worry about speed, how much you’re running, etc.

Instead, focus on walking/running as needed, and starting slow. To avoid injuries, make sure you give your body time to get used to running, so build up gradually. Giving yourself a good solid base is much better than starting off too fast.

In weeks 4-8, you’ll begin to build up more endurance. There’s a good chance that you weren’t able to run a mile without stopping in those first three weeks, but you most likely are getting close now. Start spending more time running than walking, but again, be measured.

You’ll also want to start adding strength work to your training routine. This will ensure that you’re getting a whole-body workout and keeping all of your bones strong. You’ll likely want to use the weight machines at the gym since they are safer than using free weights.

Finally, in week 9 and beyond, you can start doing more challenging workouts. Maybe you start adding some intervals or hill repeats. Adding speed work to your routine will make you a much faster and stronger runner.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Now that you have an idea of what you need to do to get started as a runner in your 50s, here are a couple of other things that you’ll want to remember as you take up this new habit.

Be Realistic

While this advice is true for any runner, it’s especially true when you’re older. Make sure that your expectations aren’t too high. If you were a runner before, you will almost certainly be slower now in your 50s than you were before.

If you want to set time goals, make sure that they are realistic for your age. You might look at the times for some master’s runners to know what is a reach goal for you in your 50s, but something that is still doable.

Even better is to focus on small goals and build off of those. Maybe one goal is running a 5k without having to walk. Then you can move up to longer distances or faster speeds. Maybe you want to win the master’s category for a race. Start small and build up.

Slowly Increase Miles

Again, this is good advice for any runner, but especially important if you’re in your 50s. Follow the 10% rule and make sure that you only increase your mileage by 10% per week, even if you feel good.

This means that if you’ve been running 10 miles a week, you shouldn’t suddenly jump to 20 miles. Instead, you’ll need to slowly work up to that: moving from 11 miles a week to 12 miles and so forth.

Stay Motivated

It can be so easy to lose focus and suddenly find yourself on the couch most days instead of running, so make running a habit and build a routine around your running. If you’re social, enlist other people to run with you. Then you’re getting people time and exercise in.

Additionally, having a goal race is a good way to make sure that you stay focused. Nobody wants to sign up for a race and then not be able to run it because they didn’t prepare. Having a few races that you run throughout the year will always give you something to train for.

Cross-Train

While running is amazing, it shouldn’t be the only exercise that you’re getting. Make sure that you include cross-training into your routine. This includes walking, yoga, swimming, biking, etc. The possibilities are endless.

This is the best way to mitigate your chance of injury. Cross-training allows you to work different muscle groups and not overuse the muscles and bones that you use when running. Plus, it can add some much needed variety.

Strength Train

After you’ve been running for several weeks, you can start including strength training into your routine. This will improve your running and decrease your chance of injury because your muscles will be nice and strong.

Adding a couple of days of strength training into your running routine every week will help add some variety and strengthen your muscles so that they are ready for the pounding of the pavement that comes from running.

Eat Right

Becoming a strong runner and fit person isn’t just about logging miles. Diet plays a big role as well, especially as your body ages and your metabolism changes. Make sure that you’re giving your body the fuel that it needs through proper nutrition by practicing healthy eating habits. Focus on getting enough protein, leafy greens, and carbohydrates so that your body isn’t running on empty.

If you’re trying to use running for losing weight, this is especially important so that you don’t negate the calories you’ve burned from running by eating more.

Don’t Ignore Recovery

While running is great, rest and recovery is an extremely important component of your running routine. As Deena Kastor mentioned in her book, Let Your Mind Run, she didn’t realize how important recovery is until she started training as an elite runner.

As an older runner, you’ll especially want to make sure that you have enough time to recover. This will help reduce your chance of injury and just make running more fun overall. So get your 7-9 hours of sleep every night and don’t be afraid to take brief naps in the afternoon!

Final Thoughts

While you still might be intimidated about getting back into running in your 50s, hopefully, it’s a little less scary now. The best thing you can do is get involved with a group of other runners like yourself, so that you can encourage one another in your goals.

While you likely want different things from running than someone who is younger, running is good for the soul and body no matter what age you are. Good luck on your journey to get into running! You can do it!

The Wired Runner