How Does Age Affect Running?


Most runners assume they will get slower the older they get and that’s true to some extent, but not as much as most believe. A study conducted of 200,000 runners for a 15k distance (about nine miles) showed that for every year over forty, you slow down by about one second per mile, and the gap between women’s and men’s times shrinks by five percent. Sorry guys your speed drops off faster than the gals.

The longer the distance the more drastic the decline appears to be. Researchers looked at the New York Marathon, which showed a 4-6 percent decrease in times. However, there are a few issues with this race. It’s not the same participants year to year and it didn’t account for untrained runners. If there were more untrained runners running the second race considered in the study, it would obviously skew the numbers.

Alright, so what if you’re a highly trained runner? It appears that highly trained runners do not have the same decrease in their running, slightly less than the one second per mile seen in the large study of 200,000 runners.

Here are a few positive things about running and aging: Maximum heart rate, muscular strength, and oxygen update decrease at a much slower rate in trained runners. Plus, running economy remains the same as you age at least until age sixty. My guess there is if you’re able to maintain muscular strength leading to maintaining your form while running, you are not likely to see a decline in your economy past age sixty. Sixty is the new forty, right?

Don’t lose hope! There are a few things you can do to stop the slow descent. The decreases runners experience as they age are mostly explained by a drop in oxygen update, upper and lower body strength, flexibility, and muscular (explosive) power.

With that information, we can shape our training to compensate for the age decline. Strength training is easy to implement into your training program. You don’t even need a gym member ship. You can use your own body weight and get some light weights to use at home. Explosive power can be increased by doing plyometrics 2-3 days a week. You have to start out slow with plyometrics because there is a higher risk of injury with them. Plyometric training includes a lot of jumping exercises.

Increasing lung capacity can help off-set the decline in oxygen update. Oxygen uptake is the amount and rate of oxygen that is taken in and used by your muscles. Lung capacity is how deeply and quickly you can breathe. You can increase your lung capacity in a few different ways. First, train on a regular basis. Training increases the number of capillaries in your lungs and allows more oxygen to be absorbed with each breath.  Second, breathing exercises such as those used in yoga. Yoga is also going to help with your flexibility.

You don’t have to do yoga to increase your lung capacity and flexibility. You can do both on your one at home through stretching and foam rolling and for lung capacity inhale as much air as you can and then a little more (straighten your back, expand your lungs until you can see them in a mirror and your stomach sucks in), hold the breath for a second, and then exhale until it’s all out, and then exhale a little more.

Another benefit of aging is you begin to appreciate what your body is able to do. You also understand the value of your health.

Running as We Age

aging runners

We all wonder, what is going to happen to my running as I age? Will I get slower? I think most people assume you will get slower as you age, which is probably a good assumption, but how much do we slow?

A huge study done in 2010, showed for each year over the age of 40 a runner slows only by 0.2%. That works out to be about one second per mile per year. This continues up to the age of 60. Here’s the interesting news, after 60 years of age men’s advantage over women hits the wall. Men’s performance begins to take a pretty steep nose dive (sorry guys).

For highly trained runners, the loss in muscular strength and oxygen uptake goes down at a much slower rate than for moderately or untrained runners. Running economy (how efficiently you burn energy as you run) remains consistent up until age sixty.

The impact to your running is higher the longer the distance is that you run. While at the 10k and half marathon you only lose one to two seconds per mile after the age of 40, at the marathon distance it works out to be four to five seconds per mile.

The general advice for runners over the age of forty is to not focus on the high miles. Adjust your miles so you are able to bring in more strength training and stretching. Making those changes to your training program will guard you against the effects of aging.

Cut out those low mile rest days and replace them with some yoga and either body weight strength training or light weight training. Maintain your high quality runs such as speed work, race pace, and long runs.

As always never increase your miles by more than ten percent a week, and you may want to lower it to 5-7 percent as you pass fifty five. Also make sure an incorporate a rest week every fourth week of training by dropping your miles by twenty-five to thirty percent for the week.

Running forever is the goal.