Training for a marathon is a massive undertaking regardless of age — especially for those of us who are not professional athletes — but there are certainly additional challenges to overcome once you’ve reached age 50. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from completing a marathon if it’s a goal you’re set on achieving. There are however, some things you may need to pay special attention to during your training, including taking a few extra precautions to keep your body safe and healthy as you work towards completing 26.2.
See a doctor
Training for and ultimately completing a marathon is more demanding on the human body than almost any other athletic event. It’s important to get the all clear from your physician before you begin training. Your doctor can check your cardiac health, musculoskeletal health and the health of your bones so you know whether you’re fit for training as well as give you some potential insight into any injuries you may be more prone to.
Choose your race thoughtfully
As an older runner, certain routes and even weather conditions will be much more taxing on your body. Ideally, you would want to find a race with a relatively flat course and even terrain that takes place when the weather is mild and less humid since heat tends to affect older adults more than other age groups.
Consider hiring a coach
If it is within your means, a running coach can help you tailor a training plan that will keep you as safe as possible throughout your training and keep an eye on any potential issues before they become problems that end your marathon quest before it even begins.
Take it slow
To avoid putting too much strain on your body, it’s best to plan your run for about a year out from the start of your training. That may be longer than typical for younger runners, but taking your training slowly will allow your body to adjust to the demand you will be putting on it at a manageable rate. Your body will gradually become conditioned and learn to handle long distances with ease.
Use walk breaks
An effective way to prevent injury for many runners over 50 is to use a walk/run strategy. Of course, during your initial training you will very likely start with this method anyway, but many runners prefer to use walk/run intervals even during race day. The intervals are typically short, but can give your muscles and joints enough time to rest so that you can continue without risk of injury.
Take days off
No matter how tempting it is to run every single day, it’s best to take a couple of rest days per week. Running on fresh legs is often just the thing you need to be able to continue improving and push through to your next phase of training.
Incorporate strength training
Strength training can benefit runners of any age, but it’s almost a necessity for runners over 50 since all humans lose muscle as they age. More muscle mass means that your muscles can take some of the strain off of your joints and bones, preventing many possible injuries. Focus on core and leg training, even if you just stick to body weight exercises.
Pay attention to balance and flexibility
Though it’s easy to forget their importance, balance and flexibility are crucial components of a safe race. If your balance isn’t on point you are much more prone to dangerous falls and of course, flexibility can help prevent muscle strains that could put an indefinite hold on your training.
Don’t ignore your pain
If something doesn’t feel right, address it right away. Running on an injury — even a small injury — can make the injury much worse over time and potentially turn it into a major issue if left unattended. If you hurt, take a day off. If you still hurt, see a physician. Always be sure to listen to your body.
Set realistic expectations
Lastly, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Never compare yourself to younger runners or even your younger self. Unless you’re already a perfectly conditioned athlete, you will likely not be able to train the way a 30-year-old can or complete a marathon in the same time. Set your expectations based on your own abilities to avoid pushing to hard and doing more harm than good.