Becoming a 'Senior Runner'
There is a long history of people, many would call senior runners, continuing to run or starting to run through their 60s and into their 70s.
- Some have been life-long runners.
- Some have been doing other sports, which as they get older they find they are no longer enjoying, but the simplicity of running fills the exercise gap.
- Others just feel the need, or have been advised for whatever reason that some simple exercise will benefit their long-term physical and mental health.
Should 60-year-olds run?
Of course they should!
As we get older and maybe more reflective, with the realisation that the aging process is a reality, most people reach a conclusion that continuing or starting some simple exercise like running has many benefits.
Medical and sport scientists agree that entering the realms of being a ‘senior runner’ shouldn’t mean that the ambition to maintain or even improve fitness be curtailed in any way, in most cases, the opposite in fact.
The benefits of running for over-60s
People start running for several reasons: to improve all-round general health and fitness or being slightly overweight and wanting to shed a few pounds are two classic ones. Here in a nutshell are six excellent benefits for seniors:
- Helping to prolong an active life
- Improving all-round general health
- Helping to keep weight under control
- Helping to maintain mobility, suppleness and muscle tone
- Making for a positive mental attitude, with ongoing simple and achievable goals
- Moderate exercise has also been shown to promote better sleep.
How to start running at 60?
If you are a total beginner or haven’t exercised for several years, it is good to give yourself a simple health check. If you have any underlying medical issues or a nagging injury, we would always suggest you have a chat with your local health centre or physio to ensure that running is not going to make anything worse. Then:
- Get a schedule. Check out a ‘Couch to 5K’ plan or our Beginner 5k Training Plan. This is a guided process, starting with a mix of short efforts in walking and running, then progressing to more running. The aim is to be able to manage 5k (3.1 miles) in 10-12 weeks. Thousands of people of all ages and abilities complete this process every year.
- Think about terrain. Depending on where you live, using softer ground, like a park or a nearby trail, can be kinder on the muscles and joints compared to harder tarmac paths or pavements.
- Think about your kit. You can start by wearing whatever you have in the house that’s comfy, but investing in a properly fitted pair of running shoes is a really good idea. Check out our Natural Gait Analysis »
- Warm up. Especially for beginners it is good to start each run with a little brisk walking to warm up and include a few limbering up and shake yourself out excercises.
- Stretching. Post-run is generally perceived as a better time to do some prolonged stretching. See Running Stretches for Beginners »
- Trust your schedule and stick with it. You could have good weeks and challenging weeks in the beginning. That’s fine, we all do, and you shouldn’t let it put you off. See it as all part of the process.
How fast should a 60-year-old run?
Not very fast to start with. Speed is definitely not the main focus in the beginning. It is much more important just to get into a routine.
- Our Beginner 5k Training Plan involves a mix of very easy walking and running to start with. All of it should be done well within yourself, without straining.
- We all have different levels of natural ability. As fitness progresses and you build a base through slower running, faster running can be introduced as necessary. With time you will intuitively know: yes I could run a little faster. Our 5k Training Plan to Improve Speed offers some simple ideas.
- Some who have been running for many years, still wanting to be semi-competitive, even as they undoubtedly get slower. In this case it is well worth seeking the advice of a local running or jogging club coach, who can advise on an appropriate individual schedule, depending on what goals you have in mind.
Is it ever too late to start running?
No. Age is not a barrier, and should never be seen as a total limiting factor. As long as you follow all sensible advice, set realistic goals and are prepared to be patient, the benefits of running and exercise far outweigh any perceived issues. Any minor aches and pains in your mechanical frame are more than balanced out by maintaining a healthy heart and lungs, while helping to keep weight under control too.
Running after 70 years old and beyond
There is no age limit to running. We each age differently, and some of us have to deal with different issues. To be able to continue running regularly in your seventies and enjoy it, you have to be realistic about your capacity. Your main aim should be to maintain a consistent routine, without getting too tired or getting injured.
Distance running for older runners
“You’re getting too old to do this sort of thing” is often offered as well-meaning advice as we get older. While of course we have to respect age, as long as one has no major underlying health issues, it is certainly possible to keep running long distances. Not everyone will have the time or the motivation to run marathons or ultra marathons but taking even a cursory look at results for local Park Runs, 10ks and Half Marathons shows there are hundreds of runners in their 60s and 70s running these distances regularly, so why shouldn’t you? The age-old coaching principle of ‘too much, too soon’ as a potential recipe for disaster applies to any runner though, whatever their age.
How can an older runner increase speed?
An older runner is certainly capable of increasing their speed. There is some advice on this in our 5k Training Plan to Improve Speed. All beginners, especially older beginners just have to be careful to increase the volume of running slowly and also the pace of any speed sessions carefully.
Additional Tips for Runners Over 60
- Ease into each run. At 60-plus very few people can just start churning out sub-7 or sub-6 minute miles anymore straight out the door. You're more like a car starting on a cold winter's morning and need a good warm-up to ease the joints and get the blood flowing well. Don’t fight it, its all part of the running experience. Just go with it and after a mile or so things ease up.
- Don’t just run. Simple mobility, stretching and strength exercises should be a part of any exercise routine, whatever your age. Check out any classes in your local Community Centre, gym or Sports Centre. Many run separate classes for over 50s and 60s to make them less intimidating. Also have a look at our video section, for stretching and mobility exercises you can do at home.
- Stop comparing yourself with your former running self. If you have run regularly, it is futile to think you can run the same times as 20 years ago. Yes you may still have the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old, but the body just doesn’t agree! Treat each year as a new year. Wipe the slate clean and just set a few realistic goals for the year, happy you are still able to get out there. Those goals could be to just maintain as close to last year's times over 5k or 10k, or to run a certain number of miles each month. Never give up on your hopes, but treat it like a little amusing game, and be prepared to adapt if the body isn’t 100% willing.
- Quality recovery time. Recovery time after exercise is more important with age, so do ensure you balance exercising with some quality rest, and ensure you are getting the recommended 6-8 hours of sleep. The mantra of ‘hard day, then easy day’ or even ‘2 easy days’ is wise.
- It’s okay to walk. Some days, for many reasons, running can just feel like hard work. Just know it's okay to walk little bits or just have a brisk power walk. Running as you get older shouldn’t be torture, but each time you go out should have some purpose.
- Don’t talk yourself out of a run. However, if you do feel unwell or extremely tired just go for a walk or rest up till tomorrow.
- Find Inspiration. Find out and read about the amazing exploits of other senior runners to help inspire you.
- Find a running buddy or join a local running group. Some people are fine working out and sticking to a schedule themselves. Many people do find the benefits of running with other people occasionally or the support and comaraderie offered in a group setting. There is a national network of groups for beginners who welcome people of any age:
England: Run Together
Scotland: Jog Scotland
Wales: Run Wales
Northern Ireland: Athletics Northern Ireland
About Adrain Tarit Stott
The author of this piece (pictured right) is 65 years young! He has been running all of his life, and has completed well over a 100 recognised marathons, plus over 100 ultra marathons on all surfaces: road, track and trail. He has run at a fairly high level as an ultra distance runner, representing Great Britain on 3 occasions, He has also been active for many years as a race organiser and official at numerous events, from local 5ks to National Championships. He is still an active runner, and acts as a mentor and advisor to many ultra distance runners in his role as selector and team manager for both the Scottish and Great Britain Ultra distance teams. He is part of the team in our Edinburgh shop.
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. The tips are ones we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises or advice, stop and consult your healthcare provider.