Running Well After the Big Five-Oh

By on February 17, 2018

By Richard Ferguson—

There are masters runners who perform amazing feats. Ed Whitlock, at age 73, ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2:54:49. Rae Baymiller came within a minute of qualifying for the Olympic trial for the marathon when she ran 2:51 at 55.

How did they do it?  Is there something they do that we all can do?

I’ll interview myself since I’m at hand. In the 1950s, I ran the half and the mile in high school, then cross-country for the University of Texas. I continued running with a few breaks for injuries.

I kept hearing about fun runs so I decided to enter a 10K in 1991. Trophies were five deep in my age group and I came in fifth. That hooked me.

I started training more seriously and lowered my times until I was running 19:40s for 5Ks when I was 56.

That was when injuries started. First, I had plantar fasciitis. It got so bad the soles of my feet swelled up. Looking back on it, I think it was caused by the training shoes I was wearing. Although the shoes seemed to fit comfortably and I ran well in them, the problem started shortly after I got them.  I went to a podiatrist. His treatment worked.  He said he wouldn’t even try to get me to stop running since he knew it was useless, so he prescribed megadoses of ibuprofen, and new shoes. Next, I pulled my hamstring. A sports doctor told me it was okay to keep running but to stop if it started to hurt. It took months to get over it. Once I did, I tore the insertion tendon in my butt. I got back to running in about six months, but it took six years to get over it completely.

The thing I learned was that I need to stretch. Until I was 56, I’d never had a running-related injury.  The most stretching I’d done was attempting to touch my toes before a hard run or a race. The thing I didn’t realize was my body was changing while I kept right on doing the same things I had all the way back to my teens.

After that, I learned to warm up for an easy two miles, then stop and stretch before I continued.

According to the Health Fitness Instructor’s Handbook, “Muscular strength begins to decline at about age 30, but the majority of decrease occurs after 50 when it falls at the rate of 15% per decade, with a more rapid decrease of 30% per decade after age 70. The loss of strength is related directly to a loss of muscle fibers and secondarily to atrophy of those muscle fibers.”

The opinions of experts can vary to an astonishing degree on how an older runner can maintain his or her times or even improve them.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin says, “With aging, it takes longer to recover, and if a 50 year or older runner tries to run fast even every other day, he can expect to be injured. So runners older than 50 should not run fast more often than every three days and if it takes four days for the soreness to disappear, they should not run more often than every four or more days. Older runners probably should try to run fast on Wednesday, long on Sunday, and at a slower pace or take off the rest of the days.”

On the other hand, Owen Anderson at Peak Performance says, “Maintain training. If you are a veteran athlete, it’s important for you to maintain the quantity and quality of your training as you get older. If possible, you should also seek ways to gradually and carefully increase the average intensity of your training sessions, since a couple of key studies have shown that master athletes who are able to do this may maintain VO2max completely and even improve performances.”

To be honest, I don’t think I can follow Dr. Mirkin’s advice even if he’s right. Running isn’t work or punishment, it’s fun. There’s still the feel of the wind in my face. Where I run, I’ve watched eagles soaring overhead, tiptoed past a rattler, and seen countless other things of interest…among them the young guy running ahead of me who I can catch if I just turn up the speed a little.

About the Author:
Richard Ferguson was born in Houston, Texas. He spent time on his grandfather’s ranch in New Mexico most summers until he was nineteen when he joined the Army. He still has the first short story he wrote when he was five. In it, a boy finds an injured prairie dog and nurses it back to health. Richard must have already had a flair for the surprise ending, or a short attention span, because at the end the boy throws the prairie dog back into the ocean and it swims away to live happily ever after. An interesting bit of extreme trivia is that Walter Cronkite and Richard did the same things. Richard was an editor for the Purple Pup at Lanier Junior High School in Houston and so was Cronkite. Richard wrote for the Lamar High School paper and so did Cronkite. Richard wrote for the University of Texas newspaper and so did Cronkite. In the Army, Richard wrote for the Stars and Stripes. He now lives in Mexico with Hamish and Poochie, his two canine friends who he saved one way or another.

Spirit Runner is available for purchase on January 12th, 2018 on Amazon and other major booksellers.

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Running Well After the Big Five-Oh