Many things in life get better with age – wine, cheese and wisdom just to name a few. However athletic endurance, speed and strength don’t quite make the list.
Instead, over time our athletic performance will eventually plateau and begin to decline due to the nature of the ageing process.
The age at which you peak of course varies, with some runners seeing their fastest times in their early 20s and others in their 40s or even 50s. Yet either way, the fact remains that we cannot keep getting faster or stronger forever.
But this doesn’t mean that you should stop running. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Throwing in the towel when you notice your runs slowing will only accelerate the decline of your running performance as you age.
As this article will show, with some simple tricks, you have much more power than it seems to slow the impact age has on your running performance and motivation.
Plus, even if your performance isn’t improving, continuing to run as you grow older boasts countless incredible physical and psychological benefits.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Losing Motivation After You Peak
- Changing Your Goals and Measures of Success
- 7 Ways To Stay motivated And Engaged In Running As You Age
- Age Group Running
- Masters Races
- Age Graded Calculators
- Coaching and Mentoring
- New Types of Races
Losing Motivation After You Peak: Changing Your Mindset
Passing your peak may be accompanied by a lack of motivation, less gratification and no goals to strive for.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By changing your mindset, these can quickly return.
Instead, in order to continue reaping the physical and psychological benefits of this activity, try shifting your focus away from competitive motivations and reframing your goals and reasons for running.
For those who love chasing PRs or PBs (“personal record” or “personal best”) and are motivated by a desire to continually improve their times, it can be difficult to stay motivated when they have peaked and left their fastest times behind them.
Even slower runners who were never particularly focused on getting faster may be disheartened when it starts taking them longer to finish races.
It’s common for runners in this situation to become frustrated and stop running altogether or find that running brings little gratification. But this is extremely counterproductive.
Related: How To Start Running At 50 (And Beyond!)
Rather than seeking faster times, pursue maintaining your times. Rather than judging the success of a run by your speed or distance, try instead to measure it based on how you feel or how you are helping others achieve their goals.
Or, value your runs for the incredible physical and psychological benefits they bring you which are true no matter your progress.
9 Ways to Stay Engaged in Running as you Age
#1: Age Group Running
If your previous running goals have included being on the podium, or at least placing high overall, now may be the time to shift your focus to the age group categories.
Most races recognize not only the overall winners, but the top runners in each of several age categories as well.
These categories may be divided by decade (40-49, 50-59, etc.) or in five-year increments (40-44, 45-49, etc.) with prizes often given to the top three runners in each category.
Shifting your focus to your age group means you’re only competing against runners around your age, which allows you to continue to focus on out-running your competitors, if that’s what you enjoy, but on a more level playing field.
#2: Masters Races
You may also want to look into masters races, which are races solely for older runners. “Older” is typically defined as 40 years old, but can vary depending on the organization putting on the race.
As with age group categories in open races, masters races give runners the opportunity to race against similarly aged runners.
Furthermore, because they are limited to older runners only, these races allow runners to focus on the entire field (rather than wondering which runners are in your age category) and possibly have the opportunity to win races outright.
#3: Age-Graded Calculators/Races
Age-Graded Calculators use data regarding age and age standards (times run by the best athletes at various ages and at various distances) to put all runners, regardless of their age or sex, on a level playing field.
In other words, these calculators translate runners’ race results into the times they would have run in their prime years and assigns a performance percentage which shows how their efforts compare to other runners.
100% is considered world record level, 90% is considered world class, 80% is national class, 70% is regional class, and 60% is local class.
Making these calculations allows valid comparisons between runners of any age, male or female.
For example, a 55-year-old woman who runs a 5km in 25 minutes receives an age-graded result of 20:11 and an age-performance percentage of 71.41. A 25-year-old man would then have to run 5km in 17:42 (age-performance percentage of 71.42) to beat her.
Plugging in your times into an age-graded calculator will help you assess your running ability considering your age, and is therefore a great way to see if you’re maintaining your fitness relative to your age.
The age-graded data is sometimes used to create races, where older runners can start before the younger runners meaning the chances of crossing the finish line near the front becomes attainable goal no matter your age.
If you’ve been running and racing for many years, you’ve likely accumulated a great deal of running knowledge and may enjoy using that knowledge to help others.
Consider mentoring a new runner who may be struggling to figure out the basics to renew your interest in running.
If a friend or neighbour mentions they are thinking about running, offer to run with them or help put together a training plan.
Alternatively consider joining a running group and taking on the role of an experienced veteran who provides friendly guidance and advice to the newer runners.
Perhaps you’re not as fast as you used to be, but you’re still fast enough to pace a group of runners to their goal time.
Most large races covering at least the half-marathon distance have pacers whose job is to run at a steady pace to hit a specific finish time, so those runners aiming for that time can simply stay with the pacer in order to reach their goal.
Maybe your years of running a sub four-hour marathon are behind you, but you can still run one in five hours fairly easily.
You could therefore act as a pacer for those runners with a five or even 6 hour goal and may find the experience of helping others reach their goal more satisfying than bettering your own time.
Another way to help others is to crew for a fellow runner during an ultra marathon.
Crewing responsibilities differ from race to race, but in general involve providing on-course support for a runner.
Tasks may range from preparing and providing food and drink, having new shoes and clothes ready, attending to blisters, helping interpret a route map, or giving encouragement.
Many ultra runners rely heavily on their crew and would not finish without their help, making this activity extremely rewarding.
#7: New Types of Races
If the slowing of your race times is causing you to feel discouraged, consider trying different types of races.
i) New Distance
If you previously ran primarily shorter distances, why not try a half marathon or marathon? Or, conversely, if your racing schedule has been filled with half marathons or marathons, try doing something shorter.
Or, perhaps, try something much longer, such as a 50K or 50 mile ultra race.
The longer the race, the slower the average speed (for every runner), which may play into your current strengths. You may also be pleased to discover that ultra runners tend to be more relaxed and friendly than runners in large road races.
In any regard, you may enjoy the challenge of a new distance and, as a bonus, if you pick a distance you’ve never run, you’ll get to set a PR or PB no matter your pace.
ii) New Terrain
If you normally run road races, try trail running, which are also generally run at a slower pace than road races due to the more challenging terrain.
Trail races may also help you focus on the scenery and nature around you rather than the splits on your watch.
iii) Timed Races
Now might also be a good time to try a timed race, which typically involves running a set loop, or route, as many times as possible during a specific time period (usually 6, 12, or 24 hours).
Runners are generally allowed to set up “base camp” at the start/finish, so food and clean socks are never too far away.
Also, as everyone is simply running around the same loop repeatedly, it’s not obvious who is leading, which makes these races feel more friendly and less intimidating than more traditional races.
Relay races are another fun option to stay in the running game and spend time with other runners without having to worry too much about pace or place.
Many relay teams run these races for fun, with little concern for speed, making them a great option to satisfy your desire to race and enjoy a race atmosphere with like-minded souls without too much pressure.
v) Stage Races
While certainly ambitious, a stage race may also be worth considering. These races cover a lot of miles (think 250km or so), but the miles are divided over several days, with specific starting and ending points for each day.
The distance is so long that you can even walk it using the walk-run method.
This set-up allows everyone to start the day together and to rest and relax together at the end of the day regardless of how fast they covered the miles, and can be a wonderful opportunity to explore new areas and meet new people.
The nature of these races may also play to your strengths as an older runner, with patience, persistence, and experience often trumping youth and speed.
Related: Here Are The 11 Worst Things To Do Before A Race
Mantras Can Also boost motivation during runs.
Intrigued? Check this out: The 18 Best Running Mantras To Encourage You On Your Run