I turned 40 this year, became a Master’s runner and promptly got my first major injuries in decades. Coincidence? Probably not.
Warning sign to stop running? Definitely not.
I firmly believe that the risks of not running and being active far outweigh the risks of being a runner.
In fact, this injury, as depressing as it has been (I’m going to have to bail on the Chicago marathon), has been a wake up call to upgrade my exercise routine to ensure that I can remain a runner long into the future.
Much of this list is common sense and advice you’ve likely heard before. I certainly have. But sitting on the sidelines (for at least 6 more weeks!) and not being able to run has finally brought the importance of much of it home.
I’m not going to outrun aging, but I can adapt and continue running with a little extra work.
Increase your cadence
You’ve probably heard that 180 is the magic number for steps per minute. Better not to focus on an exact number and just try to get land light and get as close as you can. This will work to reduce the ground forces and help alleviate the pounding on your body. I tend to have a cadence in the low 170’s and I think it works for me.
Focus on strength training
This is the one that did me in. I ended up with very sharp knee pain due to weak stabilizing muscles, mostly in my hips, that had my lower leg twisting to compensate. It eventually caught up to me. The stronger you are, the more support your joints will have and less injury prone you will be. As we age, muscle tissue begins to break down, strength training is the best way to preserve those fast twitch fibers. Don’t neglect the upper body either. A strong upper body will help maintain form as you fatigue.
Develop a recovery protocol, and stick to it
Drink plenty of water. Eat during that fuel window. Hit that foam roller. Ultimately, make sure you plan out your recovery just as much as you plan out your workout. The days of bouncing out of bed for a run after a night out with friends are long gone.
This one goes hand in hand with strength training. Look for activities, like yoga, that can complement your running. Look for exercises that focus on balance and mobility.
Get your rest
This one hasn’t been much of a problem for me. Since my diagnosis, I can count on one hand the amount of time I’ve seen eleven o’clock at night. But even if you don’t have a crazy chronic disease, sleep becomes even more crucial as you get older. Sleep is huge for letting your body repair muscle damage, recover mentally and replace hormones that will make your next workout improve your fitness not curtail it.
You don’t have to eliminate meat like me, but you should look to eat more whole foods to help repair tissue damage from workouts and mitigate inflammation. Controlling and managing your weight is more difficult as you grow older, but will play a key role in being able to maintain lifelong activity. The less weight the body carries, the less stress on joints and muscles, the better you will perform. Y
You might also consider getting a complete blood panel done at your next physical to see what additional supplementation you should consider that your diet or daily life is not providing.
Warm up longer, and take more time for a cool down
Along with strength training, this might be the most difficult one for me. I am often trying to squeeze workouts into the kid’s schedule and my work schedule and it often makes a proper warm up and cool down difficult. I’ll admit they are often the first things to get thrown overboard. It’s not that I don’t understand their importance, it’s just that if something has to be skipped but a workout still completed, well….
I’m now trying the tact that the dynamic warm up and cool down are integral parts of the workouts and if I don’t have time for them then I don’t have time for the workout. It might hurt in the short term to skip a day, but it will pay off in the long term.
You are not going to out run Father Time, but with some key tweaks to our routine as we age, we can run alongside him for quite awhile, if not a lifetime. Form, strength training, recovery, rest, diet and stretching might feel like chores, but they can add years to your active and healthy lifestyle.
An injury is never timely and I hate not being able to run, but if these eight weeks of rehab reinforce what it will take to remain a lifelong runner, it will be worth it.