Elderly marathoners keep running into the twilight age

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 5:37 PM

DALLAS –– On Friday afternoon at White Rock Lake, it was clear one group of runners has been around the block a time or two.

After all, Jan Richards was in her 50s when she started running.

"(I) Met a man in a bar and he was a runner,” she said. “Started running. Quit drinking, quit smoking. Quit everything and started to run."

Now 86, Richards still runs three days a week, five or six miles at a time.

She and other veterans with the Dallas Running Club debunk the excuse that running is too tough on aging joints.

"I feel like keeping active makes them better than if I didn't,” said Nancy Cole. “It makes me feel good all over; mentally as well as physically.”

Cole is 71. She has completed five marathons in the last year. As people age, muscle fibers shrink in number and size. Endurance, strength and speed are also impacted.

The Dallas Running Club (DRC) shares tips to address these issues. 

Some of these tips include:

  • As you train, ramp up your training more gradually.
  • Listen to your body even more than you did when you were younger. If you have pain, be willing to give yourself a break. You can also alternate running with lower impact exercise to rest your joints. Biking and swimming are good alternatives.
  • Rest is even more important as we age for injury prevention. It will take you longer to recover from a hard run. A good indicator is to take your pulse in the morning. If it’s above average, you need another day of rest.
  • To help older runners with endurance, it is important to have a least one high intensity workout per week.  (this means your heart rate is at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate)
  • Maintaining muscle strength can help maintain speed as we age. You need one to two 30 minutes weight training sessions a week.  This should include upper and lower body.
  • To overcome the loss of balance, do simple balance training exercise.
  • Stay hydrated. Your thirst mechanism is less acute as your age so you may not feel thirsty.
  • Train on smooth, forgiving surfaces. This allows less chance for sprains.
  • Be sure to warm up before a run and stretch afterwards.  Less elastic muscles are more prone to injury.

"I've had to make adjustments because of age,” admits Nelson Spencer. “I'm doing a run, walk system."

Nelson Spencer, 74, took up running after a heart attack at 60. He says because of running, he never felt better.

They all plan to run the Dallas Running Club’s half marathon on Sunday, inspiring others to keep on trucking in the twilight years.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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