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I first took up running at the age of 30. I’d been sporty at school, and in my 20s had turned into a bit of a couch potato. I always loved watching the London Marathon, inspired always by some of the ‘old people’ that turned out year after year to run. I guess those ‘old people’ may well have been younger than I am now!

So the day after watching the London Marathon on TV, I went out for a run – just round the block. It was a disaster! I went much too fast, couldn’t keep up the pace, and collapsed in a heap when I got home.

The next day I went out again, much more slowly this time. I managed a lap of the block and I was hooked! Forty plus years on, albeit with a 15 year gap, I’m still running, still loving it, and see no reason to give up. I might not be as quick as I was, but I always did prefer distance over speed.

I’ve got all the Personal Bests I want. I’ve run three Marathons, including London to mark my 60th and 65th years. And now I like nothing more than encouraging others who might want to take up running.

What's so Good About Running?

You may be a regular walker, so reasonably fit, and wonder why you would want to take up running. What’s so good about it? Well for a start, it is quite different to walking, it uses different muscles, and it is harder. So, if you are reasonably fit, want to push yourself a bit, and try something new, then why not give running a go. You will find a great sense of satisfaction, particularly if you have never been a runner and never thought you could run. And age really is no barrier, as long as you are fairly fit, sensible, and build up slowly. Running really is good for both your physical and mental health.

Running vs Jogging

I guess some people would say it's about speed. Others might say that runners take it more seriously, perhaps hooked on racing, personal bests etc. I don’t really agree, and in fact I don’t think there is much difference. You can run slowly and you can jog quickly. Someone once said, if you feel like a runner, you are a runner! And it has nothing to do with how expensive your fancy running gear may be, or what you look like!

How to Start Running at 50 Plus

One of the comments I hear over and over is that people are worried about starting running because of what others will think of them. Too old? Too fat? Too slow?  Actually what does it matter what people think? It's how you feel about it that matters.

For some people, the idea of going out on their own is daunting, and certainly you will find it much easier if you are starting off with others.

There is a wonderful NHS Couch to 5k Programme, which I can’t recommend highly enough. There is an app that you can download to your phone and it talks you through the entire 9-week programme. And, yes, following the programme, you really can go from complete couch potato, who has never run before, to doing 5k (3.1 miles) in 9 weeks – if you follow the plan. If that seems hard to believe, it is true. I’ve run several Couch to 5k programmes for my Running Club, and it really does work.

With an app on your phone, there is nothing stopping you heading out on our own and following the programme. But you may find it quite difficult to motivate yourself, particularly as the weeks progress, and the runs get a bit longer. It is far better to join a group if you can find one locally. Quite a number of running clubs do run the Couch programme.  That gives you the advantage of an experienced Run Leader who can give advice on all things running, not just the Couch to 5k programme.

Before you sign up to a Couch group, you will be asked about basic fitness, and any underlying medical conditions that might have an impact on your ability to run. If you are waiting for a new knee or hip, for instance, then taking up running would not be too wise! A heart condition would not necessarily prevent you but, if in doubt, it would be good to have a chat with your GP.

What Kit Do I Need?

What if I Fall or Have an Accident?

Next Steps

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Things to Bear in Mind

In the last 3 years I’ve probably coached about 60 people through the Couch to 5k programme.  I hear many of the same comments. Here are just a few:

Organised Runs

Having worked hard to get up to running a reasonable distance, it is a real shame if you don’t carry on. Once you’ve completed the Couch to 5k programme and can run 3 miles reasonably comfortably, you might like to think about joining a Running Club. Most will probably have a minimum requirement even for beginners. My Club states that newcomers must be able to run 3 miles non-stop, albeit slowly.

Running Clubs are always pleased to have new members. Don’t worry about being too slow. Of course there are likely to be some very fast runners in any Club, but you will also find a range of ages and speeds. And you will get lots of encouragement. After all we all had to start somewhere. Many clubs have a beginner’s group and will tailor runs to suit those runners.

Park Runs

The weekly Park Runs have been an amazing initiative. They take place on a Saturday morning, all over the country and at a vast number of venues.  The distance is 5k, over a measured route. It is free to take part. There will always be some very fast runners, some good Club runners, and then those for whom 5k is still something of a challenge. You need to go online and register for Park Run. You only have to do this once. That will give you a barcode and you need to take that with you every time you do a Park Run. The barcode is scanned at the end, and you subsequently get a text telling you what your time was. A lot of people use Park Run to increase their speed over the same course each week. Beware it can feel quite competitive (but its you against yourself). Park Run is not a race. It is open to all – runners, joggers, walkers. You will sometimes see young mums running with a pushchair, or the occasional dog with its runner.

Maintaining Fitness

Running is one of those things – the more you do, the easier it gets, and then the more you want to do. If you only run occasionally it will never get any easier and it is then quite easy to get disheartened. Regular runs – 2 or 3 times a week – will really make a difference, even if just 3 miles at a steady pace.

The main thing is not to overdo it. As we get older it does take longer to recover from a run, so always allow a rest day after a run. And take care if you do pick up any injuries. The best way to avoid injuries is to take things very slowly – don’t run too hard or too fast, or too often. And don’t forget a warm-up, and cool down.

It is also important not to put too much pressure on yourself. A lot of runners time their runs, either with a running watch on an app on their phones. That will not just give you total times, but split times (pace per mile), as well as details of elevation and maybe even heart rate, etc. While it can be nice to know all of that, it is also nice sometimes to leave the timers behind and just go out and run. In time you will be able to judge your pace fairly accurately, but it is so important that you enjoy your runs, and sometimes just forget about times.

As time goes on, and you find that 5k barrier is now feeling quite easy, you might want to set yourself a new target – maybe increasing distance, or trying to go a bit quicker. If you do want to do longer runs, it is really important to just increase the distance by very small increments, and slow down as you run further.

Lasting Benefits

There is no doubt that running is great for mental health, as well as being beneficial physically. Running can give you time to clear your head, think through problems, forget about problems - a chance to enjoy your surroundings and being out in the fresh air. I run on my own, except when I’m on a Club run. My solo runs are where my Mirthy articles take shape! If you run with a buddy its a chance for a nice social catch up. And yes – it is possible to run and chat! If you can do both, it’s a sign that you aren’t going too fast.

Depending on how much running you are doing you may or may not lose weight. But, even if you are only doing 2 or 3 slow short runs a week, you will certainly feel more toned, even if your weight stays the same. You might find your posture improves too as you strengthen your core.

Beginner Runners

Two of the runners who completed the Couch to 5k programme with me just before Christmas, are now regularly running with my Running Club. Both, in their 60s, admit to being totally hooked and amazed at their progress!

“I felt a mix of surprise, delight and slight trepidation when I spotted the poster encouraging people to join a Couch to 5K course beginning last September.  Having moved to the area three years previously, and not having friends locally, I felt a need to meet people who might have similar interests to me. I made the commitment and began the course. The weekly C25K sessions immediately gave me the two things I needed: exercise and friendly people.  It surprised me how efficiently and happily we progressed as a group - motivating each other and achieving the small steps towards our shared goal.  The weeks passed swiftly and I now feel like ‘a runner’, albeit a fairly slow one, able to run 5K plus, both on my own and with my new group of friends. It’s a great sense of achievement!”  (Davina)

Gina has a similar experience:

“I started running at age 60. I used to run a couple of times a week on my own, and then give up at about 2-3K as I had no motivation to go any further. Late last year, at the age of 63, I joined a Couch to 5k programme run by our local running club. I never thought I would get to run 5K but joined anyway. I was surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed it! Running towards a goal with like-minded people, I became motivated and 2 months later I was able to run 5K quite easily! Four months on and I am running a little over 5K. I’m still thoroughly enjoying it. The C25K gave me the inspiration I needed. Apart from the running I feel so much better in myself healthwise, and find myself looking forward to my weekly run with the Club. I also run in the week now by myself or with a friend from the Club – never less than 5K!! I would certainly recommend getting started with Couch to 5k.

So, why not take their advice and just give it a go! You don’t know if you can do it until you try!


Author: Sue Ablett

Sue has had a varied career from Russian linguist for the Government, to University research (pulling in a PhD ‘for fun’), and for the last 20 years of her working life was Executive Director of a national children’s cancer charity. She is a keen traveller and has a big catalogue of travel talks. She is a very keen runner, gardener and also a walker, usually accompanied by her adorable cocker spaniel, Patch, and does a bit of cycling. She also set up and continues to chair Evesham Festival of Words. And she is now a regular speaker and article contributor for Mirthy.

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