The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

A Guide to Grandmaster Running After Age 60

Posted by on Friday, January 26th, 2018

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“Master” runners (over age 40) now represent more than half of all marathon finishers—and they often outperform younger runners, too. The Road Runners Club of America introduced the “Senior Grandmaster” race category in 2011 for runners who are over 60 years old. Since then, Grandmaster running has become quite competitive in places like New York City as more and more people commit to leading healthier lifestyles and maintaining their running hobby well into old age.

The NYC Marathon saw more than 2,500 finishers over age 60 in the 2017 race. In fact, some have entertained the idea of adding a “Veteran Grandmaster” category for runners age 70+. Should such a category be created, more than 300 runners would compete to be the top finisher!

You may be wondering how to maintain such a rigorous, high-intensity hobby as your body ages. The foot and ankle specialists here at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine in New York City have a few tips to help you continue running after age 60 in a healthy and effective way.

grandmaster running
You, too, can be a Senior Grandmaster completing the NYC Marathon. Image Source: Wikimedia user Zoulas.

The Health Benefits of Running After Age 60

Running into your sixties provides a number of advantages to your well-being. Stanford University followed over 500 older runners for more than 20 years. Their published research in 2008 found:

  • Runners who experienced disabilities related to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers, and neurological disorders were diagnosed an average of 16 years later than non-runners.
  • Nineteen years into the study, 34% of non-runners had died, compared with 15% of runners.
  • Grandmasters had better measurements of mobility, coordination, weight control, bone density, muscle strength, and sense of well-being compared to non-runners.

Knowing that running can improve longevity and overall health in these profound ways makes for a compelling reason to maintain your running habit as you age. But how can you do so in a safe and healthy manner?

When Running Becomes Harder

In sports medicine, the years between age 35 and 40 are a turning point. After all, endurance peaks around age 35 for most people and slowly decreases until age 60, at which point the decline steepens. Performance begins to decline about 0.7% per year in our mid-thirties. That translates to a 3.5% decrease for every five years you age. Genetics can take you far, but inevitable changes in muscular strength and susceptibility to injury tend to flare up during in your 40’s and 50’s. And while 80% of American adults lead physically active lives, only a third are still active after 65. Running may be harder as your body ages, but it’s not impossible.

Also, it is important to realize is that the 0.7 percent annual decrease in performance translates to 3.5 percent over the course of each five-year age group.

Tips For Running After Age 60

So, running after age 60 is good for you, but it can be challenging. How can you best set yourself up for success? These tips will help ensure a safe and effective running routine:

  • Get a professional footwear consultation with a podiatrist. Choosing a running shoe with the right size, design, and cushioning is crucial.
  • Perform a routine set of stretches before and after every single run, without fail.
  • Spend more time on soft surfaces like tracks, grass, beaches, treadmills, or dirt trails. Avoid too much pavement pounding.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re sick or really hurting, scale back. Instead, swim or bike until you feel better.
  • Avoid yard work or heavy chores on your recovery days. TRULY rest and recover.
  • Strive to exceed minimum weekly exercise recommendations (150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of rigorous activity).
  • Running three days a week is generally a good goal for maintaining your current fitness level.
  • Cross-train to vary your workout. Add in yoga, swimming, cycling, and off-road trail hiking to keep your body balanced.
  • Add in two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises each week.
  • Pay special attention to calf-strengthening exercises. Add in 500-meter hills with grades of 12-14% to your runs to preserve power.
  • Stretch and strengthen your hip flexors to continue activating your glute muscles and to take stress off the rest of your frame.
  • To improve your race times, add speed interval workouts—running at your max speed for 400, 800, or 1,000-meter intervals, with three to five minutes of rest in between.
  • As you reach new decade milestones, consider changing your strategy. For instance, one 80-year-old shifted to a three-day rotation where he ran up to 16 miles one day a week, walked six miles for the next two days, and used races as speed workouts.

Maintaining the Mental Fortitude to Keep Running

The key to sticking with physical activity over 60—and arguably at any age—is finding joy in what you do. Remember, if you stop running after age 60, you may lose the ability to pick it back up again. Here are some simple ways you can keep yourself motivated to continue running:

  • Set a reasonable goal, such as completing one long-distance race a month, to keep training fun and productive.
  • Join a running club to enjoy the social benefits of running.
  • Race against “the old guy/gal next to you” rather than against your former self.
  • Vary up your running courses and race venues to make your runs adventurous.
  • Volunteer at a running event on a rest day to pump up your excitement and motivation to stick with it.

If you have any questions or concerns about your training, it’s best to leave nothing to chance. Stop by the Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine, with offices in Manhattan and White Plains, for help maintaining a healthy running routine into old age. We can help you find the perfect running shoes, fit you for custom orthotics, perform gait analysis, and treat any injuries or discomfort you may experience. For more information, contact us today.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.