Is there a point in our lives when we need to hang up our running shoes and let the younger folks enjoy the 5Ks, marathons, and fun runs? Do our bodies finally say, “enough!” and force us to become spectators in life rather than active participants? If you asked that question of 92-year-old Harriette Thompson, you’d probably hear a resounding “no” since the nonagenarian completed the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in January 2015 with an impressive time of 7:24:36.
According to an article published by Newsweek, Thompson began running in the 1970s, and she snapped a tendon in one of her legs the very first time she laced up a pair of running shoes. She didn’t let the incident prevent her from taking up running, however. Since then, she’s raised thousands of dollars for charity. She’s even a cancer survivor and had radiation treatments in 1985, as well as further radiation treatments in 2013. Her enthusiasm for the sport has turned her into a minor celebrity at the San Diego marathon since she’s finished it more than a dozen times.
What Do the Statistics Say?
If you look at the field at a typical marathon, you’ll see men and women of all different ages from teens in junior high to seniors collecting Social Security. According to Running USA, statistics from 2013 revealed a record year for total marathoners with an estimated 541,000 finishers. 57 percent of those finishers were men, and 43 percent were women. Additionally, their statistics showed that the mean age for male and female runners was 39 years, which means a large number of runners who finished marathons in 2013 were over forty and well into their fifties.
Marathon participation has skyrocketed in the past few decades with more than 1,000 marathons held across the United States each year. From the statistics presented by Running USA, increased participation has led to a gradual increase in the mean age of participants as the sport has become more popular over time. However, you can’t rely solely on statistics when making a decision about whether you can safely lace up those sneakers and hit the pavement.
What Do the Professionals Say?
Elite marathoners participate in the same races as the general public, which means it can feel pretty inspiring to run the same course as the biggest names in long distance running like Deena Kastor and Paula Radcliffe. From teenage phenoms like Korean runner Kum-Ok Kim to “old timers” like Haile Gebrselassie, the concept of “elite marathoner” has stretched across decades. However, every runner isn’t destined for the podium at the end of a marathon. Is it safe for you to run if you’re just a casual runner who participates in marathons for fun or charity?
According to an article published by magazine Runner’s World, it can take longer to recover from marathons when you get older because you lose muscle mass, which reduces your glycogen reserves. Muscles store glycogen that gets depleted when you run a marathon. So, when you’re older and can’t store as much glycogen, it takes longer to recover. However, lifting weights and working to maintain or grow muscle mass can increase your rate of recovery after running a marathon.
Running after 50 can also present challenges because your max heart rate declines each year. With a high max heart rate, your body is better at taking oxygen from your blood and delivering it to your muscles and organs. As you age, your max heart rate goes down which means your ability to compete gets tougher each year. This decline is why it’s pretty tough for a 60-year-old to beat a 20-year-old on the track.
However, age isn’t the defining factor in whether you should run a marathon or take a seat on the sidelines. If you maintain your health with a good diet and regular exercise, running is within your reach.
Whether you’re 15 or 50, running is a healthy way to remain active, and you can participate in many ways from walking your way to a 5K to finishing a marathon. Never assume anything when it comes to marathons, particularly when it comes to age. Get the “okay” from your doctor and then make an appointment with some running shoes!