Within the vast reaches of differences that define the human population, there are significant dividers that aren’t taught or even consciously selected. Most people have heard the usual ones: there are people who like dogs or cats, and those who don’t. People who love travel, and those who stay home. A more notable one: “I love to ride horses. They’re so majestic.” The flip-side to that one is “I rode a horse once, and it bucked me off.”
One of these dividers most have seen are the runners and non-runners. They’re usually easy to spot, as one usually looks like a marathoner and the other, well, doesn’t. However, there is a gray area occupied by those who used to run but don’t anymore, or wish they had started running when they were young and able, and didn’t, or the never-rans who, later in life, would like to give it a try.
Welcome to the gray area.
For those with the basic physical ability to kick it up into second gear for longer than a mile or so, running can be a very healthy, fulfilling, life-extending, and enjoyable pastime. One doesn’t have to be a marathoner with 1% body fat and six-minute miles. If simply running is the goal, then start small. Can a “walk around the block from time to time” become a 10K participant? With the right strategy and planning, it can be done. In one’s forties and feeling past all possibilities? Read on and see.
We will all admit that the “world of sports” narrows as we add on the years. Apologies for being blunt, but it’s true. As kids, skateboarding and tricks on BMX bikes and gymnastics on balance beams are walks in the park. Get into your forties, even thirties, and the drive for such pursuits wanes just a touch. We can still ride a bike. Even ride a horse. We can play softball. Things like that. Fortunately, humans only have two gears: walk, using one foot at a time, and run, with a short period of suspension between strides. Anyone can run at some level. For runners, there are second-gear speeds from a shuffle to a sprint – and all of us can claim one section of that speedometer for our own. Are we winning a 5K race? Maybe. Are others passing us? Probably. But are we out there running while others are not? Most definitely. It doesn’t matter what your speed will be. Being out there, taking laps around your house or laps around the local school track, you’re running.
So to begin, where are we today? “I never have run before.” “I do some walking here and there.” “I ran as a youngster, but it’s been a long time.” Can you put a walker in front of you and step up to join it? And do that over and over again? That’s a start. We all have physical limitations. Have a doctor’s physical and ask if running might be something you can do. Are your joints up to the task? Heart and lungs in a condition to improve? If it’s a “no” to questions like this, can some lifestyle improvements make that happen? It’s worth it to find out.
We all need a Starting Point; today it’s huffing and puffing up the stairs. Tomorrow, we’ll probably huff and puff just the same. Next week, it will get better. Keep going until you don’t gasp. Work upward from there. Once you climb a moderate flight of stairs with only slight elevation in breathing and pulse, get out there and walk somewhere. Walk on a treadmill. Walk around the block. For heaven’s sake, walk the dog. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one.
For the determined, walks can morph into speed-walks. Speed-walks can skip into jogs here and there. Soon the jogs will outdistance the walking bits. Walk to warm up. Jog your course. Walk to cool down. This is vital, because the body needs to adapt.
A major advantage that the young hold over those not so young is general strength. All-over strength involves arms, legs, core, and range of motion. At later ages, we don’t just get to barge into an activity — we have to have all systems in agreement. Even the digestive system plays a much bigger part in our later years. Find some power-bands and hand weights. Learn some basic Pilates moves for the core muscles. Joints do their jobs much more easily if they have support of surrounding muscle, and we tend to lose muscle as we age. Keep your muscles strong, and give your joints a chance. Simple arm curls with light hand-weights are great. Squats and lunges strengthen as well as warm leg muscles for action. Even a three-second plank is better than no plank at all.
One can’t stress enough — the need to care for your knees. As joints, they are perhaps the support structures that need the most time to adapt to second gear. They will do so eventually, if you are patient. Increase distances a little at a time. If your knees agree with you, add some speed as well as distance. When you finish your run, stretch each muscle group: calves, quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.
For shoes, opt for the more expensive. Have them fitted at a footwear store, so that your feet and legs are in the best alignment for your stride. The right shoes can make the difference between knees that last a lifetime and knees that call it quits early.
Short local races are wonderful for goal-setting. Most allow walk-jog paces, which is great for the wide spectrum of competitor abilities. Keep in mind; there exists a need for 10 or 5K etiquette. Yes, there is a code of ethics in racing. Register early. Show up in time to get your bib number. Warm up. Brush your teeth. Don’t wear cologne (please). Start in the group where you belong. Let the rabbits charge off unhindered. Strollers and zip leashes can be race-crowd regulars, as long as the zip-leashes aren’t tripping up the crowd. Everyone there pays their race fees, so make each runner’s race as winnable as possible. And thank the officials and marshals who set up tables and shades, give out cups of water, and slice bananas for finishing snacks. Most of the time, they are all volunteers.
So all of us have the potential to become runners. Run the race that your ability allows. Smile and thank those who, along your course, cheer you on (there are always a few). When you’ve finished your run, take a cool-down walk back to encourage those who are still aiming for that finish banner. We all have our own speeds, our own goals, our own triumphs. If we cross the finish at a walk, that is a triumph, too. But if you can run, keep going!