Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you should let your age slow you down. In fact, some runners are able to run faster and longer in their middle years than they did in their 20s. But to do so you’ll need to be smart about how and when you train.
Follow these six tips to stay injury-free and improve your performance so you can enjoy running well beyond the age of 40:
It’s no secret that the older you are, the more time it takes for your muscles and joints to recover. Once you hit 40, taking at least three days off per week to space out the amount of time between your runs can help prevent injury and improve your performance. The days you don’t run can be spent doing upper-body or core work or a low-impact activity like cycling.
Also remember to space your two hardest workouts as far apart as possible. The harder you run on a 10-out-of-10 level of exertion, the more likely it is for an injury to occur — and you’ll need as much time as possible to recover properly before you go another round.
Breaking up your runs into morning and evening workouts can have a positive effect on how you feel during your workout — and make it easier to recover afterward. It can also help reduce overall wear and tear by minimizing the amount of time you spend running when fatigued, which is when your form may suffer and injuries are more likely to occur.
Alternately, you can run in segments and give yourself walk breaks in between. A 45-minute run split into three, 15-minute sessions with 5-minute walk breaks can give your muscles time to rest and recover and reduce your overall fatigue so you can go longer.
As you age, your thirst mechanism doesn’t function as well, so signals aren’t efficiently sent to your brain that it’s time to drink, which can negatively impact your hydration while you run. Your kidneys might also not be as good at retaining water as they have been, which can be dangerous if you get dehydrated.
Remember to drink early and often. Carry water with you on long runs or particularly warm days and keep track of urine color as indicator for when you need to double up on your fluids.
No matter your age, to become a better runner you’ll need to stay injury-free. While injury-prevention should always be a top priority, aches and pains are likely to pop up here and there if you run long enough. A little knee soreness or an ache in the Achilles after a hard run may have been no big deal in your 20s but as you age it could lead to a more serious problem that forces you to take time off.
Icing aches and pains after you run, stretching and resting a day or two until you feel better can help you get rid of the problem before it develops into an overuse injury such as Achilles or patellar tendonitis. Keep in mind that you should avoid letting aches and pains linger for any extended periods of time — and if the problem doesn’t resolve itself in a few days it’s better to take a more cautious, conservative approach and get it checked out by a doctor.
READ MORE > A RUNNER’S GUIDE TO INJURY PREVENTION
Turning 40 could have you thinking about a return to yesteryear. And while starting to run again could have a positive impact on your health and wellness, you’ll need to start slow to avoid injury and ramp up your fitness the right way.
Increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week, and limit your run days to three per week to start. Adopt a run/walk routine as you begin to log your miles and keep the intensity low until you’ve allowed enough time for your cardiovascular fitness and muscles to catch up with your new goals.
Recovery is important for every athlete, but can be an even more vital component to staying injury free and improving performance as we age. To stay ahead of the curve, get enough sleep each night (eight hours minimum), eat a healthy, balanced diet and take enough time off between hard workouts. If you aren’t sure how to determine how recovered you are, study your heart rate variability.
Including a stretching routine in your post-exercise regimen, icing when needed and working on your core strength can also go a long way toward how quickly you recover and are able to get back out on the road for your next run.