Tish Richardson gets out of bed before sunrise three mornings a week, laces up her running shoes, and hits a trail near her McLean home. On Wednesdays and Sundays she unrolls her yoga mat and stretches her body into poses like downward facing dog and cobra. She reserves Tuesdays and Thursdays for weight training. Richardson, who is preparing to run her first marathon, says the fact that she’s 44 makes the feat feel daunting.
“I was inspired by Oprah, who set a goal to get in shape to run the Marine Corps Marathon before she turned 50,” she said. “If she can do it, I think I can even though I don’t have the resources at my disposal in the way that she does, but my trainer tells me I can do it.”
For Richardson and other first-time runners over 40, the thought of training for a race can seem unlikely at best. From strength training to injury prevention, a few local trainers say that with a program that is tailored to one’s age, ability and fitness level, running a race in middle-age is realistic goal.
“Running can be healthy for runners who’re 40-plus,” said Ryan Gunster who is training Richardson for her first marathon. “The key is making it safe and enjoyable.”
The first thing that Gunster advises new runners to do is get a physical examination and clearance from a doctor. “Most of the people I train get a clean bill of health, I think it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start running, especially if you’ve never run before or haven’t done it in a long time,” he said. “This is true for all ages, I think, but it’s truer for older runners, especially those who might have health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes.”
As with any fitness program, the proper equipment is an important part of one’s success, says Bethesda, Maryland-based personal trainer Annette Schaeffler, and for runners this means proper footwear. “There are so many different types of running shoes that are on the market now,” she said. “I would suggest that new runners go to a store that specializes in running shoes and talk to the sales people to get advice on the type of running shoe that is best for your foot. Some stores are even able to perform [tests to determine] your gait and your type of foot.”
In addition to running, other forms of physical fitness like weight-training and yoga should be a part of first-time runners training plan advises Gunster. “Increasing or in some cases maintaining your flexibility can really add a big boost to your running program,” he said. “As we age, we lose muscle mass and bone density. I usually add some sort of weight lifting to my clients’ training program. Stretching before and after running is also important to help with flexibility and sore muscles. Yoga is good for that too.”
Starting slowly and adding time for recovery are two suggestions that Schaeffler offers. “You have to set realistic goals, especially as you get older,” she said. “You might have been able to train for a race in two to three months when you were in your twenties, but a runner in their 40s or 50s might need four to six months.”