Many of the runners that I’ve met, both in real life and that I’ve talked to on the podcast, have expressed a desire to keep running for as long in life as possible.
Sure, they might slow down and may not run as far, but as long as they are able to go running on a semi-regular basis they are fine with going slower.
But that begs the question, is slowing down as you age inevitable?
Slowing Down as You Age is Only Logical
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to grasp the concept that at a certain point, age related decline is to be expected.
Cars break down more often as they get older.
Computers and smart phones definitely slow down after you’ve had them for a year or two.
So it only makes sense that the human body would as well. (Spoiler alert, we do slow down!)
Researchers in a recent study that was published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise set out to try and explain why we slow down as we get older.
What Causes Runners to Slow Down as They Age?
It looks like there are too main causes for slowing down as you age, though they are definitely related.
One of the biggest findings of the study is that as runners age, their stride length shortens considerably. A shorter stride is one of the two major causes of decreased speed (the other being a slower cadence), and the older the participants in the study were the shorter their strides were.
The other main finding from this study showed that older runners actually pushed off of the ground with less force than their younger counterparts. Pushing off with less force is going to propel you a shorter distance (hello shorter stride length), so it’s pretty easy to see how a weaker push directly translates to slowing down.
But Is the Loss of Speed Inevitable?
That’s a tough question to answer.
The best answer is that yes, we are destined to slow down as we get older but that we can minimize the decline.
By focusing on improving the two areas that the study focused on as causes of slowing down as you age.
So runners should work on maintaining/lengthening their strides and maintaining/increasing the strength of the muscles around the ankles.
Working on stride length is pretty straight forward: stretch more. Stretch your hamstrings. Stretch your calves. Stretch your hip flexors and quads. Stretch your glutes and lower back.
I’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating; as runners our flexibility sucks!
For the most part, all of us would benefit from consistent stretching (not just after a run, either!) to help improve range of motion. As we age, whether we run or not, muscle elasticity decreases and we lose some flexibility. Maintaining and improving our flexibility will go a long way towards keeping our stride length consistent as we get older and help to keep us from slowing down.
And too be clear, it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re reading this you’re probably a runner and could probably benefit from stretching more frequently. Not sure what stretches to do? Check this post out to help you get started.
When it comes to maintaining/improving the strength of your muscles that cross the ankles, it’s not as difficult as you think. Balance exercises, heel and toe walks, simple theraband exercises, and toe pick ups are all the types of things that will help you build that strength and exert a bit more force with each stride.
Is It Worth It?
It totally depends.
Does speed matter to you as you get older? If so, you better believe it’s worth it!
If you don’t care how fast your run, just that you’re able to run, maybe not so much.
It’s still important to do some maintenance work no matter how young or old you might be to keep your body strong and able to run.
And if you’re like me, and qualifying for Boston is going to require a combination of getting faster and older, then starting now with working on the flexibility (for stride length) and strengthening (for power) is absolutely important!
So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go and do some yoga!
Who Do You Know That Would Like to Maintain Their Speed as They Get Older? Share This Post With Them ASAP!