Masters runners now represent more than 50% of all marathon finishers.
A person is actually considered a “masters runner” from the age of 40 on up so I’m now officially part of that classification.
However, I would say that there are a number of physiological differences between a masters runner in their 40’s and one in their 60’s.
Some races actually break down the masters category more with 50+ being grandmasters and 60+ as senior grandmasters. There is a push to make another category called veteran grandmasters for ages 70+. The questions that we’d like to tackle have to do with runners in their 60’s.
Tips for Older Runners
Here are two listener questions we collect from our Q and A podcast episode . . .
How would you adjust Marathon training for an older runner(60’s) versus training for younger runners? -Wally Zahler
I’m a runner in my early 60’s but I’d like to think that I have it in me to complete many more races. Training for a marathon really takes it out of me. I follow plans culminating in 22 mile runs. Given my age should I concentrate on running for say 3 and a half hour long runs rather than distance? Any other tips for someone my age? Thanks, love the show. -Dave Glover Chipping Norton, England.
I’m not going to get into the physiological changes that come with growing older. But we’ll include links in our show notes to a couple good articles on our blog about this topic:
As we age our body structures certainly get older, but a great thing about aging is that you become mentally tougher and usually have more wisdom and common sense when it comes to training. That means that you’re less prone to mistakes and injuries due to trying to do too much or take on challenges without training.
With age most runners find that their pace eventually starts slowing down (but of course this depends on the age you started running). This can result in long runs of 20 or more miles requiring a lot of time and taking a bigger toll on the body. As we age it takes longer for the body to recover and it’s wise to modify your training to fit your needs. A few things I’d suggest include:
1. Balance easy and hard:
Many master’s runners find that running every other day during marathon training can help to reduce the effects of high impact exercise and give your body more time to recover. Make sure the majority of your training runs are done at an easy pace so that your paced runs are high quality. Spend extra time warming up before running and cooling down afterward. Another way to balance easy and hard is to use a 10 day training cycle instead of the typical 7 day cycle.
2. Run for time, not distance:
Many older runners find that spending 5 plus hours on a long run simply wears them down too much. Studies show that there is little aerobic benefit of doing a run longer than 3 hours. There are benefits to time on your feet for building the support structures of the body. But for the master’s runner you have to weigh the benefits versus the risks of doing long runs greater than 3-4 hours.
3. Cross train intentionally:
Intersperse your running days with low impact cross training like swimming, rowing, cycling, yoga, and strength training. That way you’re still reaping the benefits of exercise but keeping other body systems strong and flexible. In particular, regular strength training is an absolute must for master’s runners who want to improve and stay injury free.
4. Strength train intentionally:
Here is a helpful excerpt from physical therapy doctor Ben Shatto about the benefits of strength training. It’s long but worth including here.
“Strength training (focusing particularly on large muscle groups with appropriately heavy loads) has been proven to improve growth hormone levels and has a positive effect on insulin levels. This weight bearing activity (along with a proper diet) is an excellent method to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Strength training is also the best method to slow the age related decline in fast twitch (Type II) fibers. The stronger you are, the more resistant to injury you are. Your training plan should include lower extremity strengthening to help maintain running speed and to insure adequate muscle strength to support the joints of the body. Strengthening of the upper body also supports running form and speed as having adequate strength to maintain posture and proper arm swing is very helpful (particularly, when running uphill). Strengthening of the core area (the abdominals and back extensors) helps to manage and/or prevent low back pain. Strength training has also been proven to help maintain the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood. It can improve tissue vascularization by stimulating the body’s ability to grow more capillaries. This is true in skeletal muscle cells as well as cardiac tissue.”
5. Focus on recovery:
For the master’s runner it’s important to dial in and maintain an effective recovery routine. This may include things like foam rolling, compression gear, regular massage, plenty of sleep, a balanced healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and regular rest days. When it comes to rest days you may find that you need two days per training week instead of one. The key is to avoid things like heavy yard work on rest days so that you get the full benefit of recovery.
6. Consider Working with a coach:
If you’re finding that your routine is no longer working, if you’ve been dealing with injury, or you’re unsure of how hard you should be pushing yourself, a running coach can help you dial in your training with personalized workouts and recovery. To get a spot with one of our fabulous MTA Coaches see this page.
One question on this topic:
Since I’m creeping up on 60 years (next December), I’ve been reading several books recently on “fitness for seniors”; they all seem to agree on the need for strength training. The thing they seem to disagree on is the proportion of low-intensity to high-intensity cardio training to stay fit and healthy. Many of these books seem to adopt what (IMHO) is the body builders approach of do nothing but high-intensity cardio work. I am a bit skeptical of the HIT-only approach, and my personal opinion is that folks like Matt Fitzgerald and his book 80/20 (80% LSD, 20% HIT) is probably more correct (it also helps that Fitzgerald backs up his approach with quite a bit of real, peer-reviewed research results).
What are your thoughts on this question, especially for senior athletes/runners?
I need advice on eating/fueling for marathon training. I will be 60 when I run my next marathon. I think my metabolism has shut down. I run, lift weights, do yoga, but I continue to gain weight. I don’t want to be this size when I run. I need help with a structured plan for fuel without gaining weight. Part of the issue is the lack of different things to eat. I have recently started eating a beef pattie. I usually do not eat meat, eggs, fish… I just do not know what to eat and how much.
Hi Jennifer! A sluggish metabolism is a common frustration as we get older. In women this is often this is due to the hormonal drop-off surrounding menopause. Unwanted weight gain can definitely make running more difficult. Since you’re a very active person it’s important to be eating balanced macronutrients timed throughout the day to support your workouts. Many runners often under-eat (and especially neglect to get enough protein interspersed through the day). An excellent book that deals with the challenges surrounding peri-menopause in athletes is called Next Level by Dr. Stacy Sims. In addition, it would be helpful to work with a qualified nutritionist that understands the needs of female athletes. I’ve had great success with the nutrition coaches at MetPro. You can get a free consultation call to see if it may be right for you by visiting: metpro.co/mta
Thanks for the excellent question. Many of the books that deal with fitness for seniors are not written for the endurance runner in mind. That’s why you see a greater emphasis on HIIT as opposed to more low intensity work. For a non-runner who is doing very little cardio they’re probably going to get the most benefit from more frequent bursts of high intensity work. But the runner already has a solid base of cardiovascular fitness laid down and their focus will be more on the low intensity systems with occasional (and deliberate) high intensity thrown in. That’s why the 80/20 approach makes a lot of sense for endurance athletes (and research seems to bear this out).
The runner (who’s already getting plenty of cardio) can then focus their cross training onto other body systems in the form of strength training. Having that strong cardiovascular system combined with strong support structures is the ideal scenario for the older runner (more accurately, a runner of any age).
WHY NO INFORMATION ON SUPPLEMENTS? I’M 60 AND HAVE BEEN RUNNING FOR 40 YEARS. I’VE BEEN USING VARIOUS AMINO ACIDS, CO Q10, GLUCOSAMINE, ETC., AND HAVE RARELY BEEN INJURED. MY ONLY INJURIES ARE DUE TO LESS FLEXIBILITY OF SOME MUSCLES DUE TO AGING. THEY HAVE BEEN EXCELLENT FOR RECOVERY AFTER WORKOUTS, AS WELL. I’VE DONE A LOT OF RESEARCH ON WHAT I THINK DOES WORK FOR ME, AND IT DOES. I HOPE TO CONTINUE TO RUN UNTIL I TAKE MY LAST BREATH. AS BILL RODGERS ONCE SAID, “DIE HARD RUNNERS NEVER DIE, IF THEY DO, THEY DIE HARD.
Hi Ken, That’s a great point! Many older (and younger) runners find that supplements help them in their recovery to keep running and doing what they love. Supplements like amino acids, Omega 3’s, Co Q 10, glucosamine, and chondroitin can be very helpful. My personal favorite (which contains a combination of several different things) is Tissue Rejuvenator by Hammer Nutrition. Love that running quote too! Keep running strong 🙂
my PT Dr (a real doctor) laughed when I mentioned glucosamine, he said it is a marketing gimmick, comment?
Great question! Studies are mixed when it comes to to effectiveness of glucosamine. Some people find it very helpful while others don’t notice any benefits. I’ve noticed that doctors also have mixed opinions about it. However, my sports medicine doctor recommended trying it. I think the best bet is to try it for yourself and see if you notice a difference (as long as it isn’t contraindicated because of other medications) 🙂
Is interval training, speed training, fartlek etc also beneficial for older runners ?
Hi Budi, great question! As long as you have a solid endurance base and listen to your body it’s very beneficial to do speed training as an older runner.
Joe Smith, a 67-year-old is coming into your gym and is needing guidance on how to train for the up coming marathon in May. Here are a few stats on Joe: Ht: 5’11”, wt: 198 pounds, pulse 98bpm blood pressure 160/98 mmHg. Joe keeps himself busy by working at the auto mechanics shop part time. The other half of his time is spent volunteering for the local food shelf in receiving. He has been married for 45 years to Sarah and they have four children, and 16 grandchildren. Joe enjoys swimming, gardening, lawn care, namely, anything outside. He is busy, so meal preparation must be quick and easy. Joe has noticed that he eats a lot of the same items every day.
Good stuff! I ran ~20 miles/week in my 30s and 40s until I decided to run a marathon at 50. I’ve run 20 marathons through my 50s and early 60s, including Boston 4 times. After taking a few years off due to a rebuilt foot, I’m now training for my 21st marathon at age 68. While I used to train at 7:00 to 8:30 min/mile at 60-80 miles/week, I’m now running at 8:30 to 9:30 per mile at 35 miles/week — although I expect to improve on both as I progress in a 16-week marathon training program that I will start next month. Actually, right now I’m trying to find a good 4-days/week program.
Hi William, It’s wonderful to hear that you’re in the process of building back your running base after having foot surgery. It sounds like your mileage and pace are progressing well. We have several pace specific training plans that are based on 4 running days per week. The 3:45 plan might be good based on the what you’re running right now. Happy training!
You are my hero, I have been running since college but gave up marathons 15 years ago.
I was 48 when I ran my first marathon in 2008. 16 completed in the following 8 years, 3 BQs, 40+ mile training weeks.
I was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Yesterday I just ran my first 1/2 marathon since treatment, 2 minutes slower than my previous time in 2016! (same event). But I’m sooooo sore! Searching for recovery ideas for the over 60 crowd I ran across this thread. Happy to read all the great stories and absorb ideas and info!
Thanks for the inspiration William! I’d like to think I still have one full marathon left in this body!
Congratulations on running your 1st half marathon post-cancer treatment!! The post-race soreness is tough. I like soaking in Epsom salt baths and of course doing some active recovery. Keep up the amazing work!
I am 61, 6 foot 1 220 pounds. I have started running. My long runs are 5 and a half miles at 13 minute miles. My short ones are 2 miles. This week I am just starting to feel good after a really hard time for about 9 months.
I tried 200 meter “sprints” and did four at about 65 to 68 seconds. Should I do these at all?
1. Sometimes I walk and run. Good idea?
2. I am told to “base train”…just get more miles.
Last week I did 18 miles.
Hi Joe, it’s great to hear that you’ve been building up your running base. At first it’s important to work on endurance and base training (like building distance through easy running). Typically you can build distance for 2-3 weeks before taking a step back (or lower mileage) week to allow the body to recover.
It’s a good idea to do the majority of your runs at an easy effort and including run/walk intervals is a smart way to accomplish this. When you feel like your endurance is solid and your muscles (and joints, ligaments, bones) have adapted it’s fine to add in one speed workout per week. Doing shorter sprints is a great way to go. You can always build on the number of sprints that you do to make it more challenging over time. Keep up the great work! Maybe you’ll want to start training for a half marathon at some point.
Your advice was helpful. I am running a base. I did 20 1/2 miles last week. (9 1/2, 4, 3 1/2, 3 1/2). I weigh 215 (weight loss is slow but I am trying not to eat late at night or “for pleasure”), This week I will run a 6 1/2 mile long run with the same distance short run and then probably stay about the same (3 1/2 to 4 miles). I have picked it up to 12:30 minute mile pace–spontaneously–not “pushing myself.”. I use a heart rate monitor so I walk or VERY SLOW jog when my heart rate hits 130 or higher to get back in the 120s. I am blessed in that I my body feels good. I am just winded:) I like the half marathon idea with every other week adding a mile to the long runs. I think I am kind of settled into the other runs of 3 1/2 and I would max out at 5 if I really “feel good.
Sounds like you’re making good progress! Keep up the great work!
My results were: I ran a 2:19 half marathon in September.
I ran 2:30 then walked 30 secs the whole way.
I enjoy running for Team World Vision to see kids get clean drinking water. I think I am kind of “off season” now. I plan on building my running up this way.
I will have a 3 mile tempo and 2 mile tempo every other week.
I will do 12 x 400 and 800 x 400 every other week.
I will do a 3 hour then 2 hour long run every other week.
I think 3 days a week…once in a while 4…works best for me.
210 pounds….that weight comes off slowly:).
You’re making fantastic progress! Congratulations on your half marathon. Sounds like you had a great run/walk strategy going. Keep up the wonderful work as you continue training and focusing on your health.
I love long distance running. My only issue is calf muscle strain. What is the best remedy to prevent calf muscle strain or is there any supplements to help with muscle strain
Great question! If you deal with calf muscle strain on a regular basis (or on one side specifically) it’s probable that you have a strength imbalance. The strained calf is most likely overcompensating for a tight or weak area. It may be helpful to schedule a few sessions with a physical therapist to get to the bottom of this issue and get some rehabilitation exercises to help correct the problem. In the meantime, make sure that you warm up thoroughly before running or doing any high impact activity. Some runners find value in using compression socks for extra support in the calf area. One anti-inflammatory supplement that I take is Tissue Rejuvenator from Hammer Nutrition. Here are some other tips that may be helpful: https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-calf-strain
I have been a distance runner for a long time. I started running at age 15. This June I will turn 60. I consider myself a high mileage runner. In my younger days, I logged many 100 mile weeks. My personal bests are 5k 15:05, 10k 31:21 and 20k 1:09. At 54, I ran a hilly 4 mile in 25:31 and I had a lot in the tank! My last mile was ran in 6:10. The following week I hit the track and that’s where things went wrong. I injured my left ankle tendon (Posterior Tibial Tendonitis). I am presently wearing a Richie Brace for support. I also had stem cell injections.4-5 years later, I altered my training to include both treadmill and outside running (pavement and grassy terrains). This approach is allowing me to do some intensity. Several days ago, I ran a 6:47 mile. I was pleased with it, because I haven’t done any speed workouts! I believe the hill workouts and treadmill sessions are paying off. My goal is to run a marathon. My plan is to build up to 3 hour treadmill/ outside sessions- I plan to alternate ever other week. Thus far, my running schedule consists of 3-4 days of 60 minute running, 1 day of intense running – tempo, and the remaining days are recovery runs 30-60 at a very easy pace.
I’m a 59 year old female who is planning on running this year’s NYC Marathon. I have completed 4 marathons and just want to get to the finish line in one piece. (Love NYC and love the 26.2 mile journey through the boros!) My best time was 4:50 and longest was 5:20 in 2019. I’ve completed three also as an Achilles Volunteer as well.
I bike and feel like my cardio is solid but am nervous about essential body parts – knees, back, hips, feet, etc. i just started to build my base, doing two 8 mile runs within the last two weeks and now am paying for it with soreness on the outer side of foot.
Any suggestions for training? i am doing a prescribed training program but feeling like its too technical and better geared for runners with a time in mind.
Thanks in advance. Hope to run as long as I can, preferably without doctor’s visits and “I told you so’s” from my husband: :)))!!!
Hi Laurie, It’s exciting to hear that you’re training for the NYC Marathon this fall! It can sometimes be challenging to find a training plan that’s a good fit as we get older and the needs of our body become more specialized. I don’t know the specifics of the plan that you’re using but many runners find that integrating regular strength training into their routine is so helpful in stabilizing and strengthening the running muscles (and joints, cartilage, etc). It’s also helpful to have good recovery tools at your disposal. For example, I visit a chiropractor and massage therapist regularly. It could be that the outer foot soreness is due to some type of gait imbalance and it it continues you may want to visit a physical therapist who specializes in runners to get an evaluation. Finally, it may be helpful to work with a running coach as you train so that you can have a plan that is specifically designed for your needs. Keep up the great work!
Thanks so much for the feedback Angie!
A new pair of sneakers – Switched from Asics to Brooks, built for a high arch and a strong neutralizer, and a larger size – has helped tremendously! Am including cycling and strength training in weekly routine. I also love the idea of a massage therapist for recovery!
Fingers crossed that I reach the Start… and Finish Line in November!
Thanks again for the detailed advice!
Thanks for the update! I’m happy to hear that you’re incorporating strength work and cycling into your training. It’s great that you found a shoe that seems to be working better for you as well. Onward and forward!!
Hi Angie, I am a 66 year old female who has been running marathons the past 20 years. I am looking for a weekly plan with mileage recommendations for older runners. Do you have any recommendations. I find I train best with a daily goal.
Hi Liz, Thanks for reaching out. The only way to get a training plan truly customized to your particular needs is to work with a running coach or having a custom plan designed (both of which we offer at MTA). If you’re looking for a more basic plan I’d recommend one that focuses on quality miles over quantity (primarily because it allows more time for recovery between efforts). The time based MTA marathon plans generally have 3-5 running days (depending on the time goal) interspersed with cross training days for overall strength. If you have any questions about which plan might be best for you feel free to reach out at: email@example.com and we’d love to help.
hi, i’ve stumbled across this post on a search for advice for older runners! I’m almost 54 with a history of ankylosing spondilitis, so I’m very careful about the amount I run. I tend to run just twice a week, and do yoga a couple of times a week. I have a half marathon in October, and I’ve got a head start by building up my endurance, I ran 7 miles today, after 2 x 6 mile runs with gaps of 10-12 days in between rather than the typical week. I am slow…its going to be my third half, I completed my first at 50, a faster one at 51, and now I’m back after a break of 3 years due to covid etc… my last half marathon time was 2 hours 45 mins, and it took me 92 mins to do my 7 mile run today. what is the best way for me to now focus on improving speed, should I have one speed session a week, and one longer run, perhaps with a big push on the longer runs every two weeks (e.g. alternate 10k, with a longer half marathon related training run every other week)…not sure how to balance pushing my fitness with only doing two runs a week, I feel the additional recovery is helpful, maybe I need to inrease to 3 runs?
Hi Lucy, It’s great to hear that you’re training for your 3rd half marathon! I’m glad that you’re listening to your body and modifying the training to not aggravate your ankylosing spondylitis. I’d recommend sticking with the two runs per week and making one of them a long run and the other a speed session. For additional cardio you could do something more low impact like swimming, cycling/stationary bike, rowing, or the elliptical. Another way to get faster is to incorporate some strength training (we have some posts about the benefits of strength training on the blog). Strength work is also even more important to push back against age related strength declines. Keep up the great work!
Hi Angie, I came across this article while searching for some ideas on tweaking my marathon training programme. I played team sport as a younger man but injury forced me to retire at 26. Between then and shortly before my 60th birthday I did very little training. Maybe a couple of months a year with emphasis on S&C rather than cardio.
As my 60th birthday loomed I decided to look at doing cardio and downloaded the 5 to 10k app. That was in 2016. I started to gradually increase distances and completed my first marathon in 2018. I’m turning 67 this year and have completed 6 marathons so far, most recently Boston. I’m Irish, so it was a thrill to have qualified for that wonderful event.
I’m due to run Chicago in October and, as part of that, I’m competing in the World Age Group Championships. My typical Marathon time is 3:42:00. I have a sense that programmes I have been following are quite intense and may be better suited to the younger runner. Paradoxically, I think a less intense programme, one geared specifically to a runner in their mid to late 60s might leave me fresher and more prepared. If like v to do a 3:35:00 or better. Any thoughts, or tips would be greatly appreciated.
Hey Michael, Thanks for sharing about your running journey thus far. Huge congratulations on finishing the Boston Marathon recently!! I’m sure that was an absolutely amazing experience. It’s also exciting that you’ll be running Chicago in October. You’re right that most generic training programs don’t take into account the needs of runners in their 60s and beyond. We can only improve to the extent that we can recover well so high mileage plans can be detrimental for some runners. I advise focusing on quality workouts over quantity miles, to keep up with the strength training, and consider doing a long run every other weekend (instead of every weekend). Those things plus dialing in your nutrition and recovery can make a big difference and leave you feeling fresher on race day. It can also be helpful to work with a running coach who can design a plan specifically for you and take your feedback into account. Keep up the great work!