How to start running when you’re over 50: 12 things you need to know before you begin
July 7, 2014 | By:
Research has found that we don't believe we can take up running after the age of 50. Liz Parry says it’s not too late to try it, and shares practical tips, including interval training
Running tips_how to start running Corbis 42-57310796

Start with brisk walking and build up gradually. Photo from Corbis

When David London reached 50 he realised it was time to do something about his health. “I looked around the office at my colleagues and they all had beer bellies and were completely puffed out walking up the stairs,” he says.

“I could feel myself heading down the same path, so I decided to take up running.” Five years later, David runs regular 5k and 10k races and is training for the London marathon.

Surprising new research from Bupa suggests that David is in a minority. According to the Your First Step campaign, 60 per cent of British adults believe they cannot run once they reach 50.

The survey also found that regular runners tend to hang up their running shoes on reaching a similar milestone.

This is a belief that Stuart Hale, a running coach with Accelerate Performance Centre , is keen to dispel. “Running is brilliant fun,” he says. “I turn 50 next year and I certainly won’t be packing it in. It’s never too late to take up running.”

So how do you get started with running and, more importantly, how do you avoid injury?

Allocate your time and create a routine 

Stuart recommends paying a visit to your GP for a check-up before you embark on a running programme. He also suggests starting with some regular walking before moving on to running, especially if you have led a sedentary lifestyle for many years.

“First of all, work out what training time you have available and then create a pattern to start exercising,” says Stuart. “For example, you might decide to train for 30 minutes, three days a week.

Start with brisk walking

“When you first start out, try brisk walking. Once you become comfortable with that, you could mix in different terrains. Perhaps walk some trails or try hills.”

The key is to start slowly. “Never mind how much the summer weather makes you want to get out there and get on with it, you should always build up your running slowly and steadily,” says Tamara Lunger, a health trainer and sport scientist.

After a few weeks: alternate walking and running 

After a few weeks of regular walking, ease yourself into some gentle runs through interval training. “This is a great way to improve overall fitness,” says Tamara.

“Short rest periods after intense bursts of activity are essential if you want to improve your performance.”

Stuart suggests walking for ten minutes to get warmed up, then five sets of gentle running for one minute, interspersed with three minutes of walking.

During each walking break always allow your breathing to return to normal. Then finish off with ten minutes of walking.

Next: less walking, more running

Over the next few weeks you can slowly begin to increase the amount of time you run and decrease the walking time. “Before you know it you will have run for ten minutes straight,” says Stuart. “But always stick to that 30-minute training period you committed to at the start.”

As you increase the distance you run, Stuart advises sticking to the ten per cent rule to avoid injury.

So, for example, if you are running for 30 minutes, and want to increase this time, make your next run 33 minutes. Two weeks later, you could then increase it by another ten per cent to 36 minutes.

Pay attention to technique

Maintaining good posture will help to improve your running style. “Running tall and upright, using your core strength and swinging your arms, will propel you forwards,” says Tamara. “It’s also essential to maintain good posture so that you minimise injuries and bring an economy to your running style.”

Have recovery time

It’s always important to build in recovery times to your routine. “Anything you do that is longer, harder or faster than normal should always be followed by an easy day,” says Stuart.

“The first time you introduce a longer run into your programme, the next day you go running you should opt for a shorter distance. Giving the body a chance to recover is very important, especially the older you get.”

Related: Tour de France to urban cool: how cycling became so popular

Get your food and water intake right

The morning before a run, drink as much water as possible and eat something light that is rich in proteins and fibres. Drink about two litres of liquid throughout the day and half a litre directly after the run.

Get the right running shoes

When it comes to choosing running shoes, it’s essential to select a pair that feel comfortable when you run.

“You don’t have to pay out for shoes that contain all the latest gizmos,” says Stuart. “All you need is a comfortable, neutral shoe with some cushioning that feels nice and natural when you run. You shouldn’t need to pay more than £100.”

If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer, pay a visit to your local running store and try on a few pairs. Most shops have a treadmill so that you can put a new shoe through its paces before buying. Don’t be afraid to try on lots of different styles until you find the right one for you.

Get a running coach

As you become a more experienced runner, you might want to invest in some training with a running coach to hone your skills. “Choose someone who teaches the skill of running, not a coach who just dictates an appropriate distance programme,” says Rollo Mahon, an injury and athletic performance specialist.

“Running with skill is one of the most rewarding forms of exercising you can do. Once you realise that running is about lightness and the challenge to maintain that lightness, your whole thought process of exercising/training will change forever.”

Vary your running route

Once running becomes a regular habit you might become bored of following the same route. It’s important to seek out variety.

“Planning new routes and finding new places to run boosts motivation,” says Tamara. “Similarly, running alone can get monotonous, whereas a running buddy can really freshen up your running and make the time fly.”

Joining a running group or finding a local Park Run will also help to keep you motivated. Park Run organises free, weekly, 5K timed runs that are open to people of all fitness levels.

ALWAYS warm up and cool down

Always make sure you warm up and cool down before a run. “Stretching is a vital part of your running routine,” says Tamara. “It both relieves tension and allows your muscles to recover. You should feel the pull of the muscle as you stretch, giving a good 30-60 seconds for each one.”

Try doing a combination of static and dynamic stretches to the hamstrings, calves and hip flexors to help increase flexibility, improve joint function and prevent injury.

How to stay motivated

Maintain a log of your runs and training schedules. This can help with motivation as you can monitor how far you’ve come.

Setting yourself a goal can also help. For example, completing a local fun run or running up a hill for the first time.

If you want to follow a structured running programme, Couch to 5K is an excellent way of helping you to build up your running slowly and safely, reducing the possibility of injury. The programme is available as an app and online.