I turned 40 this past year and it’s crazy to think that in just another few months, I’ll be 41. I’m still in great shape, especially when compared to my peers, and I attribute some of that to my love of running.
But times have changed for me since I started running in my late twenties. With age comes new pains, strains, and challenges. I’ve had to make adjustments. Lots of them.
In this post, I’ll talk about the common issues faced by runners in their 40’s and some ways to help offset them. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take away something positive to help you keep running well beyond your 40’s.
The Story of Our Bodies
After completing 4 decades of life, every one of us has our own unique body with it’s own story. No two of us are alike.
Our bodies are a record of all we’ve accomplished. That record includes success stories that make us proud like having a child, raising that child, achieving weight loss goals, & winning races.
We also have collected a large record of missteps like periods of weight-gain, injuries, and illnesses. Maybe even a season or two of depression came along with growing older.
The 40 year old body is pretty amazing. It’s strong and yet worn in. All that being said, while much of what follows relates to my own personal experience and the specific challenges I’ve encountered running at this age, much of it will apply to any older runner.
The Challenges of Running After 40
Injuries & Managing Pain
Running after 40 means running with pain. At this point in my life, I understand that there are some parts of my body that will probably hurt forever.
Sometimes I feel like every time I go running, I finish with something on my body hurting that’s never hurt before. But I continue to run.
About a year ago, I went to an orthopedic doctor because I began having pain in my achilles tendon. I tried stretches, strengthening exercises, & medication. But nothing worked. I even stopped running completely for 3 full months and the pain got worse. The doctor ordered up an MRI and after multiple doctors and radiologists looked, nothing could be found.
Now, before I go further talking about pain and running through the pain, understand that you should always have new pain symptoms checked out by a doctor. You need to know that you’re not going to do additional damage by continuing to run.
My doctor cleared me to keep running. His diagnosis? Chronic pain. It was my first real taste of, “you’re getting older now…“. What it meant for me was I could resume running without fear of making it worse. But it also meant that I would probably have to deal with this pain indefinitely.
It turns out that much of running after 40 is damage mitigation and pain management. I avoid taking medication as much as possible, but if I’m planning on a longer-than-normal run I’ll sometimes take ibuprofen (Advil) about an hour before I go. I know a lot of people my age who take Advil every day but I avoid that. Your body becomes resistant to drugs over long-term use rendering them ineffective.
There’s a lot of evidence showing that running can actually be an effective form of pain relief. It might be counter-intuitive at first, but I’ve experienced it myself. The chronic pain in my achilles tendon typically subsides after the first mile or two and generally stays away for an entire 1-2 days after I run.
Aging & Life Changes
For men, testosterone is kinda the magic bullet for our physical prowess. After 40, our bodies don’t make as much. We run slower. We have less energy. You’ve heard the commercials.
What most people don’t realize is that women also experience a drop in testosterone production as they get older. And while women have less of the hormone than their male counterparts, its importance to retaining muscle is the same.
Women who have children may also be realizing that a post-pregnancy body never really snaps back to how it was before they were mothers. It’s not uncommon for a new mother to take a year or two before she gets back into her real running groove.
For both men and women, having children changes priorities and puts a serious crunch on what might have been a very consistent exercise schedule. Once children are old enough to be left alone while parents go for a run, you may feel like you’re learning to run all over again.
How to Keep Running in Your 40’s
1. Strength Training
Running coaches and fitness experts will tell everyone that strength training is key to running performance. As we get older, it becomes even more important.
Building muscle mass with resistance training such as weights can actually help ramp up your body’s production of testosterone.
Strength training will help shed excess fat and build lean muscle. By not carrying around extra pounds, you’ll enjoy better performance on your runs.
Recommended Exercises: push-ups, squats, lunges, & jump squats
2. Core Training
Runners of all age benefit from core training. While we’re not always conscious of it, running engages the entire core.
A strong core will help maintain a healthy weight. It also helps to improve balance, lessening the likelihood of a fall while out on a run.
Recommended Exercises: planks, push-ups, hip-raises, & side-planks
As we get older, we lose flexibility. This stiffness makes our bodies less resilient to injuries. But you can combat this by developing a habit of good stretching.
Yoga is an excellent option that provides all-around stretching routines. There are yoga varieties for all types of bodies and skill levels.
Consider long stretching routines on days when you don’t run. Good yoga routines will include poses and stretches that help you with other items on this list such as strength training and core training.
Maintaining a healthy diet is probably the most ubiquitous tip that could find itself in any health & fitness article. There’s good reason for that – it’s important.
If you want to continue running after 40 and beyond, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re fueling your body the right way.
Your diet should be high in vegetables, lean meats, & healthy fats. Avoiding processed foods and added sugars is key.
5. Get Fitted for the Right Shoes
While beginner runners don’t always know the importance of having the right shoes, older runners usually do.
But older runners, including myself, sometimes forget the type of shoes you got fitted for in your 20’s may not be the right ones for you now.
It’s important to get re-fitted for running shoes every few years. As our bodies change, so do our footwear needs.
6. Distance & Frequency
As you get older, don’t be afraid to run more often for less, rather than pushing for the long run. Running especially long when your body is tired is more likely to lead to injury.
I used to run 3 times each week and my runs were anywhere from 5-8 miles. Now, I run about 4-5 times each week at 3-5 miles. I still get my miles in, just in smaller chunks.
7. Skip Days
I’ve actually never been big on running every single day but I know plenty of folks who are. As we get older, our body needs more time to recover from the impact of running.
Taking off a day or two between runs will help you avoid injury and mitigate pain. And those days off don’t have to be tossed to the wind. Use those days off for strength training or stretching exercises.
8. Interval Training
There are a ton of benefits to interval training. It burns more calories and maximizes cardiovascular benefits.
One of the cool things about interval training is that you can get a great workout in a relatively short time. At an age where most of us are coming into the prime of our careers, saving time is a huge deal. In fact, lack of time is one of the big reasons people don’t run or skip a day.
9. Don’t Eat Before a Run
I do a lot of my running during lunch break at work, and I try not to eat anything for the day until after I finish my run.
As we get older, our body takes more time to digest food. Even if you eat a couple hours before you go for a run, it could end up being a recipe for some gastrointestinal distress.
Incidentally, my lack of eating until I finish my afternoon run provides the additional benefits that come with intermittent fasting.
10. Practice Mindful Running
There are lots of small adjustments I’ve made to my running as I’ve gotten older. Small things like transitioning onto (or off of) a curb by leading with the foot closest to the curb first can be the difference between a trip or twisted ankle.
It’s important to pay attention to your body. I have a tendency to zone-out when I run and, depending on the terrain, that’s not always a good thing.
To continue running in your 40’s and beyond, you’ll need to be more in tune with what your body tells you. New pains & new sounds should be noted and monitored. Keep a close eye on your heart rate as well.
Runners are tough, and the big 4-0 won’t stop us. While you might have to make adjustments, we can all run into and beyond our 40’s.
It doesn’t just stop there, plenty of folks pick up running after 40. It’s a great way to stay healthy and extend your lifespan.
Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He's also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.