Staying Fit As You Age
Image: Jeffrey Salter
Jane Espy, 65, Sanibel Island, Florida
Jane Espy started running when she was 29. “During winter in Chicago, my neighbor and I would do laps up and down the block in our snow boots," says Espy. "When three miles became easy, we bought real running shoes, and did a Bonne Bell 10-K in 1977." Today, Espy typically logs about 30 miles each week. She also makes time for one long bike ride, two strength-training sessions, and a little canoeing. She's been competing since her 40s, when she filled her weekends with 5-Ks and 10-Ks. She's also finished four marathons. (Train For Your Own Marathon: Ultimate Training Guide)
Biggest concern: Maintaining fitness level. "I used to focus on getting fast, but now I just want to be able to run for as many years as possible," says Espy who admits to being "a little bummed" about finishing the 2008 Big Sur Marathon in 5:03. "I love to run, and I'm miserable if I can't for some reason."
Train by time, not miles: As you age, your miles obviously tick off a little more slowly than they used to. "If your mile pace slows by a minute and you're used to doing 40 miles a week, that's a lot of extra time training that your body might not handle well," says McMillan, of Flagstaff, Arizona.
Realize rest is not a four-letter word: Espy is good at taking a rest day, but not all lifelong runners are. "You won't lose fitness when you take a day or two off," says Sage Rountree, Ph.D., author of The Athlete's Guide to Recovery, who recommends alternating long-and-slow workouts with short-and-fast ones for most masters athletes, and at least one recovery day for those in their 20s. "You'll actually regain some pep." Most important, even if the schedule says go, but your body says no, respect the latter.
Hit the mat: Yoga puts your muscles through their full range of motion, helping them stay elastic and flexible so you minimize your injury risk (a key as the calendar moves forward). "Injuries can come more often and last longer as runners get older," says Rountree, who is also a yoga instructor and running coach. She recommends taking one class a week, and then doing a few 15-minute mini sessions on your own. "Do the poses that were frustrating to you in class," she says, adding that tight hamstrings and hip flexors are usually problematic for runners over the age of 35. Saying om at least once a week also has been shown to help athletes improve their balance and get a better night's rest.
Espy’s Success Secrets
1. Plan Carefully
She runs 30 miles a week for three weeks, then gives her body a break with a 15-to 20-mile week.
2. Practice Restraint
"I don't do speedwork anymore, but I'll pick it up if I feel good."
3. Add Strength Training
It's something she didn't do early on but says, "My joints feel more supported now."