The active career of a pro athlete is usually quite short compared to most other jobs. Depending on the sport, the expiry date for big achievements comes pretty quick. Sure there are outliers but how often do you see a pro soccer, hockey or football player that is older than 40?
For other sports it takes a couple of years of training until an athlete performs at its full potential. Usually this is the case for endurance sports where it is unusual to have winners that are 20 or below.
So how is it with long distance running? In this post I’ll try to give you some examples and explanations why you literally can’t become too old to run.
Do you remember the first time you were running? I don’t. But it must have been pretty early at age two or three. If you look at little children most run intuitively soon after they started walking. Running is totally natural for us and for sure the most “human” sport there is.
And when do you want to do your last run? I never wanna stop, but maybe someday I’m just too old and my body just can’t run anymore. But when will this be? How many years do I have left to enjoy running?
As the answer can’t obviously be very exact, it’s pretty sure that my running life at age 33 has just started.
It’s just a matter of how you define running. If you wanna break records and win races age is of course an issue. But running as a hobby for fun and to stay fit and healthy, you almost have no expiry date.
You can start running soon after walking as a child, keep at it in school and maintain a healthy endurance running habit throughout your entire life.
So despite the first few and most probably the last few years of your life, your body is always able to go for a run. And if you keep at it for years, chances are high that your body is resilient enough to even perform well at high ages.
As mentioned in the introduction for a lot of sports the ability to perform at top-level drops dramatically somewhere between 30 and 40.
But endurance sports and running in special is quite different. In fact a study conducted with finishing times of the Boston Marathon showed that the potential of a 60-year-old is about the same as of a 19-year-old.
This is quite astonishing. Imagine any other sport where 60-year-old could compete with 19-year-old athletes.
The reason might be that in the history of human beings, running was mainly used for hunting down animals and so was essential to get food that is rich in proteins. Running was key to survive before we became farmers and learned to do agriculture.
When I first read this it made me very happy. I love running and the ability to be able to do it and keep improving for decades to come is just awesome.
Just check out the Marathon record times by age. Between 18 and 50 the curve is pretty flat and the big increase in record finishing time comes at around age 75.
If you do some research you can find hundreds of inspiring running stories and many of them are about running in advanced age. I’ve picked three of them that might help if you’re not yet convinced that you can run for decades.
Deidre Larking is a 85-year-old former concert pianist from South Africa. She started running in her late 70s and what happens since the is just inspiring.
In the last couple of years she finished hundreds of races and set some awesome world records at her age group including a 2:05 half marathon at age 78.
Larking recognized some of the many advantages of endurance running and has no intention of slowing down. In order to stay fit she maintains a healthy diet and a strict training regimen with a morning run each day at 5am.
Ron Hill was a competitive british runner in the late 60s and 70s winning the European Marathon Championships in 1969 and the Boston Marathon in 1970.
After his professional career he didn’t stop running at all. Ron Hill was an everyday runner and I mean literally every day. He became famous as probably the longest running streaker running on 19,032 consecutive days.
After these more than 52 years of a daily run, he needed to stop a run due to heart problems in 2017.
The worlds greatest run streaker ends his streak. Due to ill health Ron has decided to take a day off.
Streak total : 52 years & 39 days pic.twitter.com/BrNjAT115g
— Ronhill (@Ronhill_UK) 30. Januar 2017
This is another story I absolutely love. Marco Olmo from Italy worked as a farmer, trucker and in a cement factory and started running at an age most think about stopping.
And he wasn’t happy with running short distances but trained to be an ultra runner. He became most famous when winning one of the toughest mountain races the 167km UTMB in 2006 and 2007. He was then almost 60 years old and was able to beat some renowned ultra runners.
Olmo once mentioned that he was a looser all his life and that he runs in revenge for that. Whatever the reason that fuels his motivation, the achievements of Marco Olmo are extraordinary.
So what is the big learning you can get out of this?
Don’t be in a rush! No matter if you’re very ambitious and want to win and set records or if you’re just a recreational runner, there’s no need to train like a maniac in fear you might get too old to achieve something in running.
When it comes to endurance running, patience and consistent training for years is way better than to rush and harm your body because you can’t wait for success.
Endurance running is a long-term game and the ability of our bodies to run for decades comes in handy.