You might be thinking that as you reach the age of 50 and beyond that starting to trail run is completely out of the question.
In 2017 I would have probably told you the same thing, until 15 months later, after my 50th birthday, I ran an 86 mile ultramarathon with no health issues to follow.
Can you start trail running after 50?
In my own experience, the answer is yes, you can start trail running after the age of 50. As long as you follow a set of simple rules, you will find that you can run better and further than you ever imagined. Age is not a factor in whether you can trail run or not.
When I say a simple set of rules I mean that there are certain things you should be aware of as you start running in your fifties.
- Are You Too Old To Run After 50
- How To Prepare Yourself For Running
- Have Small Goals In Mind
- How Often Should You Run
- The Importance Of Strength Training
- Should Cross-Training Be Part Of Your Routine
- What Type Of Running Gear Is Important And Which Is Hype
In this post I want to share my story with you and how I went from couch to 86 miles in 15 months whilst losing over 40 pounds in the process. When I look back, it was so obvious and simple that literally anyone could follow a similar process and succeed.
At this point I should state that everyone is different, so what worked for me and the time frame I did it in might be very different for someone else. This article is written with the intention of being a general guide to how I met my goals.
Are You Too Old To Run
This is the common question I see that we should get out of the way right now. Unless you have a medical condition or have any concerns at all then you should consult a health professional before undertaking any form of exercise.
If you are healthy then You Are Never Too Old To Run.
Let’s take me for example to help understand why you can take up running as you get older. At the age of 47 I really was a complete mess when it came to my weight and my health.
I was very overweight and was starting to notice a few niggling health issues, especially shortness of breath just going up the stairs at home, as well as heart palpitations when I was sitting down – my resting heart rate was around 78 bpm – today it’s around 58 bpm.
At this point I knew I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t do something about my situation, so I decided once and for all to make a change.
Throughout this post, I will talk about how to get started with some examples of what I did to go from an overweight couch potato to 86-mile ultramarathon finisher in 15 months.
Now I’m not going to say you can do the same as me within 15 months, that would be wrong of me to do so. But what you can do is set yourself bite-sized goals and achieve them.
Don’t believe it’s possible? Read on and let me show you how it was done.
Preparing Yourself For Running
I didn’t just decide one day that I was going to start trail running and off I went, and neither should you. It’s something you need to build up to if you haven’t run or done any form of exercise for a while.
The reason I chose trail running over road running was fairly simple and really didn’t take much thought at all.
First of all, getting out into the countryside is a wonderful experience and is great for the mind and mental health. I always find that there are so many trails to explore as opposed to road running which is boring as hell.
The second reason I chose trail over road was that I believe that it is better on your body overall. No constant pounding on the pavement that can lead to repetitive injuries. The trail is an ever changing surface that keeps you from becoming complacent whilst you run.
But onto the preparation – first of all, let’s be real and don’t expect ourselves to be running like a crazy person from day one. I started off very slowly with walking for the first few weeks, with some walk/jog days in between.
It would look something like this:
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4|
|Tuesday||30 min walk||30 min walk||30 min walk/jog||30 min walk/jog|
|Thursday||30 min walk||30 min walk||45 min walk||45 min walk|
|Saturday||45 min walk||45 min walk/jog||60 min walk/jog||45 min walk/jog|
|Sunday||30 min walk||30 min walk||30 min run||45 min run|
As you can see in the table, I didn’t go off like I was hell-bent on running a marathon. As much as I wanted to, and as much as my mind was telling me to run further and ignore my plan, I decided to stick to it.
If I had done too much too early I would have been at serious risk of injury as I hadn’t run for years and I was overweight. Remember what I said earlier, I went from couch to ultra-marathon in 15-months without starting too fast. In fact, at the time, I had never even thought about running a long distance.
Training Tip #1 – Don’t up your weekly mileage too early. Doing this will often lead to injury and setbacks.
Have Small Goals In Mind
Like I just said, at the beginning I had no clue that I would end up running an ultramarathon when I first started.
However, it is really useful and advisable to have small goals in mind when you are starting your journey to better health. Everyone is different, but here were some of my goals over the first 3 months.
- Lose 2 pounds a week until reaching my goal weight
- Stick to my walking and jogging plan for the first month
- Run 5k without walking
- Run 5k under 30 minutes
- Run my first 10k
- Cut out all dairy products in the first month
- Cut out all meat within the first 3 months
- Remove processed food from my diet
- Follow a Plant-Based diet within the first 6 months
- Do something for charity (for motivation)
- Sign-up for a half marathon (yikes)
These were a few of my goals, and in my opinion, they were both manageable and achievable at the same time. Don’t put in too big a goal too early or you will see yourself as failing and potentially give up
As you can see, it wasn’t just about running and fitness for me, it was my overall health, which is why I decided to move to a Plant-Based lifestyle within the first 6 months.
Training Tip #2 – Don’t be impatient – this is a journey, not a race. Bite-sized goals will keep you focused and motivated. Large, unachievable goal will demotivate and lead to failure.
How Often Should You Run After 50
Well here’s the thing, it really depends on what you are training for – what’s your goal? This will determine how often you should think about running.
There is an argument to say that perhaps you shouldn’t run too much as you get older because of the strains on the body. Whilst I agree that this is most likely true for running on the road, I’m not convinced it’s the same on the trails.
If you are training for say, a 5K run, your weekly running schedule is likely to be much different than if you are training for a marathon – not only in mileage but also the number of runs you are doing.
Training from beginner to 5K would look something like this and consist of 3 running / walking days and an easy Saturday walk, bike, swim or rest if you wish. Something easy:
|Week 1||Run 1 min|
Walk 1 min
|Run 90 sec|
Walk 90 sec min
|Walk, Bike, Swim or Rest||Run 2 min|
Walk 2 min
|Week 2||Run 3 min|
Walk 3 min
|Run 3.5 min|
Walk 3 min
|Walk, Bike, Swim or Rest||Run 4 min|
Walk 3 min
|Week 3||Run 4 min|
Walk 2 min
|Run 5 min|
Walk 3 min
|Walk, Bike, Swim or Rest||Run 6 min|
Walk 4 min
|Week 4||Run 5 min|
Walk 3 min
|Run 6 min|
Walk 3 min
|Walk, Bike, Swim or Rest||Run 8 min|
Walk 3 min
|Week 5||Run 6 min|
Walk 3 min
|Run 7 min|
Walk 3 min
|Walk, Bike, Swim or Rest||Run 10 min|
Walk 3 min
|Week 6||Run 8 min|
Walk 3 min
|Run 5 min|
Walk 2 min
Your next progression should be to a 10k, then a half marathon, and onto marathon. Remember Tip #1 – don’t up your weekly mileage too early.
You will likely find that when you are training for a marathon and beyond that you will be doing long runs of 20+ miles, adding some strength training, and probably working out 5 to 6 days a week – don’t assume you can do these distances with very little training.
The Importance Of Strength Training
The greater the running goal, the more important strength training becomes. Training for 5 or 10k doesn’t come with the necessity to do strength work, but when you are talking marathon or even ultra distance you can bet your life you need to strength train.
Strength training was something that I overlooked for a long time when I started running. The longer the runs I began to do, the more minor injuries I started to have.
I had one issue where my hip would start to ache during a run and then the pain would run down to my knee over time until I would have to stop running.
I decided to see a sports therapist and was told that the reason I was having the pain in my hip and knee was due to the fact I had a lot of muscle strength imbalance – in particular, I had weak glutes that were causing issues elsewhere.
The sports therapist basically said to me that if I wanted to prolong my running as I aged, and wanted to stay as injury free as possible, then I was going to have to incorporate strength training into my weekly routine.
So based on the expert advice, that’s what I did. I know strength train specifically for my running twice per week.
I want to share some routines with you so you have an idea of what to do when you incorporate strength training into your routine. You don’t even need a gym membership to do it. Some of the equipment you can use for training is as follows:
- Bodyweight – people often think that you need to lift Olympic barbells to get strong. This isn’t true – bodyweight exercises can be incredibly difficult and require a lot of strength to perform. Just look at a gymnast if you don’t believe me.
- Resistance Bands – another great option for strength. You can literally do anything with a resistance band to replicate using weight lifting equipment. They are also great for adding additional resistance to your bodyweight exercises.
- Kettlebells – I have been using kettlebells for some time now and they are probably the best piece of equipment I have ever owned. Workouts for strength, endurance, HIIT, are all possible with this amazing piece of kit.
Of course you could also use dumbbells, or barbells, or even go to the gym and use all the equipment they have on offer. Personally, I have found that bodyweight, a set of resistance bands, and a couple of kettlebells will do everything I need for my strength workouts.
Let’s take a look at some of the great workouts you can do for your running strength training.
There are so many exercises that can be done with just your bodyweight alone that you could carry on without ever having to buy any equipment at all.
The video below shows a basic routine you can do to strengthen those key muscles for running.
Give this basic bodyweight session a try and see what it can do for you.
Resistance Band Training
If you want to add a little more to your sessions then resistance bands might just be the thing you are looking for. Not only can you add extra tension to your bodyweight workouts, you can also add some greater strength exercises to your routine.
Here’s an example workout video explaining exactly what I mean.
My all-time favourite piece of equipment for training has to be the kettlebell. It is an amazing tool for so many workouts and can be a do anywhere type of workout as well.
The video below shows the sort of workout you can do for your strength training with a kettlebell.
If you want to take your strength training to the next level then a set of kettlebells will be a great option for you.
Should Cross-Training Be Part Of Your Routine
I’m not saying that cross-training needs to be part of your routine, but it will mix things up a little if you plan to do some.
Now and again, rather than a short run during the week I might get on the mountain bike and go for an hours biking.
As you age beyond 50 years of age your body won’t always feel like it wants to run on some days. This is perfectly fine and natural at our age. We should always try and listen to what our bodies are telling us, so if a lighter days training feels right, then take a lighter day.
Some of the cross-training you could consider to break up your training could be:
Basically, something that has less stress on the muscles and joints as opposed to running.
What Running Gear Should You Buy, And What Is Hype
Honestly, I know it can be tempting to go out and buy all the running gear under the sun and spend a small fortune. My advice is don’t be too hasty in these decisions.
If you are just starting out with your running, get yourself an decent pair of running shoes for the terrain you will be running.
If it’s mostly road you plan to run then buy some road shoes, mostly trails then a pair of trail shoes. If you plan to do a bit of both then buy something that’s capable of doing road and trail quite well.
Secondly, buy some running socks. I can’t stress enough that these are almost as important as your shoes when it comes to running. Good running socks have great moisture-wicking properties and are cushioned in all the right places for a great run.
Shorts should be comfortable, light and breathable, for a stress free run. Non-running shorts could give you issues with chafing so be aware.
Running top should be moisture wicking and comfortable to wear – I don’t stress too much about my running top as long as it’s comfortable and doesn’t make me wet with sweat on a run.
The other main important thing to begin with is something to carry water with. I would start with a handheld bottle to begin with and progress to a vest if you decide to do some epic runs in the future.
Other gear you might move to later down the line might be:
If you are just thinking about getting into trail running as you get older, then trail running is a great option you could think about.
Start off slow and leave the ego at the door to avoid injury or burnout later down the road. Also try and incorporate some strength training once or twice a week to compliment your running.
Above all else, just get out there and enjoy every moment.
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