Good For Age: that’s how you’re classed if you run a marathon in under four hours (for men it’s sub 3:15). There are some conditions attached, but your time could then earn you automatic entry to big races, including the London Marathon. When I turned 50, I signed up for the Berlin Marathon with the intention of running a Good For Age time. But my PB of 4:02 mocks me, so I need to make some changes.
I’ve been running marathons since 2009 but my times haven’t shown a steady improvement. Back in 2012 I ran my worst time ever. Can I blame this on the natural ageing process? Not necessarily, says Dr Tom Crisp, clinical director of Bupa Musculoskeletal Services.
‘You have the capacity to improve at any age,’ he says. ‘What you achieve depends on specific training.’ He recommends a fitness-for-running check, and offers a good dose of common sense.
‘Some people accept a marathon place, then go out and run ten miles without building up to that distance. You have to get used to it. At your age, I would put only one long run a week into your schedule. That said, you do have to put in the miles before race day. To have the psychological and physical strength to run the 26.2, you must be used to running 20 in training.’
Dr Crisp’s advice to all his patients, whatever their age and whatever their goals, is the same: ‘Keep on exercising. Some of my colleagues get cautious about recommending exercise to older people, but I believe that exercise is better at delaying the ageing process than anything else.
‘In 20 years’ time [without exercise] you could be struggling to get out of your chair. Exercise is the best way of ensuring that you are going to live independently in old age.’
Dr Crisp emphasises the need for balance. He prescribes two or three weekly speedy workouts to complement the long, slow one.
Dr Crisp’s views are echoed by Go Commando founder Rob Blair, who has trained me for three years and is putting together my new training plan. He says that my distance running is reasonably good for a woman my age, pointing out that he has always encouraged me to work on my core, back and glute strength.
‘Strength training is the key to fast, effective, efficient movement. Without a strong and stable base in the lumbar/pelvic/hip area, your runs will feel harder.’
Rob recommends back-to-basics work at home, on the mat, where I can practise the plank and prone superman, as well as bridging work and dynamic stretches. In strength-training workshops I can, under supervision, use one of his many kettlebells to practise goblet squats. If you’re just beginning weight training you should start light and work your way up, and train in a class with a qualified teacher.
MOVE WITH THE TIMES
In terms of my movement capabilities, Rob warns me not to ignore the posterior chain muscles: my hamstrings, glutes and erector muscles should get the workout they deserve. He suggests plenty of squats and stabilising exercises, such as the farmer’s walk, which is the perfect routine for my lower back problems.
‘You will protect your lower back by getting stronger and more stable. You need to learn to deadlift well, and perfect that farmer’s walk, because it keeps your posture tight and stabilises the muscles around your hips.
Of course, all this hard work may be nullified by the fact that my work requires sitting at a desk, a lot. Rob says this is one of the worst things I can do at my – or any – age.
‘Having a desk-bound job makes you mechanically older before your time; you become hunched, your posterior chain weakens and you experience tightness in areas that should be elastic steel.’
FEELING FED UP
All that running and all those strengthening exercises will make me hungry. When I’m hungry, I empty the bread bin and the muesli jar. Like many vegetarians, I suspect my carb load is too heavy and I worry I may not be getting the correct proteins.
Nutritionist Lisa O’Doherty feeds me some useful information: ‘It’s tempting to reach for starches when you’re hungry and your blood sugar is low after training, but your body requires protein so that muscle micro tears (which develop during exercise) will repair themselves and grow.
‘Around 15 per cent of the energy used during training comes from protein, so it is important to replace this,’ she adds. ‘In your post-training meal, carbohydrates should come mainly from vegetables – these will replace vital vitamins and minerals that are lost during training, while the antioxidants they provide will help mop up damaging free radicals that are produced during a session.’
I eat healthily, but feel I should eat a wider variety of proteins – I tend to knock back the eggs, nuts and tofu (and I’ve heard conflicting advice about tofu). Lisa puts my mind at rest.
‘Eggs are a great choice, as they provide the complete range of essential amino acids [proteins] the body requires.’ As for tofu, she recommends traditionally fermented tofu or soy products. ‘Soy is put through a long fermentation process to remove indigestible components and toxins in the beans. Even then, it shouldn’t be a staple in your diet; low to moderate intake is best.
‘Modern mass soybean farming and food processing produce a very different product,’ she explains.’ Studies have shown that modern soy products are difficult to digest and contain (among other things) phytates, which bind to minerals, preventing them from being absorbed in the gut, and oxalates, which prevent calcium absorption.’
As a veggie, I should have no problem following Lisa’s final piece of advice: ‘Protein will keep you feeling fuller for longer and you should also dramatically increase your vegetable intake and reduce starchy carbs, which cause a spike in your blood glucose levels. Your body releases the hormone insulin to move glucose [energy] from the blood into the body’s cells. But once the cells are saturated [full], which can happen quickly when you’re eating starchy carbs, any excess will be stored as adipose tissue – fat.’
And fat is definitely a fifty-something issue. As is overall health and self-esteem and all those other things that can be positively affected by regular running. So I’ll just keep on doing it and work on that pesky PB.
Words by Ronnie Haydon