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Article: Running over 40

Special issues, and joys, face women runners over 40. Here, longtime marathoner and New York Road Runners editor Gordon Bakoulis, 43, talks to about this invigorating sport. What special problems do women who are over 40 years old face in training for a marathon?

Bakoulis: In general, runners (men and women) start declining in performance for the same effort starting at about age 35. However, those who start running later in life — say after age 30 — may decline less or not at all, or even improve with consistent high-quality training. Many over-40 runners find they need more recovery time after hard efforts — for example, three or four easy days after a speed workout or race, whereas they needed only one or two days in their 20s and 30s. Running performance declines in some menopausal women due to fatigue, weight gain, and other factors, but again this is not uniform across the board, and running may help ease menopausal symptoms. So, women who start training later may actually fare better with a marathon than those who’ve been running since high school?

Bakoulis: Here is the deal: There are two counter-forces at work — first, age-related decline; second, experience-related improvement. Experience-related improvement is greatest in the early months or years of running. So, if someone starts running in her early 30s, she’ll improve through her mid-30s and possibly even into her late 30s and even early 40s, simply through experience. This improvement will outweigh the counter-force of age-related decline. On the other hand, someone who started at age 16 is probably not improving anymore in her early to mid-30s — she’s plateaued — unless she makes a significant increase in her training. So she will not have the experience-related improvement to counter-balance, or even outweigh, the age-related decline. What special rewards do women over 40 face in training and running the race?

Bakoulis: Rewards and benefits are very individual. In general, people get a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment from training itself and from completing a marathon or half-marathon. For women who feel they have little "me" time and focus in their lives, running and doing a marathon can feel like the one thing they do by themselves, for themselves, and at the same time can share with other people such as friends, family, and colleagues. The training can be very enjoyable mentally, both relaxing and invigorating, and has well-known physical benefits: weight control, reduction of risk of major diseases, promotes better sleep, etc. Is it too late to start running after 40?

Bakoulis: NO! It’s never too late to start. Running is simple, requires no equipment other than quality running shoes and clothing, and can be done almost anywhere, alone or with others. It’s the most efficient workout going, and has numerous health benefits for all ages. What kind of pace should novice runners set for training?

Bakoulis: You should train at "conversation" pace. If you can’t talk while you’re running, slow down. Some people like to use a heart-rate monitor for training; then, your effort while running should be about 70 percent of your maximum effort. Your heart-rate monitor’s instruction manual will explain in detail how to track your rate during a run. What kind of pre-training exercise should women 40+ engage in? Stretching? Yoga? What do you recommend?

Bakoulis: Before running, you should be well hydrated, then warm up with brisk walking to loosen the muscles. Next, stretch the major muscles in the lower body. After running, stretch again, more deeply now that muscles are fully warmed and loosened, and hydrate. What other advice do you have for the woman over 40 who wants to run the MORE Marathon?

Bakoulis: Do it because you enjoy it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to intersperse walking breaks, with the goal of reducing them as running muscles gain strength. Typically, aerobic gains come more quickly than gains in the strength of muscles and joints, but don’t try to progress more quickly than your muscles and joints can handle, or injury is the likely result. If you feel pain, don’t ignore it. Some pains are fleeting, but many progress to injury if ignored. It’s better to take a day off than to be laid up for several weeks with an injury.

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