We’ve all heard the stories about runners who are breaking records by competing in races well into their golden years.
There’s 94-year-old Harriette Thompson, who finished the half marathon distance this past year; and Fauja Singh ran a marathon at 101 years old in 2013.
Though these will likely still be the exception rather than the rule, what is it about certain runners that allow them to enjoy running for such a long time?
Many of them started running later in life, but there are plenty of runners that seem to plod along happily year after year. Is there any secret to their success? What are the things you can do to continue to run as long as possible?
I asked a bunch of runners who had been running the majority of their lives what they thought was their secret to pounding the pavement (or dirt) year after year.
The way running makes you feel
Most of them agreed it was ultimately the way that running made them feel. There was a common thread that running, no matter how far, fast, or why, made them happier than not running.
Some were goal-setters and even as they aged, looked for new ways to run faster or longer. They thrived on racing and loved the sense of accomplishment that each training cycle brought. Though age eventually slowed down even the most dedicated, these runners started to hunt decade PRs and age group wins.
Some were balancers who revved up their running when they had the time and desire. They always enjoyed it while doing it, but it wasn’t all-consuming. Sometimes other hobbies, projects, or obligations would preoccupy them for weeks or months at a time. However, they would always stumble their way back to it.
Some were purists who rarely, if ever, raced and ran for the pure joy of it. They were not driven by results, but rather, driven by habit. Often, they would have the same routine and it became something like brushing their teeth.
‘Rarely did they ever talk about injury…’
Funnily enough, rarely did they ever talk about injury or things that would ultimately stop them from physically running. They seemed to all be focused on the fact that they needed to have the desire first and foremost.
And perhaps many of them realized that over time, they would listen to the twinges and the aches a little bit more carefully so they could continue to do this thing that they loved. However, a few of them did a couple of ways to maintain their physical health to keep running.
Cross-training was a great partner to many of them for injury prevention and staying active if they did incur an injury. Having an additional outlet through biking, swimming, strength-training, etc. was helpful in the continued success of running for a long time.
Maintaining a healthy weight was another key factor in running longevity. Though it should seem like most runners would naturally be at a healthy weight, many knew that it was a combination of a balanced intake of food with regular running.
All in all, it appeared that most pointed to the desire to run as the single most important way to keep running. And finding the motivation to keep going year and year is often unique unto the runner itself. Each person gets a little something different out of it, but as long as life is better with it, runners will keep running.