Is it all Down Hill for Older Runners?

I hope you all had a happy thanksgiving.  I actually ran a turkey trot 5K.  I don’t know if it was a PR for me, but if not, it was pretty close.  I am pretty proud of myself.  However, it was my third 5K in a row where I tossed my cookie at the end.  I don’t know if it was just that I pushed myself towards the end.  Or that I am just getting older and my body is changing.

We all know as we age our body can’t handle the stress from running as well as it used to.  And that is especially apparent in race times.   Research has actually shown that after the age of forty, runners slow by an average of 1-6 seconds per mile, depending on the race distance.


Before I talk about the agonies of getting older, I wanted to summarize my weekly activity for   “weekly wrap”.   This link up is hosted  by two awesome women Holly from HoHoRuns and Tricia from MissSippiPiddlin.

Monday:  7 miles, 30 min elliptical
Tuesday:  rest , work 9-5
Wednesday: work,
Thursday: 5K
Friday:  3.5 miles, 10 min elliptical, arms
Saturday: 8 miles, 30 elliptical, legs
Sunday:  4 miles
Total: 25 miles

Muscular Power In Older Runners

Older runners aren’t able to generate nearly as much vertical “push” off the ground as the younger runners because of their decreased ability to generate muscular power.  The lack of muscular power has significant implications on their biomechanics. Younger runners generate vertical power to adopt a longer “loping” stride that spends more time in the air than on the ground.  Where as older runners cannot generate the same muscular power, and are therefore forced to adopt a much higher stride frequency to run at faster speeds.

Maybe that is where the term the “old man shuffle” comes from

Stride Frequency In Older Runners

An additional barrier to efficient running comes as a result of the higher stride frequency.   Since an  older runner spends less time in the air, there is  less time for an older runner to swing his or her legs forward.   So the “shuffle” must be very quick and inefficient. And at higher speeds, this importance is magnified.

Compared to younger runners, older runners become even more inefficient as their speeds increases.

If your goal is to avoid or limit these age-related changes in running efficiency, it is pretty clear that you should aim to build or at least maintain your muscular strength.

Researchers in this area have identify two main reasons why older runners (and older people in general) cannot generate as much muscular power.  First their is loss of muscle mass.  And there is also a loss of force production at the cellular level in the muscles. Weight training should address both of these issues.


So  if you are over the age of fifty, and you are not lifting weights once or twice a week, you should be!

Your focus should be on increasing the strength of the major propulsion and power muscles in your legs.  These muscles include the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. They generate power during your running stride.   By keeping them strong you will hopefully keep the age-related changes in running mechanics at bay.

Even though you should focus a little more attention to strength training, you should still keep up the speed work.

Now it’s not all doom and gloom.  A higher stride frequency implies that your body is subject to less stress with each step.  Less stress applied to the body means a lower incidence of many common running injuries.

So, getting older does not mean all bad news, especially if you follow this advice and understand the limitations!

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22 thoughts on “Is it all Down Hill for Older Runners?

  1. As an “older runner”, I can attest to the power of strength training. However, I have not slowed down noticeably. I’m still hitting paces I hit in my 30s. The best part about that is while many of my peers have slowed down or completely stopped running, I’ve moved up and have even gotten some AG awards. The women who are still running in my AG are, for the most part, really fast. I do have to approach my training differently–lower miles and more quality workouts.

    No one should look at getting older as “going downhill”. It’s all about attitude and mine is that age is just a number.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Thanks for the MilesMy Profile

  2. I have noticed my “speed” plateauing in recent years….not getting slower, just not really getting any faster. I have not run all of my life, though, just for the past 11.5 years. I am doing a lot more distance events, so my priorities certainly have changed. And, I agree…strength work is crucial!
    Kimberly Hatting recently posted…Marathon hangover = RecoveryMy Profile

  3. Wait…WHAT??!!!……age of forty, runners slow by an average of 1-6 seconds per mile, depending on the race distance……NO!!!!!!

    Ok not all doom and gloom but uuuugh…for us older runners!

    Good job on your workouts this week!

  4. As someone who didn’t start running until their early 40s, I haven’t really noticed a significant decline yet. I’m not a super fast runner but can usually place in small, local races. It’s interesting that if I compare my finish times to that of younger groups, it’s common to see that I sometimes would also place in the 20s, 30s or 40s groups. What does this mean? I have no idea. LOL. I do agree we need some type of strength training. Thanks for linking, Nicole!

  5. This just confirms that I need to get my booty back to the gym next month. I had a few good (speedy) years followed by 2 years of injury. I was hoping I was now on my way to becoming “speedy” again but now I have that whole age thing working against me…haha

    1. Coco, yes I do believe running at an “older” age does depend on many factors. Yes if you start later in life you probably want suffer from as many over use injuries. Thank you so much for reading

  6. EEk! I just had a birthday yesterday and am in my last year of the 30s ! My goal certainly is to maintain strength and keep running! Interesting to know this and to read the other comments 🙂

  7. The comments were interesting as was the post! I have been trying to strength train each week, but after this last foot problem, I have seen quite a decline in my pace. I am not sure if it my age, or just that my foot strength decreased- I can’t push off as strong or my toes will protest.
    Karen recently posted…Still RecoveringMy Profile

  8. Aging is so individual as is running, so its hard to make broad statements that pertain to everyone. As a 50+ runner I will say that for me there are definitely challenges. But I also had challenges when I was a 35 year old runner. They’re just different. It would be sad if “older” people were discouraged by reading this post because running is still very rewarding. The key is to make the most of what you have.

    1. Marcia, yes running at an older age is individualize. However, like everything else with aging, you just have to be wiser. You need to listen to your body more.

  9. Slightly depressing but very interesting read! I’m one year shy of 30 and, though entering a new decade makes me nervous, I am excited to find out what 30 has in store. I say 30 is the new 20, so maybe 40 can be the new 30, if one keeps up regular cardio and strength training 😉 That’s what I hope!
    Amy @ Life to the Full recently posted…Hello, Goodbye SnowMy Profile

  10. Thanks so much for sharing!!! I’ve heard many times how important strength training is to maintain muscle mass and performance! So many women seem to scared of doing it because they don’t want to bulk up, but every woman I’ve ever seen who lifts heavy and often looks AMAZING. I strength train twice a week and have seen great results, so I’m a huge fan.

    Comparatively, I have a tougher time getting motivated to do speedwork – so this is a valuable reminder!!!
    Emily @ Out and About recently posted…Runfessions – race photo editionMy Profile

  11. Nicole, I just love this post. I am NOT a runner. If anything, I would call myself a “beginner runner”…that said, I’ve been edging in some running into my workouts and have found the biggest hurdle as a new runner is the breathing. All of my concentration is on pacing and breathing and trying to get to the next “marker”, which is often a tree or a driveway along my way. Last week I ran my very first 5K race and I did phenomenally well, at least I think I did for a 1st timer. My time was 28:09. I know I can do better in the future, but it was the best time I had running 5K, even though it was my first race, it wasn’t the first time I ran that far. I was thrilled. I am convinced that my efforts are due to the weight training I do. I know my legs are strong, and that is what I attribute it to. Breathing though….

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