Too old to run a marathon?

Do you feel that you are too old to start running? Running marathons is surely something for the youngsters, isn’t it? I’ve heard a work colleague complain that he was not physically as able to do the things he used to do when he was younger. I wouldn’t mind so much if he was old…but he said it when he was just 37 years old! Being a fair bit older, and feeling considerably fitter at the time than when I was 20 years younger, that really shook me!

I think that a lot of the time, age limits are in the mind, rather than real physical limits. Sure, some people have health problems which prevent them from doing certain things at particular time in their lives. But human bodies are very often capable of doing very much more than their owners realise!


You may have heard about the claims that a 100 year old man ran the Toronto Marathon in October 2011. Sadly, according to the Guinness World Records website that record has not yet been confirmed, as they have not been able to confirm the gentleman in question’s birth date. However, don’t think that means that older people can’t run. Just for the record:

  • The oldest female to run a marathon has been confirmed as 92 year old Gladys Burrill (Honolulu Marathon, December 2010).
  • The oldest couple to run a marathon together is Shigetsugu Anan (83) and his wife Miyoko (78) at the Nanohana Marathon in Japan in January 2008
  • And in case you think that these are the exceptions that prove the rule, there are a LOT of ‘less young’ people running marathons. For example, in the London Marathon in 2011, 156 runners in the 70years + category finished the 26.2 mile course. In New York on 6 November 2011 1096 Men aged 60 – 64 completed the full marathon – alongside 287 women of the same age, and 682 of their elders!

All of these people are stars in their own right. They’ve obviously been through enormous challenges to achieve such magnificent feats. But the shear number of them shows what humans are capable of. If so many people can manage to run 26.2 miles, why not you? Maybe you can’t walk to the bus stop without puffing and panting now. But with persistence and training who knows what you could achieve. In fact, YOU won’t until you try!

One final thought. It’s easy to think that some people are born with natural ability to run. But rest assured that Usain Bolt – the worlds fastest man (100m in 9.58 seconds – equivalent to 23 miles per hour or 37 km per hour) was not able to run that fast as a boy. He just worked and worked and worked at it until he COULD run that fast.

And in 1954 most people believed that it would be impossible for a human being to run 1 mile in under 4 minutes. They said that such a speed was simply not feasible. However, Roger Bannister managed 3mins 59.3 on 14 May that year, and the record has continued to drop ever since – it now stands at 3min 43 seconds.

Running as slowly as Roger Bannister did won’t even get you a county record where I live in Cornwall UK!

With training, humans are capable of incredible feats, even after 80 or 90 years. I wonder what YOU could achieve…

©2011 Rob Knowles

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How to start running to lose weight

Many people want to start running to lose weight. And it’s a great way to get fit and shed those extra pounds. But pushing an unfit body too far, too fast is a recipe for trouble.

Obviously most people who would like to lose weight have not exercised seriously for a considerable time. But running is one of the most vigorous forms of exercise you can get. It’s great for you heart, muscles and burning calories. But it does put a strain on the body. And if you put a strain on something weak, it will break.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use running to burn off those extra pounds. Just that you need to start out with due care for the current condition of your body. I speak from experience. Years ago when I first thought I’d try and lose a few pounds by running I did everything wrong. Tried too hard and pulled muscles. Didn’t get the right kit and overstrained joints. Tried to reach my goals by doing one huge effort a week, with 6 days of doing nothing. The list goes on.


Remember the hare and the tortoise? In this case the hare ended up in hospital, and the tortoise lost heaps of weight, got fit and lived happily for over a hundred years!

So, what’s the best way to start? The basics are:

  1. Get in the habit of exercising. You burn a lot more calories (and hence lose more weight) by going out for a fast walk of gentle run 5 times a week, than by doing a monster effort twice a week. And apart from that you are much less likely to get strain injuries. Not to mention the fact that it’s much easier to do something by routine than by individual effort. If you always go for a run when you get home from work, it becomes a habit and you don’t need to think about it. You don’t need any will power. It’s just a habit. Easy. If you only go out occasionally, each time you need to have the willpower to get going. Each time you have a million possible excuses which you could use to have just one more day off. You end up going once a week or less. Human beings like routines. They don’t like having to think.
  2. Get the right kit. You will need proper running training shoes. Not supermarket specials. Proper running shoes from a sports shop. Only they give the cushioning that old and / or unexercised legs need to avoid damaging knees and ankles. You will also need suitable clothing to support free-hanging weights. Ladies, that means a good sports bra. Saves so many black eyes for you and anyone around you. And Gentlemen need good fitting shorts to give suitable support a little further down….
  3. Get checked out by a doctor. It’s better to find out that you might have a minor heart weakness by having an ECG in a nice warm doctors surgery, than to find out the hard way. Your doctor can also advise you, based on your medical history, if there are any things you need to take special care of. .
  4. Start slowly. If you are going to have to go out everyday after work, the level of exercise need to be something you can manage daily. Not a superhuman effort which takes you two weeks to recover from. If you can only manage to walk for 30 minutes to start with, do that. After a few days you will start to get a bit faster. Eventually you can start to jog for 2 minutes and then walk for 2 minutes, then repeat until your half hour is up. .
  5. Warm up before you start. Start out fast enough to increase your body temperature, but not fast enough to break a sweat. Try to get all of your body moving – arms, legs, neck. Don’t start increasing the speed until you are nice and warm. .
  6. Record your progress. It’s amazing how quickly we forget. After 2 months when you can manage to run for 5 miles without stopping, you will probably have forgotten that you couldn’t walk for half a mile before you started. If you keep a record of your progress you will have a personalised, highly motivating record of how successful your health kick has been, whenever you have a lack of motivation. After all, if you can make such great progress in the last 2 months, what could you achieve in the next 2 months?

Following these simple tips can enable you to transform you health and weight, without suffering from any of the setbacks that can so easily torpedo your progress. And once you’ve started running to lose weight you just won’t want to stop!

© 2011 Rob Knowles

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