Running for fitness after the age of 60

OKEECHOBEE — I’ll start right out by explaining that I am not a fitness professional, I’m not a trainer, I’m not a doctor, and I know very little about the way the human body works, other than what I have observed in the last 63 years.

I will also state that in the long distant past, I enjoyed running for fitness, and then turned to bicycling as it seemed to be less stressful on my joints.

However, in the past few months, at the age of 63 and some odd months, I find myself, again, out running on the side of the roads in our small neighborhood, and really enjoying the experience.

Oh, before you try any of this, go see your doctor, and see if your heart and the rest of your body is healthy enough to allow you to stress it this way, as running can put a huge load on your heart and lungs and joints and thighs.

Here’s how this came about. We have a cruise scheduled and as most cruise lines do, this one has a private island in the Bahamas that is actually a private beach resort. On that island, the cruise line offers a 5K fun run, to start the day off. So as a fitness goal, I decided to get in shape to run the 5K on that day, in February of next year.

I have been walking for fitness for several years, and found that I ran into problems with my feet and joints, and had suffered through several minor injuries. But I also found that walking, while a healthy activity that anyone can do, gets to be boring, and for me seems to be just a bit too slow. So I began to look around for a plan to get me running again.

With an internet search, I came upon a plan called “Couch to 5K.” This is a free, eight-week long, training plan (though it has taken me much longer than eight weeks to complete), that takes someone from walking to running a distance of 3.1 miles, or 5K, in three workouts a week, for two months.

The Couch to 5K (C25K) program is loaded on the runner’s smart phone, and gives voice cues as to when to walk and run. The first week you start out with a five-minute walk, followed by jogging for a minute, and then walking for a minute and a half for a total of 20 minutes, followed by another five minutes of walking to cool down.

I like to listen to music when I walk or run, and the program is compatible with music running. You open and start the C25K program and get it started and then open your music program and get the music going. After five minutes of walking, the music mutes and a cheerful lady’s voice tells you to “begin running for 60 seconds” and then the music comes up again. It is really very clever how it all works together. At the end of the first 60 seconds of jogging, the voice again comes on and tells you to “walk for 90 seconds” and tells you how many you have done, and how many are required and then cues you to run again, at the end of the walk, over and over until you have completed the day’s training.

I have to admit, that as the workouts got longer and more demanding, I began to hate that voice just a little bit, especially later into the workouts when I was tired and not sure that I could complete.

For all of you who have never done this, jogging for a minute and then walking for a minute and a half doesn’t seem like much. But when you are as old and beat up as I am, and well overweight, this can be a difficult program to complete. Some weeks, especially early on, when I was beginning to build muscle and stamina, I did quit early a couple of times. So, at the end of week three, where you jog for 90 seconds and walk for 90 seconds, and then jog for three minutes and walk for three minutes and repeat that pattern, if I couldn’t complete the running, I simply did that week over again, until I could get it all done.

By the time you get around to week eight of the program, you are expected to walk for five minutes, and then run for 28 minutes, and walk for five minutes to cool down. The final workout is to run for 30 minutes for a total of three miles. Well, this is great, if you can jog a mile in 10 minutes, which I can’t. Even after two months of doing this, I still jog at a 12-minute rate. So to run three miles without stopping, I’ll need to run for 36 minutes.

My plan is to continue to train, now that I have completed the C25K program and continue to add to how long the runs are, until I can run without stopping for 40 minutes. I’ll do this by adding another two minutes to each run three times each week, until I can get it all completed.

It takes dedication to complete a program like this, and a good pair of shoes! I found that running in my old sneakers, the ones I bought at the discount store, was not a good idea. They did not support my foot correctly and lead to blisters and joint injury. I finally went over to the coast to a runner’s store, and got professionally fit to a good (expensive) pair of running shoes and insoles to support my high arch. I also learned that socks are very important. If your socks are slipping around on your feet, it leads to more blisters.

You quickly learn that stretching is very important, especially for my old tendons that have grown tough and tight. C25K starts each run out with five minutes of walking, and this is an important warm up, that gets the muscles limber and warm before the hard work really begins.

The end of the story is, that it can be done even at age 60 plus and there is a Couch to 10K program available for those of you who have your heart set on running six miles instead of three. I think I’ll reserve comment on the idea of running for six miles, until I have managed to run for three. But it’s a possibility.

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