Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Richard A. Lovett
Running, it is often said, is a lifelong sport. You can start as early as grade school and keep going as long as you can put one foot in front of the other. You grow, mature, set PRs and (hopefully) break them again and again.
But there comes a time when the PR chase grows difficult, except for those who entered the sport later in life and are still relatively new to it. And even those runners have to accept the fact that try as they might to keep fit and youthful, their bodies inexorably decline.
It’s a process that on average begins sometime in our 30s. The rate of decline gradually increases to about 0.7 percent per year (with slight variations among events and between men and women) throughout our 40s, 50s and 60s, according to the current (2010) version of the age-grading tables maintained by World Masters Athletics (available online through numerous age-grading calculators).
The reasons for this decline are mixed and not terribly well-understood from a basic physiological level. What is known is that age lowers VO2 max and decreases muscle mass. Accumulated wear and tear makes you less flexible. All forms of healing take longer, including recovery from hard workouts, something you can’t ignore unless you want to spiral into an endless cycle of overtraining and injury.
The good news is that it could be worse. At the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon, 59-year-old Christine Kennedy of Los Gatos, California, ran an age-defying 2:59:39, a time many runners half her age only dream of. “Humans are well-adapted to run into late middle age,” says Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who figured prominently in the bestselling book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. In fact, says Lieberman, who has spent part of his career studying pre-industrial cultures, our ancestors appear to have evolved to continue running or hunting well into today’s masters years. “Hunter/gatherers who survive childhood often live into their 70s or even 80s and remain very active,” he says.
That does not mean, however, that the biology of aging can be ignored. It’s still necessary to adjust your training—and your expectations—to the realities of getting older. Those adjustments differ as you progress along the masters path.