Here's What to Keep in Mind If You Are Over 40 and Training for a Marathon
You can totally do this — just be sure to take care of yourself
Stephanie Emma Pfeffer has two young kids and is training for the New York City Marathon. Follow her journey on the road to NYC.
Here are some of my favorite ways to procrastinate on long run days while training for the TCS New York City Marathon as part of Michelob ULTRA’s TeamULTRA: Look at photos of my niece, pee, empty the dishwasher, respond to a few DMs, pee, realize I’m still hungry, eat some form of nut butter plus easily digestible carb snack, apply Body Glide, nearly lock self out of apartment while going to get iPhone arm band, pee one last time, wonder if I applied enough Body Glide, apply more in unmentionable places, drink another sip of water (but not too much!), wonder why I am doing this, change my mind, go back to bed.
Kidding! I head out.
But seriously, I was relieved to learn that even the pros need an extra nudge now and then. I spoke with Kathy Manizza, Head Coach of Track and Field/Cross Country at Eastern Connecticut State University about race prep. A friend connected us because Kathy, 61, is running her first marathon in 20 years on Oct. 12 in Hartford, Conn. So I couldn’t wait to pick her brain about training as a … not 20-year-old.
“I struggle with some of the same things,” she says. “I like to ride my bike, but after a 65-mile bike ride, my legs don’t feel like a long run, so how will I fit it all in?” I loved that she, too, has days where she balks at the time commitment of training.
As my training gets more seriously underway, I had to ask her: Is my not-that-young body going to break from this endeavor? Probably not! According to Running USA, a nonprofit that tracks the running industry, the average age for male marathon finishers is 40, and for women, 37. Overall, 50 percent of finishers are 40 or older. And we have all heard those amazing stories of people in their 70s and 80s who are out there running 26.2 miles like it’s NBD.
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But, since Kathy and I are, ahem… over 20 (and 30, and 40), there are some things we need to consider:
- We need more rest days. “I can’t run 6 or 7 days a week anymore,” says Kathy. “I try to run 3 or 4 days and cross-train the other days, and make my long runs the central focus point of the week — but it’s still tricky to balance it all.”
- Nutrition matters more than ever. “Getting the right fuel for your activities is critical for all runners, but even more crucial as we get older,” she says. Specifically, we should consume protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of working out. “It will make a huge difference in your recovery and how you’re able to attack the next workout.” One of Kathy’s tricks is to prep her protein shake beforehand so that when she gets home she can consume it right away. “You want to get it before you jump in the shower, something you can digest quickly,” she says. “You’ll feel better the next day.”
- “As we get older, we need more protein,” says Kathy, adding that it can be vegetarian or vegan protein. I am not a huge meat eater, so I was happy to hear that I can substitute with scrambled eggs or tofu. “That’s what your muscles want,” Kathy explains. “If you don’t have that, your body is going to start using muscles for fuel, and it’s already harder to build muscle at this point.” Although it’s a little sad to face the fact of muscle loss with age, it’s good to know what not to do to accelerate the process. Kathy says her protein “cheats” include mixing protein powder into yogurt and eating that alongside vegetables. “It might not seem like a traditional dinner — a big salad and a bowl of yogurt with protein powder — but at least it’s the nutrients that my body needs.”
- Take the time to prevent injuries. As we get older, our muscles get tighter. “I have to foam roll because my muscles are so tight,” says Kathy. “It’s not my favorite thing to do but I just told my husband the other day, ‘I am going to do this 15 minutes every morning and night!’ ” I can’t express the joy in knowing that the conversation this legit track coach has with her husband is the same one I have with my 6-year-old. The takeaway here: Make it a habit. I am proud to say my children now know what I mean when I ask then to fetch me the foam roller. (Runner mommy win!) Besides foam rolling and regular stretch sessions, Kathy says to fit in little stretches wherever possible, even if it means holding a calf stretch while on the phone or balancing on one foot while brushing teeth to strengthen the ankles.
- Last but not least, she says, there are the obvious things: Get enough sleep, rest in between workouts and be sure to hydrate throughout training. Staring down a 16-miler this weekend, you can bet I am going to do everything she says.