Running as You Age

Recently, I read an interesting article in the NY Times called Why Runners Get Slower With Age by Gretchen Reynolds. Several reasons were listed including core and leg strength and reduced endurance capacity. But, I was particularly drawn to the statement that a runner’s speed and stride length decrease as the runner ages. I’m skeptical about the reported 20% per decade reduction (6 decades and you are effectively no longer moving; yes, I know each 20% is smaller, but after 6 decades your stride would be 26% of what it was originally; if I started at 36″, that would be 9.4 inches; my feet are longer than that), but convinced that it happens.

Here’s the effect. Suppose you used to have a 36″ stride and it has shortened over some number of years to 30″ (that’s less than 20%). A 3′ stride means 1760 steps in a mile. With your new 2.5′ stride, it now takes 2122 steps to cover a mile, and those extra 352 steps take time. How much time? Suppose you started with a 10 minute per mile pace. Then each step took .34 seconds. If you kept the .34 sec per step rate (unrealistic since your pace also slows), then those 352 steps would take 120 seconds—suddenly your pace is 12 minutes per mile.

I don’t like to admit it, but this is just what has happened. Some of the reasons, like reduced endurance capacity and reduced oxygen uptake and lung capacity are annoying because I don’t know how to do anything about them. I like blaming core strength and leg strength and stride length because, with my running experience, I know exactly what to do about them.

I started running at the beginning of my first year in high school. That would have been mid September in 1956. So, another thing that happened last week was that I finished my 59th year of running–enough experience to know what to do about those small issues.

In the last week, I’ve been stretching my stride just a little. You do that by dropping your hips a tiny amount and lifting you knees a little more. Tiny adjustments, not exaggerated adjustments; a 1/4 inch, not 3 inches. Darned if it doesn’t work. Substantial improvements in my (still very slow) pace and nice reductions in my 8 km (5 mile) time. Even old folks can improve–it isn’t all down hill all the time.

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