So you want to be a 90-year-old runner

Hmm, my guess is that being able to run at 90 isn’t at the top of most people’s wish lists.  Maybe being alive and healthy at 90?  Maybe being alive at 90 only if healthy?  But running, not so much so.  [I do understand that more people than not can’t imagine wanting to run at any age!]

However, being a runner*, I sat up and took notice when this article appeared in the New York Times last month: These 90-year-old runners have some advice for you.  Their main advice: Stay consistent, stay persistent, and stay in motion.

OldLadyRunning

This article was inspired by the U.S. National Senior Games held recently, which included events ranging from the 50 m to the 1500 m.  My favourite paragraph describing the scene was:

Many of the runners were 75 to 99 years old and didn’t pick up running until they were in their 60s [hey, that’s like me!]. Some needed a bit of assistance getting their shoes on before making their way to the start line. But all shared in their determination to compete — and to complete each race.

One participant/competitor explained, “I just enjoy it.  I’ll keep going as long as my joints hold up.”

And there’s the rub for many of us.  I’m one of those weirdos who love to run, even though being competitive has never ever been a remote desire or possibility.  The great news is that you can enjoy every day that you’re out on the trails and you can enjoy the camaraderie of race events without worrying about “winning”; you don’t need to be competitive.  As long as your joint holds out.

Unfortunately, my joints – or at least one hip joint – is winning this battle at the moment.  Like most people who’ve ever tried running for more than a few weeks, I’ve had plenty of injuries that have sidelined my running from time to time: hamstring injuries, groin injuries, IT band tendonitis (I didn’t even know what the IT band was before I started running), sore foot, blisters, tight Achilles, you name it.  It’s amazing how much you learn about your body when you devote time to running, or to any sport.  Aside from what works and what doesn’t – and why – you become familiar with physiotherapists, massage therapists, ice packs, heating pads, and a wide variety of handy-dandy medications, supports and bandages, and kines tape.  There’s a whole world out there just waiting to help you put yourself back in shape!

But joints filling up with arthritis turns out to be more stubborn.  No amount of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is going to make the arthritis go away.  I was one of the lucky ones who somehow managed to “come back from the edge” and start running again (slow, recreational, old-lady running) not once but twice after I thought my hip had won.  This time I think it really has me. But … wait a minute, surgery might do the trick.    If Andy Murray can play world class tennis with a metal hip, surely I should be able to engage in a little slow, recreational, old-lady running?!

Yvonne Aasen, 90, of Maryland, competing in the U.S. Nationals.  That’s what I call inspiration.YvonneAasen

No matter what happens next, I know to be appreciative of every step I take when I can take them.  And I derive plenty of pleasure simply from reliving former running routes in my mind.  Being able to conjure up the experience is almost like being back on the trails, covering the kilometers.  Sigh.

* Runner: Someone who laces up their sneakers, heads out the door, and puts one foot in front of the other in a running-like motion, regardless of speed or lack thereof.

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40 Responses to So you want to be a 90-year-old runner

  1. Rose says:

    Inspiring post Jane! I love this phrase; “There’s a whole world out there just waiting to help you put yourself back in shape!” I’ve learned how important it is to use the heating pads and ice, and be part of a team. While there are times we need to do things solo, too often we try to do everything ourselves, embarrassed to ask for help. The best thing we can do is ask for help when we need it, and be sure to lend support to others. Sharing the loads helps build teamwork and a supportive community. I hope your hip will heal fantastically. You’ve recovered from so many running interruptions already, proving your amazing ability to ‘get right back on the horse’. Sending lots of healing your way. 🙂

  2. I’ve never been a runner, but I enjoy walking and light cardio/strength workouts. I have arthritis in my knees, which is now migrating elsewhere, but I totally believe in staying in motion. I was told that one day I’ll need knee surgery, but I’m doing my best to strength my body to avoid injury or surgery. Kudos to the seniors who are active and my deep admiration to those who are competing. My husband (who ran his 1st half marathon at age 47) is interested in joining such a group of seniors when he retires from the day job.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Gosh, I hope your knees are kind to you, Debra. If your husband has already done a half then he’ll love being retired when the time comes. That was one of my prime retirement activities when I retired; you suddenly have all this time to do long runs! Fun!! 😏😊

  3. debscarey says:

    I loved the comment about those senior runners needing help getting their shoes on. Who am I kidding, I empathise with it 😀 My left knee needs a replacement. I’m putting it off as the requirements of recovery tend to take all your energy and, as I’m trying to build an audience for my coaching business, that’s taking all the energy I have spare. I also need to do more stretching and strengthening exercises so I’m in better shape when starting post-op recovery!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It sounds like you’ve got a practical plan for getting your knee done at the appropriate time, Debs. It will improve your quality of life, but you’re right that the recovery (and conscientious rehab) does take a serious amount of time. Best wishes with it.

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    As you’d expect Jane, I’m all over this. I find myself not only fit and healthy in my 70th year but able to race pretty hard and push towards my limits. You mention that many people only take up running in their middle years and, being young in running years, we’re not plagued by wear and tear so much, and still have some youthful-like enthusiasm for the sport. As mentioned by Bernie above ^^ grouping by age category encourages one to bash on as long as the mind and body permits. That said, I’m not a big fan of oldies gathering together to compete against one another – I’d sooner race against everyone. (P.S. that gives me the opportunity to relive the time I was Irish shot putt champion M55 – no one else in that category took part that year 🙂 )

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, I certainly love the age categories! It gets better and better the higher the age category, as those joints start to give out in more and more people. For me, while I’m sidelined, I can always get vicarious pleasure from reading your excellent descriptions!

  5. Bernie says:

    I started running around age 45 when I got into triathlons. I love biking and swimming so it seemed like the thing to do but it always felt hard. But I was excited to move up into a new age category and then Covid….I have not swam lanes or run since. Are my triathlons over? This article tells me no…just need to lose the 20 pound sack of “potatoes” so running isn’t so hard!! Bernie

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Wow, triathlons! If you can just start with slow run/walks (like 1 min jogging followed by 3-5 min walking) and then slowly increase, that will help you lose the weight as you gain conditioning. But be careful of your back!

  6. While these stories are inspiring, we have to remember that not everyone’s body is made out for running, especially in advanced age, and that’s okay. Keep moving is the mantra–whatever form it takes. Personally, I hope to still be dancing to the end of my days. Walk, swim, do chair yoga, lift weights. Avoid frailty at all costs.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      You are exactly right. Hopefully everyone can find some physical activity that brings them joy and personal satisfaction. And keeping moving will help us be able to participate in the actif our choice for as long as possible.

  7. Keep going, Jane! I was a track runner in school and briefly in college before my knees started going out on me (hit too many hurdles). Now it’s one of my feet with a plantar fascia. But I’m a slave to the elliptical. Keep moving is my motto. – Marty

  8. It’s the definition of runner for me 😅. Delightful post, Jane!

  9. heimdalco says:

    After several years sitting at the computer writing stuff, doing 2 newsletters & administering 3 Facebook pages I recently started … REstarted … an exercise program (I’m your age). Amazing how much you lose not exercising. I’ve been back on the elliptical for a week & have made it back to 8 minutes a day. Doggone thing whipped my fanny. I think I’ll stay away from running & just work my way back to a healthy elliptical experience once a day. It’s MUCH easier because I’ve had 2 knee replacements. If the hip keeps nagging you, go for the hip replacement. You’ll be glad you did when you can run / walk without pain. RN that I am, I put off the first one as long as I could. I welcomed the second. Life is too short to limp & limping makes us look funny in a bikini … LOL.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Bravo on starting a renewed exercise program, Linda. Finding what you like doing is key, and you just feel so much better. Bad knees would have been a huge barrier. Not to worry, as soon as the X-Rays show it’s time, I’m there. At the moment I’m helping my husband recover from his first of 2 hip replacements. And I’ve had one shoulder done; it was like a miracle. However, I’m interested that you are the second RN to say that you hesitated to get the surgery at first! ??! 😏

      • heimdalco says:

        I was an OR nurse & I think after assisting with so many joint replacements I just didn’t want to have one. After a while there was no choice. I was limping all the time & my back was killing me so I gave in & had the first one. What a relief! Nurses are funny creatures. We HATE having stuff done to us … We also know way too much & ALWAYS think the worst if we or our family member is the patient. My husband no longer tells me if he’s sick because I rushed him to the hospital once for what I was sure was life-threatening that was incredibly minor.

  10. Margaret says:

    No reason at all why you won’t be out there in action after your surgery, says empathic retired nurse 🙂 I love your definition of ‘runner’.
    As for me, I don’t even tie my laces, just put on my comfortable, laceless, Skechers and off I go …. walking 😌
    “Get that hip done” as I’ve been asking husband to do for the last 15 years! To no avail 😕

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Margaret (aka Margiran). Yes, if your husband’s a candidate for hip replacement surgery, he should embrace it. Just 5 weeks after his surgery, my husband’s seeing the change big-time. As for Skechers, love them!

  11. Wynne Leon says:

    I love from your NYT excerpt that they sometimes need help with their shoes. Yes! And your * note to define a runner – hilarious and edifying. I think you are right about just staying in motion. I’m sorry to hear about your hip. One of my climbing friends who is in her 60’s replaced both her hips last year and she is so relieved to be free of the pain. But however you proceed, I have no doubt you will keep moving and motivating us to do the same!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, joint replacement surgery (including for shoulders) is a game changer. My husband’s on that path right now. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Wynne. I’ll try to keep motivating folks to keep moving, but probably not mountain climbing! Too scary for me!!

  12. Dr. John Persico Jr. says:

    Jane, I started running in 1975 and have been running, jogging for 47 years now. I hope to make it to fifty. Joints are still good (maybe Glucosamine Chondroitin or maybe Yoga three times a week for fifty years) and I am still going but not as fast. Using my Garmin on a run this week, I usually just clock with a Casio watch, I noticed I am only running at 11:30 per mile. Just four years ago, my jogging times were in the 9 minute range. Last year I a was in the 10’s. I think my watch is running slower. Good fun article.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Lol. That’s probably it, John, your watch is slowly down. Funny, mine’s been doing the same thing! I’ve been faithful with the glucosamine chondroitin, but not the yoga. But I didn’t get into sustained long distance running until I retired 11 years ago. Absolutely love(d)it.

      • Dr. John Persico Jr. says:

        Well Jane, I wish you the best. I took up swimming and bicycling in the past when a change was needed. Many different ways to get a good cardio workout. I still find it necessary to balance flexibility training, strength training, cardio and now balance work to keep some overall fitness. It does get harder to get the shoes laced each day but I don’t see a good alternative. I know you read my blog on setting exercise goals so I wont’ preach to the choir. I think we don’t age as much like “Fine Wine” as we do bananas. We get grayer and more wrinkly each passing year. IMHO , John

  13. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    The runners are out there.

  14. I have tried running but never had the motivation and since hip and back problems have become the norm I now settle for walking. I really enjoy a nice long walk in nature preferably as far as possible from the noises of civilization. I also enjoy a nice pool swim which doesn’t aggravate the joints and can be a little Zen like.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Walking and golfing, right?! It’s great you can be so active with hip and back issues. Keep up the good work, Wayne. My hip is weird; walking is actually more painful than running for me.

  15. Good luck with that hip! As someone who has “creaky knees,” I sure can sympathize. I must admit that running has never been my thing, but boy oh boy, do I ever admire seniors who running in their 80s and 90s.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      And I admire people with creaky knees who keep up their intensive gardening regardless! I can’t get down and weed anymore … I’ve decided. It’s interesting how we all choose which activities to keep up no matter what and which ones we are willing to acknowledge are time to give up. 😏😂

  16. Okay, maybe I need to get back to running! I’m not sure about running until I’m 90, that’s another story altogether, but I know I could benefit again from being out on a trail and letting my thoughts and the sound of my breathing and legs carry me farther than I ever expected to run. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh yes, Brian. If you can actually remember that sense of freedom and personal satisfaction of being out on a run then you should definitely dust off those sneakers and head out the door. It’ll feel so good! 😊🏃🏽‍♂️

      • I like your definition of running 🙂 A while back I learned what’s the difference between running and walking. It’s, like you said, not the speed. During running, both your feet are off the ground at some time. During walking, even if it’s faster than someone else’s running, at least one foot is always anchored on the ground!

  17. I have never had any desire to run, and don’t plan to start now (or in my 90s). However, it seems as though we may we walking the same hip route together (both hips, in my case). I have an orthopaedic consultation next week. Maybe we’ll start a tag team of parallel hip surgery blogging? 🤔 No racing involved though, just baby steps. I hope all goes well for you, whatever stage you’re at.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh no, Francine, both hips, that’s tough. That’ll limit your exotic house-sitting for a few months. But getting the surgery done is so worth it. My husband’s just passed the 5-week mark after his first hip surgery. It’s a slow but steady recovery but suddenly you just forget you ever had that pain! Yes, I’ll be looking forward to reading about your next steps!!

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