11 Tips to Start Running at 50

Read the full article for advice on how to start running at 50 years old (and beyond).

You are never too old to start running. Yes, even if you are in your 50s, 60s, or beyond, you can start running! This article provides actionable advice for how to safely start running at 50 years old – or older. 

Preparing for Running

Younger athletes are often able to start a running program without preparation. People in their teens and twenties tend to have a higher VO2max, but this deteriorates with age. Additionally, recovery rates and muscle mass decline after age 30.  When you start running at 50 and beyond, starting a running program takes more deliberate preparation. That preparation includes medical clearance, defining your goals, and following a walking program. 

Get Medical Clearance

If you are new to any type of exercise, you will want to start by getting medical clearance. One way to get medical clearance is to schedule a physical exam with your primary care physician and discuss your intention to start running during this appointment. 

A personal trainer or coach may first administer a PAR-Q+. A PAR-Q+ is a physical activity readiness questionnaire. This questionnaire consists of seven steps and assesses your safety to start exercise. If your questionnaire indicates a risk of disease, you will want to get medical examination before starting a running program. 

Start with Walking

Once you are cleared, you will want to start with walking. This step is very important if you had not been following any exercise program before. A walking program will prepare your cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems to start running. 

Running is a high-impact sport. The risk of injury is higher when starting a running program, since your muscles, joints, and bones are not adapted to the impact. If you are new to exercise, you can mitigate your injury risk by starting with walks. 

Walking will lightly load your musculoskeletal system so that your bones and muscles are more prepared for running in a few weeks. Additionally, walking is a form of low-intensity cardio exercise. Your aerobic system will develop in response to walking, which will make running feel easier. 

A walk program can be as basic as starting with three 30-minute walks per week. Plan on taking four to six weeks to gradually build your walking fitness before starting a run program. Once you can walk three miles comfortably, then you can start a run-walk program. 

If you had been cross-training or lifting weights, you may be able to start first with a run-walk program (see below). 

Clarify Your Goals

Why do you want to start running? It is important to understand your motivation. Not only will a clear motivation help you build the habit, but establishing your goals will help you develop your running plan. 

Do you want to maintain fitness as you age? A plan that focuses on two to four runs per week of a few miles each is appropriate. If your goal is to cover a race distance, your plan may be more focused on increasing running mileage. 

Proper Running Technique

When you begin running after 50, running may initially feel a bit awkward. While we do not often conceptualize running as a skill sport, there is an element of skill. Your running form will improve with repeated practice – the more runs you do, the better running technique you will develop. Additionally, some form cues will help you have proper running technique from the start. 

From the start of doing run-walk intervals, you want to focus on a quick cadence. Running involves a higher cadence than walking. Visualize picking your feet up and taking short, quick steps. Try to minimize the amount of time your foot is on the ground between strides. 

Focusing on a slight forward lean is another helpful running tip. If you remain upright or lean back while running, you are less efficient and more likely to experience lower limb injury. A slight forward lean from the ankles and hips will improve running form. This forward lean may feel unnatural at first. Some basic drills (such as these from Run to the Finish) will help you master the forward lean. 

Injury Prevention and Recovery

No matter your age, there is always an increased risk of injury when increasing running mileage – including when you start running. You can implement certain injury prevention strategies to mitigate your injury risk so you can safely start running at 50. 

The most important thing is to not rush your recovery. Fancy gadgets like compression boots may feel nice, but they are not permission to do too much too soon with your running. When you start out, you need to allow ample time for recovery in between runs, no matter how you feel. When you start, you will likely want to take a day off of running in between each run. You may only start with three days of running per week – and that’s okay! This is meant to be your starting point that allows you to safely build. 

Additional Safety Tips for Running After 50

In addition to not rushing your recovery, there are other steps you can take to start safely running after 50. These include using run-walk intervals, lifting weights, adequate rest days, recovery nutrition, and more.

Begin with Run-Walk Intervals 

Run-walk intervals are one of the most valuable tools for a new runner. The walk breaks allow your heart rate to come down throughout the run, which helps running feel easier initially. It may take a few weeks to six months for your cardiovascular system to adapt to running. Planned walk intervals also reduce musculoskeletal stress, thus reducing injury risk. 

You can customize run-walk intervals based on your fitness. If you are starting from walking, you can try 1-minute run intervals with 2-3 minute walk intervals. If you have a background in other types of exercise, you can start with 2-4 minute run intervals and 1-2 min walk intervals. 

Start with Two Rest Days Per Week

Masters athletes of any experience level can benefit from two rest days per week. Two rest days per week can be especially advantageous to new runners over 50. You may experience more soreness when you start a new program. Extra rest days also provide insurance against injury as your body adapts to running.  

Lift (Relatively) Heavy Weights

The aging process can result in muscle loss and decreased bone density after age 30. While running provides many health benefits, it does not significantly increase lean muscle mass or improve bone density. However, resistance training does promote both increased muscle mass and bone building. 

If you are completely new to strength training, you do not want to start with heavy weights. Instead, begin with bodyweight exercises for a couple months. Once you feel more comfortable, gradually introduce weights. Heavy lifting is always relative – you don’t need a barbell, just enough weight to challenge you. 

Most runners will respond positively to two or three strength sessions per week. When starting out, do your runs and strength training sessions on separate days. For example, you might run three times per week, lift twice per week, and have two rest days per week. 

Eat Enough Protein

Recovery nutrition is a priority no matter your age. However, for master runners, recovery nutrition is essential. Protein needs increase after age 40. According to a 2012 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, athletes over 40 may need up to 30-40 grams of protein per serving, compared to 20-30 grams of protein for muscle protein synthesis in younger demographics. 

Protein needs are not isolated to the post-run recovery window. Runners over 50 need to ensure they eat enough protein throughout the whole day. You can get protein from whole foods and protein powders.

Vary Your Training Surface 

Running on concrete and pavement has a higher impact. If you feel overly beat up from doing your runs on hard surfaces, consider incorporating some softer surfaces into your weekly routine. Trail running reduces the impact of running, so you will feel less sore. 

One distinct benefit of trail running over 50 is extra stability work. Balance declines with age. However, trail running requires extra stability than road running. Trails can improve your balance and muscular strength. 

You do not need to start with technical trails. Gravel paths, grassy fields, and gentle dirt paths provide softer surfaces without the inclines or obstacles of mountain trails. 

Related: How to Start Trail Running on the Tread Lightly Podcast

Learn about Running

When you start running, one of the most helpful things you can do is learn about running. Many beginner mistakes are made simply out of not knowing better. There are a wealth of resources available for free now! 

You can listen to podcasts, follow running accounts on Instagram, and read articles. Follow me on Instagram for free running tips shared several times per whole week

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