They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But Fauja Singh probably begs to differ.
Singh, the world's oldest marathoner, ran his last race this February at the age of 101. He ran the 10k of the Hong Kong Marathon in 1:38:28.
His retirement age isn't even the most remarkable part of this story. Rather, it's the age Singh started running. The “Turbaned Torpedo”– the Indian-born Sikh's nickname — didn't set out for his first run until he was in his 80s.
Singh turned to running as a way to get over the depression that followed the successive deaths of his wife and son. In 2000, he ran his first marathon, the London marathon, and went on to run eight more. In 2011, at 100, he finished his final marathon, Toronto, and became the oldest man ever to run a full marathon (Guinness World Records does not recognize Singh's accomplishment because he doesn't have an official birth certificate).
A growing trend
Singh is hardly alone. People are taking up running at later ages and continuing to run well into their senior years. Take the 2012 Boston Marathon, 596 runners age 65 and older ran the event — and 47 of them were over age 75. According to the Wall Street Journal, runners over 50 represent one of the fastest growing age groups in the sport. At Walk Jog Run, 5 percent of our members are over 50, with half of those being runners (the other half are a combination of walkers, swimmer, cyclers, etc.)
Experts aren't sure why this older runner boom is happening, but they have some theories. It could be because as people retire, they take up new hobbies. Running is not only a great way to spend time, but if you run with groups, it helps you stay social. Plus, more people may be turning to running because, as a country, we're all looking for ways to get healthier and exercise more.
5 tips for older runners
If you're in your golden years and want to give running a try, know that you can't just hit the pavement. Take these precautions — which can benefit runners all ages — before you lace up your shoes:
- Get clearance from your doctor. Let your doctor know you plan on starting an exercise program, and ask him or her if there are any safety measures you should take.
- Ease into it. If you're new to exercise, start by walking for a few weeks. Then, add in short jogging spurts. Gradually increase the time you spend running, and decrease the time you spend walking.
- Keep it slow. Note that many people who “run” races, don't actually run the entire race. Plenty of runners do the walk-run method from the start to the finish. This approach could be especially beneficial for senior runners, since running is harder on aging joints and muscles.
- Take plenty of rest days. Younger runners may be able to run on back-to-back days without problems. However, older bodies take longer to recover and are more prone to injuries. Take days off from running, stretch, or practice yoga regularly, and stop exercising and see your doctor at the first sign of injury.
- Know the risks. There are heart attack risks for older runners, but studies suggest they're not much different than that of younger runners. And for healthy individuals, the benefits of exercise usually outweigh the risks. But of course, stop running and seek immediate medical help if you experience chest pain — at any age.
So we'd love to hear from you: When did you start running?
Written by Jenilee Matz, MPH. Jen is writer, runner, and new(ish) mom living in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C. You can follow her at www.runnerstrials.com and ask her a question below!