Some years ago I read that only two percent of Canadian runners will continue with their passion after age 65. I was 60 at the time and struggling to keep running, so this low retention rate jolted me. There was a good chance I wouldn’t make it across the age 65 finish line.
I’ve never been able to verify that two percent statistic. Part of the problem rests with arriving at a definition of what constitutes a runner. We range from elite marathoners to twice a week joggers. Still, no person I’ve asked has doubted the figure’s veracity. All agree that a very low number of Canadians will be putting in the kilometres beyond traditional retirement age.
Think of this low percentage the next time you’re at a road race (hopefully, this summer). Look at a random group of 100 competitors in the crowd. Only two will still be running in their mid-60s. This is a sobering picture considering running’s unquestioned benefits of later-life health.
Recreational running boasts the highest participation rate of any sport on the planet. Why then do so many Canadians give it up? The most common answer comes in one word: knees. Yet running is actually healthy for knee joints. Others retire due to a physical ailment, such as a bad back, or some pressing medical issue. For most of us, there is a wealth of proven solutions to help extend our running lives.
Sport physiotherapy, dynamic stretching, yoga and core strength training are a few. Ditto for wellness initiatives like weight control, improved diet and ditching alcohol. For those of us committed to it for life, running is an exercise option worth pursuing. Yet baby boomers, Canada’s largest age wave in history, are giving it a pass. Quitting at 50 leaves them 30 years to watch others enjoying it.
Some of the blame lies with running events that focus on racing, winning and personal best times. Some runners are finished with these by age 50, if not earlier. Lowering athletic expectations is difficult for competitive personalities. Adjusting to running simply for pleasure is for the majority, impossible and they quit, for good.
I enjoyed the euphoria of big races – with 50,000 others in the Vancouver SUN Run – until age 53. I expected to continue racing weekend 10Ks forever. Then came the wall, that rapid decline so many experience, in my mid-fifties. Always fit and confident, I didn’t see it coming and didn’t know how to respond.
No longer a ‘serious’ runner I slipped into being an inactive, injured and overweight one – a physical train wreck.
I turned this around by learning to embrace running’s slower cousin, jogging. For me, it delivers all of running’s best outcomes – joy, health and energy. Jogging may even be my life-saver. Running after 60 – along with the positive habits that necessarily accompany it – isn’t just recreation. It’s medicine for late-life vitality and longevity. I sometimes feel I am, literally, running for my life.
This past year six people I knew died from cancer or heart incidents. All were in their 50s or 60s and were bright, positive people with a lot of life left to give. No, running wouldn’t have saved them all. It’s not a panacea for all medical ills. But determined, daily movement belongs somewhere in the larger discussion of late life wellness and preventive medicine.
Every day this year one thousand Canadians will turn 65. We’re an aging nation. The generation that ushered in the 1970s running boom will soon become the least active demographic in Canada.
“Of course they’re the least active!” I can hear people saying. “Do you really expect pensioners to be as active as thirty-somethings?” As contrarian as it sounds, yes, I do. We largely choose not to be because inactivity is built into our culture.
My province is brilliant at facilitating sport and physical activities for youth. This despite a large elderly population and serious levels of lifestyle-induced unwellness. A Herculean effort is made for active participation for the first 20 years of our lives but next to nothing for the last 20.
Negative social attitudes don’t help. I’ve become inured to the incredulous stares, smirks and outright head-shaking disgust from people who see me jogging. Apparently what I’m doing is off the charts weird. “A walk around the block with the dog, fine,” our society seems to say, “but running? At your age? Are you crazy?”
This despite science that appears to show that more, perhaps even most of us, may be capable of running into our 70s and 80s. Ontario phenom Ed Whitlock set world records in his 80s. Mick Jagger once said he jogged 10K a day. Sir Mick is 77 and going strong. Renowned Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami runs 10K daily. He is 71.
I was winning long distance races in 1970. I no longer need organized competition. I’m a proud jogger and honoured to have met Arthur Lydiard, the man credited with single-handedly inventing the activity I embrace. Lydiard told his running charges to slow down, to jog, because they were moving for the good of their health, not to win races.
Last summer I completed several solo rural rave runs, all of them challenging, gratifying and health-inducing. Their palpable sensation of freedom and bliss made this senior feel like the happiest runner in Canada. The plan is to continue them until I’m in my 80s. For now I’ll enjoy my membership in that rare runner’s group—the Two Percent Club.
Jenkins has just finished his book Jogging Through the Graveyard, Running For My Life After 60
I’m a female 76 years old and still running (I should say jogging) every second day from 5 to 8k.
But, I m not racing anymore. Many of my friends from my generation gave up, but I pleased that I keep going and enjoying all the benefits. I like this article. It does reflect the reality.
I’m 64. I started running at 59. This March I hope to celebrate by fifth healthaversary. Five years ago I was prescribed BP medication. Then and there I decided that I better take care of myself becasue starting with one pill begets other pills. So, I started running (or jogging). I took those pills for one month and them stopped. Fast forward to today. I’ve completed 2 marathons and over 60 runs of over 13.1 miles. Only the 2 marathons were formal “races”. All the rest I did on my own. Along the way I’ve shed 75 pounds, have no more BP issues, cured severe acid reflux, got rid of gout attacks etc. So, having started later in life I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. If I am not motivated all I do is look at that bottle of pills and I’m out the door 🙂
A wonderful article! I never did very much athletically when I was young (as a child I was pathologically clumsy, and as a young adult much more into the arts) That all changed when I was approaching 45, and realized that a.) I was starting to put on weight more easily and b.) I really didn’t have extraordinary artistic talent, but recalled that I had been widely praised for my natural ability in one sport (curling) as a teenager. So, I went back to the curling club…started running…learned to play tennis–and realized that I was no longer clumsy and uncoordinated–I could do all these things and do them well!! Now I am in my mid-60’s…curling all winter, playing tennis all summer (and a bit even now!) working out thrice-weekly, and running (yes, not always jogging!) though I have learned I can interpose the running with speedwalks and intervals, so as to save my knees. Having said that…I am probably going to need surgery on them before too long. But from what I have lately read about that, I fully expect to still be doing all these things I have come to love for however many decades are yet in front of me–I don’t know how I can possibly stop!
Running, as I approach 66 years in a couple of weeks, requires as much time with Activation and Recovery as it does actual time engaged. I am religious about weight training and stretching. It also requires a fair bit of financial resources to pay for services such as massage, personal training and Athletic therapy sessions.
I only run at most three times per week and pretty much keep it well under 10 km which is my now max. I have a very long history of running since my early 20s. And, use this as an excuse whenever I might feel a little frustrated that a 7 1/2 minute kilometre is a decent pace for me. I focus on being outdoors, fresh air and scenery around me.
Im addition, I’m also grateful for all the things my body still does which includes biking and swimming. I also don’t feel much excitement about racing but participation and my friends encouragement might get me to a start line when such activities re-open.
Thanks so much for writing this article! I’ve been running since I was 8 and have stopped and started through out the years depending on life events. I just turned 62 and plan on continuing running. Yes I have had to slow down and not push myself as much. No that is not easy especially when people younger than you push past you during a run or a race. Or when you have physicians tell you that you are to old to keep running!!! I’ve learned to tell myself that it’s okay to not be as fast or not run every day. Yes I people tell me I will eventually have to stop, that my knees will give out, etc. I have learned to let them talk and do what is best for me- tune them out and head out for that run! Hey we oldies probably are in better shape then most people half our age!!! More effort should be placed on encouraging aging populations to take up and continue running!
About to turn 70, I’m running way more frequently than anytime in the last 40+ years. Of course, there are the unfortunate runners who have career ending arthritis or something as sinister, but many of us carry on the rest of our lives.
71 and still running and therefore still very healthy. I just wish the pandemic would quit so I can race.
Road running and Masters track and field are really popular with us older folk. True, jumpers and hurdlers are relatively rare, but not runners at any of the distances. I will be entering a new competitive age division (65–69) and relish testing my limits after the Covid restrictions are lifted!
He plans to continue running until he is in his 80’s . . . why quit then? I’m 81, do two track workouts and one long, slow run a week along with daily walks and I don’t plan to quit until I drop.
Reasonably accurate article. I have been in every aspect of the running industry since 1974. I am still running at 73 and with the same running club for 40 years (Lions Gate Road Runners – Vancouver , B.C.). As one ages the recovery time and injury prevention is very important. Read the new book – ” Read My Hips ” by Dr. Wolf Schamberger. The only book you will need in your running career.
turning 66 this year… for the last number of years my aim has to be run a 10k in under my age in minutes (i.e. this year a 10k in under 66 minutes) last year my 10k was in 54 minutes
I’m a 60 year old competititive runner and I race constantly. As long as there’s age category results for races interest is kept up. As you get slower so do the others you’re racing against. A big problem is races more and more dropping age group awards. If you’re not young enough to be in the top 3 overall, you’re nothing.
What’s a solo rural rave run?
If you are wanting to meet like-minded people, interested in keeping fit and healthy as you age, whether recreationally, or competitively, check out Canadian Masters Athletics! We have sprinting, race walking, cross-country, jumping, throwing, road races and more
. Our website is https://canadianmasters.ca/ and we have a Facebook group at Canadian Masters Athletics / Vétérans canadiens en athlétisme.
I must be an exception to this trend, if most people give up running in their 50’s or 60’s. I never started till age 65. I lost 35 pounds BP normal. Im now more aware of diet and nutrition. I ran 10 k in my age in minutes when I was young and cocky and 65. I’ve graduated from running to jogging, I’m 72 now and in the best shape of my life thanks to a healthier lifestyle.
My oldest daughter started running 10 years ago at the age of 40 and has competed in numerous 5K, 10K and half marathons. My youngest daughter has hiked through everyone of the world’s highest mountain ranges over the past 10 years, starting in her late 30s. Admiring their accomplishments, I decided to start extend my walking and graduated to run/walking on a treadmill at the local community centre. Never having run in my life, indoors or outdoors, I joined one daughter at the freezing Toronto Waterfront for my first race just a few weeks short of my 78th birthday. The exhilaration of joining thousands of inspiring participants of all ages motivated me to work harder and enter the Ottawa Tamarack 5K the following May. Now at 82, I have run (jogged?) 5Ks at both venues, real and virtual every year since and have purchased a treadmill to run every day inside this winter and preparing for this year’s virtual races. My goal remains to beat my best time of 31m 23s and break the 30 minute barrier before I have to purchase a wheelchair and start at the back corral! One of the highlights of my late life running career was linking hands with my two daughters and son-in-law as we crossed the finish line in Ottawa. A subsequent visit to a cardiologist because of my Fitbit sleep reading of a low 48 bpm convinced me that he had a sense of humour when he claimed that my running was responsible for my healthy “athlete’s” heart.
I just turned 65 and I can so much relate to this article and to the many comments. Fortunately, I didn’t quit and I’ve been humble enough to adjust my expectations. PBs are well behind me now. My new PB is remaining meds-free and knowing that I am outperforming 99% of my peers who have reluctantly hung up their shoes. Looking forward to completing another marathon in 2021, COVID permitting. It’ll likely be a PW, but humility is a wonderful thing.
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