When Tim Murphy awoke on his 40th birthday, he weighed 265 pounds. Unhappy with his fitness, he vowed to change.
“I saw my father taking 20 prescriptions a day and I didn’t want to do that,” Murphy recalled. “Up to that point in my life, I was oblivious [to wellness].”
He decided to start running. He liked it. About 10 months later, he completed his first marathon.
Today, Murphy is 55 and a seasoned runner. In the last 15 years, he has finished 28 half or full marathons. He currently weighs 183.
“It’s a commitment to say you really want to change,” said Murphy, chief executive of Boomers Parks, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based chain of family entertainment centers. “Once you decide to run a marathon, you need to plan properly, eat properly, hydrate enough and keep practicing.”
Murphy took up running while still employed. Retirees, on the other hand, have lots of free time. Stories of late-blooming runners, those sinewy 75-year-olds who run (and win) road races, can inspire the rest of us to spring into action.
It’s easy to read about these people and think, “Good for them, but they are health nuts. They’re not like me.”
Not so fast. Perhaps you can take a baby step now, decide you’re ready for more and make incremental progress.
“Many individuals have become latecomers to the sport [of running],” said Adam Tenforde, M.D., a sports physician at Mass General Brigham. And some aging joggers advance in stages, setting their sights on completing races from a 5K to 10K to half marathon to the 26.2-mile full marathon.
If you’re thinking of lacing up your running shoes and bolting away with the Chariots of Fire soundtrack filling your earbuds, proceed with care.
“Any new activity requires time to adopt,” Tenforde said. “A gradual increase is what’s advised to reduce risk of injury.”
He suggests checking with your doctor before you embark on a running routine, especially if your days are largely sedentary. But if you have a track record of keeping physically active, you’re better equipped to embrace running.
Tenforde cites a friend who enjoyed competitive speed walking as a young adult.
“She transitioned to running in her late 50s,” he said. “Now she’s discovered marathons and she has won races in her age group. She already had good aerobic capacity built up over time,” so that helped her succeed at running without suffering major injuries.
Despite your best efforts, however, injuries can and probably will occur. Murphy has undergone double hernia surgery and bunion surgery as a result of his hard-core running. And he’s dealt with shin splints.
“I use orthotics now,” he said. “It’s all worth it. Crossing that finish line is magical for me. Then I crave doing it again.”
When you hear about older runners who complete marathons, you may not relate to them. But that shouldn’t stop you from gaining strength from their discipline and sense of purpose.
“Rather than compare yourself to them, get inspired by them,” said Angie Spencer, who co-hosts the “Marathon Training Academy” podcast. “Don’t say, ‘I could never do that.’ Instead, ask, ‘What can I do?’”
For retirees who want to start running, she recommends buying high-quality shoes.
“If possible, get fitted at a specialty running store,” said Spencer, a Pennsylvania-based running coach. “You might need a shoe size that’s ½ to 1 size larger” than your other shoes.
After your physician gives you the thumbs-up to run, Spencer says there’s one more prerequisite to test if you’re ready to begin: Make sure you can walk briskly for 3 miles.
It might take you around an hour. But if you complete a few of these walks without discomfort, it’s a reassuring sign that your body can withstand sustained physical activity.
“You can be intimidated at first with running,” she said. “You might think, ‘I have to run for a long time without stopping.’ So try 30-second run/walk/run intervals to prime the pump and build up support structures in your body.”
Spencer has coached many older marathoners. She calls them “some of my favorite people” because they radiate such joy and enthusiasm.
“They tend to be goal-oriented and self-motivated,” she said. “There’s also a stubbornness that they apply in a positive manner. They might be retired, but they still want to push themselves.”