Who believes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Not us.
And certainly not Fauja Singh. The world's oldest marathoner ran his last race, the 10k of the Hong Kong Marathon (1:38:28), in February of 2013. He was 101 years old.
Believe it or not, his retirement age isn’t even the most phenomenal part of his story. What’s more impressive is the fact that Singh didn’t begin running until he was in his 80s.
Nicknamed the “Turbaned Torpedo”, the Indian-born Singh turned to running as a way to overcome the depression he was stricken with after the consecutive deaths of his wife and son. He ran the London marathon in 2000, then went on to run eight more until his last in Toronto in 2011, at the age of 100. It was then Singh became the oldest man to ever run a full marathon. However it remains “off the record” - Guinness World Records does not recognize this achievement because Singh doesn’t have an official birth certificate.
Race records show that the number of people taking up running over the age of 50 is growing. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing age groups, according to the Wall Street Journal. Boston Globe reports that "Over the past decade, the number of older runners participating in the Boston Marathon has more than quadrupled" and went on to note that 596 participants registered for the 2012 event were age 65 and older, 47 of them over the age of 75.
So what’s the deal?
It may be that older athletes are adopting the old adage “exercise is the best medicine” - because it’s true. Physiological benefits include improved blood pressure, bone density, glucose and cholesterol levels, body composition, muscle mass, aerobic capacity and the ability to perform the activities of daily living for longer, holding on to independence. Running can also be very social, and that too can be an encouragement.
Either way, the more active people in this world, the better! But older runners do need to take special precautions before jumping in with both feet. These precautions include lots of stretching and warming up, yoga, lots of water, rest between long runs and a longer period of time to train for races. For instance, an older runner may need eight longer than half-marathon runs included in marathon training, for acclimation. Older joints and bones need more TLC.
If you’re thinking about taking up running, and you’re in your golden years, consider the following tips before hitting the pavement:
Talk to your doctor.
Just let him or her know you would like to start running. If there are any issues, you will be made aware.
Know the warning signs.
Of injury, and of cardiovascular distress, such as signs of a heart attack.
You might want to start with walking for a few weeks, then walk/run. You can gradually increase the running while decreasing the walking.
Walk the walk.
You don’t have to run the whole race, in fact, even avid runners don’t always run. Embrace walking, it’s a nice break when things get monotonous.
Running is even hard on a young person’s joints - so being older you’ll need more time in between long runs. You’re more prone to injury as an older runner, so it’s important you practice yoga, drink lots of water and get lots of rest.