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Monday, March 27, 2006

Who wants to run forever?

If running is an aggravation, a duty that you feel you must work into your day regardless of whether you want to or not, then the idea of running forever may seem frightening and oppressive. For some people repeating the pain of running every day for the rest of their lives might feel like a nightmare. If on the other had you love running like I do, your nightmare might be, not being able to run for the rest of your life. I think this is one of the keys to unlocking how to run forever. But first I’m going to look at some of the objective reasons why a non-runner might want to think about starting running and running forever.

It’s still fairly typical to think of being fit as something of childhood or young adulthood. As for the growth of our waistline, the increase in our cholesterol, the dip in our energy levels, the breathlessness when trying to keep up with the kids… all of that is thought of as an inevitable consequence of growing older.

There are some truths about ageing that we can’t avoid. Our bodies can’t quite manage what they used to be able to, and we see the effects of age in our faces, no matter what creams or potions we use. Yet most of us find that we may gain lines, but also experience and some sort of wisdom from our years. Nature makes these trade-offs.

What about our bodies, then? Scientifically speaking there is a decrease in our lung capacity as we age, even amongst those who stay very fit. Our maximum heart rate is related to our age (you can approximate your maximum heart rates by subtracting your age from 220 beats per minute. If you’re 40 you might expect your maximum heart rate to be 180 beats per minute. Remember it’s an approximation!) Is our experience really like that though? The science tells you what you are capable of, but very few people go through life with fitness levels approaching their maximum.

If you did no running in school, there is no doubt you will be able to run better with training than you ever did at school, pretty much regardless of your age. The truth is a lot of children aren’t very fit – I guess I could out run the majority of kids at my children’s’ school! Certainly my stamina is much better than most, if not all of them. Stamina and the wisdom to pace yourself are two of the advantages of being a little older and smarter – it’s one of nature’s trade-offs!

So there is nothing to say you can’t get fitter as you get older, depending on where you started from. Some who have run constantly all their lives, like Dr Ron Hill, the famous British Marathon runner (who did amongst other things, win the Boston marathon), have seen their times slow as they get older. Ron Hill set the British 10 mile 16 kilometers) record with a time of 46 minutes and 44 seconds back in the late sixties (during an attempt at the world one hour record!). Now in his mid sixties, he is pleased to break 50 minutes for 10 kilometers (6 miles), but then so would many much, much younger runners.

For sure, we’re never going to see a 60 year old man win the Olympic 100 meters title, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t carry on running, and running well, well into our sixties, seventies and eighties. (And beyond – The current world record for the 100 meters for a 100 year old man is held by the South African 30.86 seconds. He trains with a daily 3.7 mile (5 kilometer) walk.)

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