Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shifting Goals May Be Necessary for the 40+ Female Runner

Jannine Myers

Years ago, when I worked as an administrative assistant at a fitness center, I used to admire the team of fitness instructors who worked at the center, and in particular, some of the older women who led and mentored the younger instructors. These women were highly motivated, incredibly strong, and extremely passionate about helping others to succeed. I loved these women, but secretly, I was also happy to be a young woman, still in my 20s, and still full of youth and vitality.

Today, in my, ahem, early 40s, I realize that I am now the "older" woman amongst my athletic peers (thankfully, I have several friends on my team - you know who you are!). I guess I never really thought about it before because I often feel like I'm still in my 20s. But regardless of how I feel, the fact remains that I am indeed in the middle phase of my life and whether I like it or not, I have to be willing to accept that a gradual decline in performance is inevitable.

In accepting that fact, I am also faced with one of two options: a) cry about it and be miserable, or b) continue to give my best effort and be happy with my results. Since I don't care too much for misery, I think I'll go with option "b" and keep slugging it out. And although it may be true that my best days (in terms of race PRs), are soon to be behind me, I'm happy to say that I have found another way to challenge myself.

Yale economist and marathon runner, Ray Fair, analyzed record running data to predict the rate at which our running ability deteriorates as we age. His research concluded that a steady rate of decline  occurs between ages 35 and 70 to 75, and a rapid decline occurs thereafter. The decline, according to Fair, takes place in the form of a decrease in time of  1% , for most people. For me, that equates to 2 minutes per year!

Curious to see if Fair's estimations have any shred of credibility, I entered my information in his online time predictor calculator:

And, sadly, his predictions seem accurate, at least in my case. I entered my best marathon time, and my age at the time of my PR, and according to his predictions, my race times would decrease by approximately 2 minutes every year thereafter. My second best marathon time, which was achieved just one year after my PR, guessed it, two minutes slower! Sigh.....

But that's okay, as I said above, I'm not one for wallowing about in self-pity. I can use this information in a positive way - here's how:

I read somewhere that many people tend to get a sense of satisfaction out of doing better at something than they are expected to. I can think of one example right off the bat which lines up with this statement. One of my running clients recently exceeded the requirements of a workout I had prescribed for her (she ran faster than the pace range I had set for her), and when she later gave me feedback, she said she saw the pace range set for her and couldn't help challenging herself to run just a little faster.

I think we all have an inherent desire to run "just a little faster," or run "just a little further." We're driven by a quiet but competitive spirit which urges us to continually try and beat the odds. And that's what I hope will push me to keep trying, rather than settle for mediocrity. Granted, I don't expect to keep beating my race times, especially since I'm no longer in that younger age bracket of runners, but I now have a time predictor model which I can use as a bar upon which to set my race goals. Or, if I'm daring, I can race against my predicted times and try to beat them.

But that's essentially my grand plan - the strategy I intend to employ as a means of warding off any negativity that aging tries to impose upon me. Yes, I may be past my prime, and my run times may in fact be getting slower, but I can still set goals and and I can still challenge myself. That's enough incentive for me to stay motivated and excited about running in my 40s and beyond.

And on a final and positive note, I also read recently that research conducted by the Cooper Institute revealed that a woman in her 40s who can run a mile in under 9 minutes, is considered "quite fit," and at less risk of developing heart disease in her later years. Conversely, a woman in her 40s who runs a mile in 12 or more minutes may have a higher risk of heart disease later in life. Fortunately for me, I fall into the former category - another reason to stay happy and excited about running!

Still happy to be running!

Incidentally, the research also showed that a woman in her 40s, who runs a mile in 12 minutes or more, can potentially improve her mile time and subsequently decrease her risk of heart disease.

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