Neil Featherby: It's never too late to start running

Field of Pain

Field of Pain sessions have started up again under the eyes of Neil Featherby and Chas Allen. - Credit: Neil Featherby

During the last couple of weeks, I have once again started a weekly running group with Chas Allen. 

Those who have been coming along did so previously and of course are all fairly experienced. 

However, I am also now getting approached by a number of beginners including some over the age of 60. 

With this in mind and being over 60 myself, I thought that this will make for a nice little column this week. 

Running, jogging or even brisk walking is a super form of exercise for the over 60s, but whilst this is applicable for me and others who have been active all our lives, does this still apply to the over 60 beginner? 

My first reaction has been to tell anyone who hasn’t exercised for several years that they may want to consider getting checked out by a medical professional first whilst also being aware of any issues they may have had previously. 

Field of Pain training session

Action from a Field of Pain training session. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Running really is a great way to keep fit. It will not only improve your cardiovascular system, but also help to strengthen your bones, joints and muscles too. 

Most Read

However, only if it is done very carefully and gradually. 

Even someone still in their prime years needs to be very careful when first starting out, but the difference between a 30-year-old and a 60-year-old is in recovery rates, muscular strength and balance whilst not forgetting wear and tear over the years. 

Needless to say, it is also important for the older person not to try and compare themselves to what they may have been able to do in their much younger years. 

Even us old experienced runners have to do that although it is very frustrating at the same time. 

Talking to an old friend recently who could run a half marathon at well under five-minute mile pace when in his prime, he now struggles to come to terms with trying to run an eight-minute mile for which he has stopped completely. 

It really is all about just coming to terms with where you are currently at and then just trying to be the best you can be now as opposed to back then. I keep telling myself that in 10 years’ time I will be looking back on wishing I could do what I can do right now. 

Field of Pain training session

Runners get ready for the next rep at the Field of Pain. - Credit: Neil Featherby

Going back to the over 60 beginners though, it is a case of walking before you even consider running and then when you do start to add a little jogging in, keep it to just a few seconds. 

The most important thing is to stay patient and not to force it until into a breathless state of puffing and panting which is what so many people think they need to do to have a training effect. 

Keeping everything conversational is always advised to start with. 

Once it becomes difficult to talk, then the pace should be slowed down to a walking pace until the heart rate reduces whilst allowing for breathing levels to feel comfortable before then starting to gently jog again. 

Recovery between each exercise/run session should also be adequate, but at the same time it is important to try and create a consistent pattern for it to become habitual. 

This is where I usually say less is more i.e. go out every other day to start with, but just start with 15 minutes or so. This will usually ensure that too much isn’t done too soon. 

Talking of which it is after just a few sessions, the newbie then also discovers what is known as the runner’s high and that is also when then feeling of “I want to do more” kicks in and they need to be held back. 

I like to call the first month the induction period to help create a pattern of consistency whilst allowing the body to cope and become accustomed to what are the many stresses applied through weight bearing activities such as jogging. At the same time, it also keeps it at a level whereby it doesn’t start to feel like a chore which can soon put a beginner off after what was early exuberance. 

Chas Allen says that anyone in their later years really should also consider the importance of spending some time strengthening their bodies to be better prepared before taking on a programme which encompasses running. 

“To put it bluntly, some people will naturally have a better range of movement than others so it really is important to make some rules and be disciplined. Feeling fit is fantastic especially in later life. Providing it is all done correctly then it is never too late. However, always remember that exercise should be a joy, not a task,” he said. 

Finally, I will just say that it can be easy to lose some of your motivation in later life, but always look for inspiration and none more so in realising that our health is of prime importance.  

Gone are the days when being told you are too old to do something. That is history. And talking of inspiration, for those who have not heard of him before, then check out my old friend Tommy Hughes from Northern Ireland. A man who went from being an Olympian to non-runner and near alcoholism before putting his running shoes back on again and is now absolutely smashing all world records as a 60 plus year old.