Advice To A Very Fit Woman Over 60 Who Has Never Been A Runner On Running Her First 10k

I was recently asked for advice on training for a 10k run. This request came via Twitter, and it was from a woman over 60 years of age (Ummhh!), had never been a runner (Oh! Boy!), said she is very fit (what kind of fit?), at some undefined time in the future (Oh dear!). Now, can I give meaningful advice in response to such a question with so many unknowns? My answer is “Yes! And she could have a great time, but...”

My first thought was “don’t to it without at least a few months to train, or be prepared to walk a significant part of the distance. Let’s assume that the race is at least three months hence.

The FitOldDog training wheel: don't skip a step or neglect one already encountered, as the process is additive.

The FitOldDog Training Wheel. Don’t skip a step or neglect one already encountered, as the process is additive.

The first thing that I suggested in my Twitter response was to take a look at my FitOldDog Training Wheel. This was not intended to be self-promotional, but simply because that is where I have stored most of my thoughts from many years of training for different sports, including marathons. More importantly, the lion’s share of the useful thoughts behind this image were generated, directly or indirectly, in response to self-induced injuries, many related to running. So, let’s go around the wheel, with comments for each component, and then I’ll give ‘my FitOldDog summary advice.’

  1. Mind and Body Awareness: In a lovely little essay by Ayn Rand (who wasn’t always so lovely, especially with respect to her opinion of other philosophers, many of whom do not seem to consider her to be a philosopher), entitled, “Philosophy, Who Needs It,” she said that we all will have a philosophy of life, so it might as well be a conscious philosophy. You should apply this to running. Be conscious of running. Watch people run. Talk to runners. Hear about the joys and tribulations of running. Become aware of what a complex activity it is, and note that no two people run in the same way. Especially, watch children run. Ask people about their running injuries and how they fixed them – your goal number one should be to avoid injuries in this great adventure, which I admire, by the way. For example, most of my injuries have occurred when I was extremely tired, physically or mentally. Become aware of running!
  2. Motivation: Why are you doing this? To have fun? Be with friends? Say you did it? Place and be on the podium (bad idea)? Don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time! I suggest that you work this out carefully and plan your training and race accordingly.
  3. Nutrition: What you eat as you train, just before the race, during the race, and after the race, are all critical for optimal performance or enjoyment. There are tomes written on this, but for a few months of training and a 10k race, you only need the basics. You can find all this stuff in running magazines, or on a range of websites. All I want to say is that you need to try to minimize your weight (within reason) by race day, carbo-load for a few days before and the morning of, with due consideration of the glycemic index of carbohydrates. You don’t want stuff sitting in your stomach whilst running. I recommend that you take a gel (I use Hammer, but you find one that your stomach likes) just before the race, and one at 3 miles (WITH PLENTY OF WATER). Remember that hydration is an integral component of your nutrition plan. It’s not rocket science for a short race, but it is still important.
  4. Skills: You say you have never been a runner! This one has me worried, because you can hurt yourself. I suggest that you consider a Jeff Galloway approach to running as it works for lots of people; I tried it but it disturbed my rhythm too much, so I dropped it again. You have to get to 6 miles without risk of injury, somehow, and you are not me, but you. I would, however, start with the incorporation of short runs (100 yards) into a walk, and gradually increase the running until you are incorporating walking into your run. REMEMBER you can injure yourself running and be completely unaware of it for a couple of days, and then you’re hopping around on a sore something or other, unable to train. Consider watching Danny Dreyer’s videos, as Chi Running is a great place to start. It is not as easy as it looks. You must find a safe way to run, and that will be a function of you and your physical history. The problem with a 10k is that it is short enough to fool you into trying for a good time and long enough to be really dangerous. Oh! Yes! I nearly forgot. One of the key skills that you will need is the ability to select the right equipment, which means running shoes, with appropriate arch support and so forth. This is a truly non-trivial matter, so please get it right.
  5. Training: Find a training plan that you can follow and follow it wisely, backing off when necessary. It is critical when running, because of the endorphin high that occurs, that you never modify your training time (note I say time, and not distance) during the run. Don’t trust that feeling of wanting to run further – your endocanabinoid system is fooling you.
  6. Recovery: My coach, Chris Haute, gives me a three-week cycle of training: 1 week hard, 1 week harder, 1 week recovery. It’s built in to the plan, and it must be built in. Do that!! There are books on this, too. Take a look at Sage Rountree’s book on recovery if you want to spend the money, and read the insightful writings of Joe Friel (see RSS feed on this blog). You MUST incorporate adequate recovery, and older people need more time than younger people (the danger of a young coach).
  7. Competing: If this is your first run you are only competing against risk of injuries. Have fun and forget the podium. It’s overrated, anyway. I suggest you use the approach recommended to me by my previous coach, Dan Shugars, “Easy out then negative split,” though you might want to forget the negative split part? You’re call!
  8. Reward: For me the reward is the joy of sports, but I do treat myself to a Big Mac sometimes – this is for nostalgic reasons, only, and that is another story. Remember to pat yourself on the back, and maybe you’ll become hooked and be dropping me at an Ironman one day.

Final FitOldDog Advice Summary: Don’t blame me if you injure yourself (see disclaimer below), don’t hesitate to ask further questions, have a great time training but be careful on trails, and have fun at the race whatever you do!

Very Final Piece Of Advice: Running is addictive, so beware!

-k Your Medical Mind


  1. Diane Bausman says

    Hi I’m 62 years old started running in my late 50s do 5k, 10 mile and half marathon. I would like to train for a marathon but finding it hard to have people in my age group join me for the venture. I live in the Lansdale area and would like to shout out if there are any interested ladies, gents.

    Running has kept me in great shape no medication, no problems just want the ultimate for me 26.1 on my bumper. Something only 1 percent of the world’s population does !


    • Hi Diane,
      I downloaded RunWith to my iPhone, in response to your comment, but couldn’t find a group in Lansdale, or anywhere else for that matter, on the app. Sounded great. I would look for a good app, that’s locally populated, or find a local running club. Wonder if there is a FleetFeet in your town, or another good running store. They sponsor a bunch of runs here. Do a couple of group runs, then find a partner by meeting the right person.
      I run alone most of the time, but I do speed work with younger runners, for short distance training.
      I was hoping that app would work, but it seemed limited, or too new to work here?
      Happy Trails,

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.