If you were to walk into the house of 60-year-old Evelyn “Evie” Thomas from Lapeer, Michigan, you might be impressed by the number of running trophies that fill her walls. But what’s more impressive is that Thomas didn’t start running until the age of 54.
A healthcare IT representative, Thomas has discovered a love for a sport that has kept her healthy and hitting the road with a new zest for life. As Thomas realized, running is a lifelong sport that can be started at any age. And the benefits are numerous, no matter when you decide to lace up your running shoes.
Thomas first tried running when her husband, Paul, was recovering from hip replacement surgery. “My job at the time required a lot of sitting in a car or at a desk,” she explains. “I was unfit, although not heavy or overweight; outwardly, I looked healthy.” Wanting to support Paul as he recovered, she started out walking with him as he exercised to regain strength and mobility. The only problem? He was too fast for her. “He walked so fast, I had to trot along next to him because I could not keep up with him at a walk,” Thomas laughs. “Before long I was making loops to run out a bit then circle back to join Paul.”
Those loops soon turned into miles as Thomas discovered that not only did she enjoy running, she was pretty good at it too. Before she knew it, she was entering races. Though she’s lost track of how many she’s now run in, Thomas has racked up 10 half marathons and several shorter runs this year alone. She placed first in her age division in two of those competitions, a feat she’s pretty proud of. “Those 50s women are crazy fast!” she says.
Why Start Now?
Runners in their 50s and beyond, sometimes called masters runners, are a rapidly growing segment. Like Thomas, many only picked up running later in life. As such, they’re changing what doctors thought they knew about aging and exercise. According to one study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, aerobic exercise, such as running, can actually slow the effects of aging.
As for Thomas, she says picking up running later in life has been much easier than she expected. “I don’t feel like I am 60,” she says. “I’m thankful to have the opportunity to exercise, and I have no regrets.”
How To Start Running
During our interview, Thomas was preparing for her first ever full marathon, the 41st Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. “I am ready and waiting,” she says. And while we will have to wait to hear how she performs, she has these tips for adults starting to run later in life:
1. Invest in high-quality gear.
Older runners are at higher risk for injury; good quality gear will minimize your risk. Thomas advises spending about $100 on a good pair of running shoes, investing in a sports watch, running shirt and shorts (or jacket and long tights if it’s cooler), and a good sports bra for female runners. “It’s not worth risking injury by saving a few bucks,” she says.
2. Have your form analyzed.
The way you run matters, and if you’re running with improper form, you may get injured more easily or become frustrated early in the process. Most specialty running shops will watch you run or record you on a treadmill for free. The experts can offer form tips and recommend the right shoes to help keep you safe.
3. Get a running coach.
Unfortunately, training on your own can lead to injury. Thomas notes that her fast and furious entrance into the running world did lead to a few injuries when she wasn’t listening to her body. “Finding a coach was good for me, and listening to seasoned runners made all the difference in the world,” she says.
4. Attend a running clinic.
A clinic helped change Thomas’s form in her first year of running. If you can’t find an in-person running clinic, she recommends searching YouTube videos for form advice.
5. Join a running group.
While running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise around, it’s still worthwhile to find a group you can turn to for questions and support. “There’s so much to learn from these people,” Thomas says. Search online for local groups, ask a running friend for recommendations or sign up at a local running shop.
In the end, Thomas believes there’s no such thing as being too old to run and encourages runners of all ages to try out the sport. “My pace and endurance are still getting better as the years progress,” she says. “But I figure, starting later in life is better than not starting at all.”