How To Stay Fit At 70 (And Beyond)—From Kathrine Switzer, The First Woman Ever To Officially Run The Boston Marathon, Prevention, by Sarah Klein

Prevention: What was it like to run Boston again, 50 years after your historic first race?

Kathrine Switzer: It was sensational. It was very gratifying. There were so many people that knew my story. Boston was a celebration of the past 50 years and looking ahead to the next 50 years. It was a sort of passing of the torch to the next generation of women–and men!–who are going to continue what has become a social revolution of women’s running. And then the sleeper story throughout this whole thing was the aging story. I thought it was really cool to be able to, 50 years later, run the same marathon again. No other woman has done that. And that’s not because I’m terrific, but because of the lack of women who ran 50 years ago! The press was captivated by the story of doing the same race 50 years later, at age 70.

I think this is the next frontier. People still treat older people the way they treated us women 50 years ago, which is, ‘Be careful! You might hurt yourself!’ when in fact the opposite is the case. The more you do, the more you can do! There are lots of women who have run marathons at 70, 80, even 90. I was only eighth in my age group at Boston, for heaven’s sake! I want to get this message out there because we can not only encourage [older athletes], but we really can create a healthier aging population.

PVN: How did you decide to do the 10K at the Senior Games?

KS: Humana, [a health insurance company and the sponsor of the Senior Games,] asked me if I would be a part of the welcoming ceremonies, and I said I’d be thrilled to. And when I looked at the schedule and saw that there was a 10K the next day, I said, ‘Hey guys, can I stay over and run this?’ You can turn to any of the 11,000 athletes there and find amazing stories. There’s so much optimism, determination, and ability to prevail. You get to know people best when you go out and run with them. There’s a little bit of pressure because I know I’m going to get hosed in the race! But even just the social aspect is incredibly important. A lot of times when people retire they’ve had really great dynamic careers and a great socialization process with their work and travel and then, boom, it ends.

PVN: How have you had to adjust your mindset about racing as you’ve gotten older?

KS: When you’re running well, you feel like you’re flying. And then you wonder why there are all these people passing you. You realize that naturally there’s going to be a slowing process. I had to also realize that I needed more recovery time. Before Boston, I worked with a trainer who said I shouldn’t be running every day, I should be running every other day. That was heresy to me, but she said at 70 you need to recover as much as you need to train. On the days I wasn’t running, I did all sorts of strengthening exercises, like one-leg balancing squats. I was sore as hell for a while, but I amazed myself with what I could do within just a few weeks. I felt like I was snapping back into shape.

PVN: What advice do you have for older athletes who are just getting started, who might not have that “snapping back into shape” experience?

KS: My tips are really very simple. Leave your shoes by the door and put them on and go out even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Start with a walk if that’s all you can do, even if it’s just to the mailbox. Then go to the lamppost, and then the next lamppost. Work up to 30 seconds of a light jog and take it from there. To help you stay motivated, get a buddy who is just like you. If a buddy is waiting for you, you won’t worry about being embarrassed or feeling slow; it’ll just be the two of you. You share the secrets of your soul when you’re walking or running together.

I also think it’s important to have some kind of goal. I hate the goal to lose 5 pounds, though. I don’t like people thinking they have to give up something or lose something. I like the thought that they’ll gain something [through exercise], so maybe choose a local 5K that you can walk or jog. Most everyone could probably go out and walk a 5K right now in an hour. If you’re thinking, ‘I couldn’t possibly!’ I say, I’ve seen you shopping!

I think women in particular need to be convinced that they deserve to have that time for themselves. They come up with every excuse: The house, the kids, the dishes, even the dog deserves attention before they themselves deserve attention. You can just say it’ll wait and go out alone for 10 minutes! It’ll be worth it even if it really is only 10 minutes. And usually when you’re out for 10 minutes, you take 20!

Also, for older runners, don’t make too much of a fuss of it. You don’t have to completely change your clothes and get into special gear. Get the shoes on and go out in what you have on. Just move.

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