‘Inspir-age-ional’ Women: Meet the 50plus Marathoners

Did you know that running has tons of health benefits for older women? 

The repeated pounding of the pavements builds bone density, helping to combat Osteoporosis.  Burning up to 800 calories an hour helps keep weight down and increases muscle, keeping you looking and feeling younger.  The release of endorphins is perfect for tackling menopausal mood swings.

running in winter

BUT for many of us, who grew up trudging through cross country runs in horrid blue knickers whatever the weather, the idea of getting out there seems just too intimidating to contemplate.

That shouldn’t be the case though.  Running is relatively cheap and whilst it is hard to get going, a couch to five k course can get even the least active among us out and moving much quicker than you might realise.

Enter this month’s ‘inspir-age-ional’ icons!  To prove the point, we met two very different women who’ve discovered the benefits of running later in life for themselves, achieving extraordinary feats (on extraordinary feet – pun intended) along the way.

Catherine’s Story:

older woman running
My first 10k

I’m 55 and married with two grown up daughters.  I’ve had a problem with compulsive overeating my whole life, with a cycle of dieting and regaining for about 30 years.

When I turned 50 I decided it was now or never to get it under control and through a combination of self-will and a weight loss club, I’ve lost five stone and maintained it for two years.

I started running a couple of years ago as part of getting fitter and maintaining my weight loss.  I started on my own, getting up to about three km then I heard about Parkrun and found out there was one on my doorstep.

The best thing about running to me is that I can never believe I’m doing it and never thought I would do it let alone enjoy it.

The first time I did Parkrun was the first time I had run five km.  I heard about ‘This Girl Can’ week which offered free ‘Introduction to Running’ sessions led by a member of a local women’s running club (OH Ladies in Hertfordshire) which I joined shortly afterwards, building up to 10k in January 2017.

Before and After

Since then I’ve increased to my first half marathon in October 2017 and I was lucky enough to get a place in the ballot for next year’s London Marathon 2018.

Parkrun and my running club have always encouraged me and never make me feel that being slow should be an impediment to running.

The best thing about running to me is that I can never believe I’m doing it and never thought I would do it let alone enjoy it.  Running in races is a different experience when you’re usually last or nearly last, but for me, every race is an achievement.

Yvette’s Story:

Officially I am Yvette Johnston, 51-year-old wife to Mark and mother to three wonderful daughters, Hannah (22), Kathryn (19) and Laura (10).  I’m also a full time Police Officer.

Me after a 68k Ultra

I started running in 1986.  I needed to pass the Fitness Test to become a Police Officer, and I had to reach the required standard of 1.5 miles within 13.35mins.

Although I had been very ‘sporty’ at School, I had lapsed into a routine of work/sofa/sleep/repeat and for three or four years had been very inactive, so taking up running was a big challenge, especially as my lifestyle had led to me piling on the pounds.

If anyone takes up running these days there is a wealth of information to be had on the Internet to assist you in getting started, but there was no such option in those days. It was a case of buy some trainers and head out of the door.

It was very much trial and error.  Looking back, I don’t know how I avoided injury or got by without a supply of energy gels.  It was purely the end goal of passing the Fitness Test which kept me motivated.

I continued to run because I enjoyed it.  When you do shift work it is very difficult to join a club or take part in Team sports as you very rarely get a weekend off or a regular evening off to take part in an organised activity.  With running there are no restraints.  If I’m on night duty I can get up at 11am and head out for a run, if I start work at 7am I can run to the Office.  If you are motivated enough to run, you are motivated enough to make time to do it.

Sydney Harbour 10k
Sydney Harbour 10k

I started taking part in Road Races about 20 years ago.  5k seemed an awful long way then!  After successfully completing a few events I moved up to the 10k distance.  I like to challenge myself and knew that if I set my mind to it I could cover the distance.

My first attempt wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t pretty, but I got round the course in one piece and felt really proud of myself.  I’ve never been very competitive, I just enjoy taking part in sporting activities, but the more I ran, the more I wanted to improve.  I started doing interval training to improve my speed and gradually increased the distance of my long runs and in 2001 I felt ready to take on my first Marathon.

My first Marathon seems such a distant memory now.  In three weeks’ time I will be on the start line of the Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic.  This will be my 40th race of Marathon Distance or above.   (This race happens to be a 50k ultra marathon; I have completed several 100k events including running London to Brighton and the 106k Isle of Wight Challenge where you run the circumference of the Island).

Hooked?  You bet I am!

Age is just a number.   Life is for living.  I would encourage anyone to start running; you don’t know what you’re missing until you try it.

This year we took a 29hr trip to Sydney, Australia to visit our daughter.  Twelve hours after our arrival I was on the start line of the Sydney Harbour 10k.  I completed the race in 50min 14 seconds.  Not a bad effort on about 4hrs sleep!

Australia is known as being a country where sport is very popular, whatever the standard you are at.  In the UK there are usually ten or so entries in the 50-55 age group; In Sydney I came 21st out of 271 seniors.  They obviously know a thing or two about keeping active.

Aside from the obvious health benefits of taking regular exercise, running gives me time to myself; respite from the busy day-to-day stresses we all put ourselves under.  I love my family more than anything in the world, but sometimes an hour to yourself can be priceless!  I keep myself motivated by entering more races.  If I have a race scheduled in the calendar I will go out and train for it.  I don’t want to be last finisher on the day!

I can’t imagine ever ‘not running’.  I’ve done it for so long its part of my life.

In nine months’ time I will have completed 30 years’ service and will be retiring from the Police Force.

As far as I’m concerned, retirement will give me more time to train for future events.  I have no intention of slowing down soon; there are still so many events out there that I want to take part in.  I also hope to become more involved in my running club, OH Ladies.  Now due to my shift work I can only meet up with them on an ad-hoc basis.  I’m looking forward to being more active within the club and helping new runners achieve their goals.

Age is just a number.   Life is for living.  I would encourage anyone to start running; you don’t know what you’re missing until you try it.

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