When he felt pain in the back of his foot, 38-year-old Marcus Rentie had one thought: What if he could never run again?
The California-based electrical engineer was out for a routine run when he experienced the intense shot of pain. He slowed to a walk, but the agony increased. The diagnosis? A torn Achilles, resulting in a three-week layoff of exercise. “All the worst-case scenarios start playing out in your head,” says Rentie. “Those thoughts scare you and eat you up inside.”
Like most serious runners in their thirties, Rentie hopes to keep putting in miles at a high level for years to come. After experiencing his Achilles injury, he’s throwing all he can into making that happen. “If that’s not the catalyst for training smarter, I don’t know what is,” he says.
While Rentie had to learn the lesson the hard way, he’s well on the path to better habits to ensure years of healthy running ahead. Jason Fitzgerald, coach and owner of Strength Running blog and podcast, says that this decade of a person’s life is the time to put a strength-training routine into practice. “Beneficial hormones like testosterone and growth hormone begin to fall in your thirties,” he says. “Building strength will help you reduce injury risk, race faster, and improve body composition.”
Fitzgerald adds that once you enter your forties, it becomes increasingly difficult to add muscle mass, so getting started in your thirties can help you hedge your bets. That means establishing a strength routine that will stick. Rentie has incorporated this into his training and is dedicated to a full session of strength work every week. “When I saw my physical therapist after my injury, he got me started with strength work, and I’ve kept at it ever since,” he says.
Another element to add to your regimen is “prehab.” Think small, bodyweight moves, like clam shells, single-leg squats, bridges, and single-leg deadlifts, that you can do a few times a week in a short period of time. In 10 to 15 minutes, you can help ward off injury. It’s strengthening all those supporting muscles in your hips and glutes which provides stability as you repeat the same running motion day after day.
Strength work sets the foundation, but there are other components of training that may need adjusting in your thirties. Choosing protective, supportive footwear is an obvious place to start. “You need stability in whatever you’re running in. You have to protect your feet—they’re the only two you get,” says Rentie. You may also want to curtail the volume and frequency of speed workouts, for instance, which Rentie has also done. “You may be less able to handle grueling speed workouts or two of these in a single week,” says Fitzgerald. “Adaptation to training will take longer now.”
With all his positive changes, Rentie feels hopeful that running will be part of his life for years to come: “I want to be that guy with gray hair coming across the finish line last, with everyone cheering him on,” he says.