In for the long haul - distance runner Catherina McKiernan on staying the course

Margaret Jennings says London Marathon winner Catherina McKiernan coaches people to run for longevity and health but only for short, invigorating bursts.

A WALK in the fresh air is good for your health, but if you want to get a proper buzz, as the years accumulate — and a dose of pro-ageing benefits, in the process — then go for a gentle run, says sportswoman, Catherina McKiernan.

“You do get a better buzz out of the running. It’s a feeling of wellbeing, for me, a feeling of confidence. That endorphin release gives you a feelgood factor about yourself,” says the former international long-distance and cross-country runner.

She goes for a daily, 40-minute morning run and says it’s a great stress-reliever, as well: “I think we live in such a rat race of a world now. People are under stress and they need something healthy to relieve it. I get into a nice, comfortable zone and peaceful place, when I’m out running, and it sets me up for the day.”

Catherina is only 48, but the running instructor has already fine-tuned her routine with ageing well in mind: “I love running more now than back 10 or 20 years ago, because it makes me feel youthful. I eat well, too, so, again, what you put into your body, you get out, and I don’t abuse my body in that sense.

“I wouldn’t be doing the long distances at this stage, because I want the longevity — to be able to go out for half an hour until I’m 80 and be sensible about it. People get carried away, but you must think about the future, so you can be nice and fresh and youthful, even at a much older age.”

Of course, there are plenty of runners decades older than Catherina participating in clubs and competitions countrywide, as the sport is a great social outlet, as well as an incentive to exercise.

The health benefits also include the reduction in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. For older people, running can improve muscle strength, coordination, and bone density — all reducing the risk of falling and fracturing bones,” she says.

And it’s never too late to start: “There is no such thing as someone who is too old to start running. Older people should incorporate it into other sports, like cycling or swimming. If they are in their 60s and 70s if they could get out three times a week, they should be really happy with that.”

Most important is that you learn how to have good running form, to prevent injuries. “I teach good posture, so your spine is nice and straight, so you’re not bending at the waist, and so, that way, you have less impact on the body.

It’s also about the correct arm swing and how to land more efficiently — a lot of people make the mistake that the heels strike when they run and when you do that, you put a lot of pressure on your lower leg and knees. I also teach how to relax and let go of the tension, as that restricts the oxygen supply to the muscles and they become sore and tired.”

Some other tips from Catherina, for those considering this natural, pro-age exercise, are:

  • If you’re over 50, get a check-up with a doctor, before beginning any programme of physical exercise.
  • Invest in a pair of comfortable running shoes that fit like a glove on your feet.
  • The main priorities are to build up slowly, and set yourself demanding, but achievable, goals.
  • Increase the variety of your aerobic training — for example, cycling or swimming. But, remember, this all takes energy, so don’t overdo it.
  • Warm up slowly, before running, and stretch afterwards to protect muscles, which are less elastic and more prone to injury than they were when you were younger.
  • Increase your weight-training, to compensate for decline in muscle mass.
  • Keep a training diary to assess the impact of your training on your performances, taking note of fatigue, injury, and illness.
  • Divide the year into periods, with specific goals for each, and assess your progress at the end of each period.

“The most important thing is to be sensible and listen to your body and you will be safe then,” says Catherina. “You can’t underestimate, as you get into your older years, the benefit of a good, brisk walk, too. It’s about moving to keep blood circulating around the body and so you feel better, physically and mentally, getting out in the fresh air. But you do get a better buzz out of the running.”

n Catherina McKiernan is an ambassador for the 2018 KIA Race Series. The series will take place throughout the year, bringing seven, established regional races around Ireland together under one umbrella, with a new finale event in Mondello Park. The Run with Catherina 10k will take place in April, as part of the series to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of Catherina’s historic London Marathon win, in 1998.

For details see www.kiaraceseries.com



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