“The Secret to Running Forever”

Marathon, black silhouettes of runners on the sunset

The friend that likes to send me articles recently struck again, but thankfully it was a relatively short article from the New Yorker about how two runners have successfully stayed competitive at a world class level beyond the age of 40.

I don’t currently do much running except for the brief running warm up in BJJ or Crossfit, but in high school I was on the cross country team (I always came in last place) and I’ve run a couple marathons in the past (please don’t ask me about my times, they’re embarrassingly slow), so I can relate to a lot of the stumbling blocks runners encounter.

The first athlete in the article is named Meb Keflezighi, who was still able to qualify for the olympic team for the marathon at the age of 41, long after many of his contemporary athletes have burned out or succumbed to injury.

How did he manage this?

What were the things that Jimmerson wasn’t doing that Meb was? Both were running themselves to exhaustion. But Meb was icing, stretching, working on his form, and taking naps. He was not merely focussed: he was also relaxing. He wasn’t obliterating a punching bag or poking voodoo dolls of his competitors. He wasn’t trying to run a hundred and thirty miles in a week, and then a hundred and forty. He did everything steadily and committed many hours every week to what he calls “prehab,” or injury prevention.

They also describe another 41 year old runner, Bernard Lagat, who shares the same longevity as Meb:

Lagat’s training routine, like Meb’s, seems to involve a relaxed attitude and a lot of rest. Lagat skips a day of running every week, and he takes a month off every fall. At most, he runs about sixty-five miles a week, which is roughly half as many as his most obsessive rivals. He’s not lazy—he does everything hard. He also never seems to get hurt.

Incidentally Lagat just placed 6th in the 5k race of this years Olympics which is an amazing feat.

The secret to a long career according to a Dr. Michael Joyner is two fold:

“There are only two ‘secrets,’ ” Joyner told me, when I asked how a runner can continue to succeed until age forty and beyond. “Keep your VO2 max up by doing intervals, and don’t get injured.”

I agree almost 100% with the good doctor except for the order.  To me, the most important thing is to not get injured.  Then you can start worrying about your VO2 max.  Who the hell cares what your VO2 max is if you’re too hurt to run.

I do my best to keep this in mind in all my endeavors: BJJ, Crossfit, arguing with the BJJ Cavewife… It’s essential to keep an eye on the long game, which is to stay healthy enough to do it again the next day and the day after that.  Ok… maybe not the arguing with the missus part, but you get the idea.

In discussing the article with my friend I concluded that the main takeaway is to be purposeful with your training.  To focus on form rather than just blindly pounding pavement and mindlessly upping the intensity and to conscientiously placing as much weight on recovery and prehab as on training.

I got the resting part and low mileage (0 miles per week) down… So I guess that makes me halfway there?

If you’d like to read the entire article check it out here:

The New Yorker: Meb Keflezighi, Bernard Lagat, and the Secret to Running Forever

If you’d like to read more about Meb, here are two books he’s written:

Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think, and Eat like a Champion Marathoner

and

Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Sotry of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream

*Image found here

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