Lee: Age is never a good excuse

Emanuel Lee

A 7:13-mile pace for 13.1 miles. That was my performance in the half-marathon of the Jed Smith Ultra Endurance Classic in Sacramento on Feb. 6—on my 39th birthday no less. My time of 1 hour, 34 minutes, 46 seconds was a personal-record (PR) and good for seventh place overall.
I used the race as a sharpener for one of my biggest races of the year, the Western Pacific Marathon in Fremont on April 30. With the proper training, recovery and diet, I was able to establish a new PR when conventional wisdom says I should be slowing down. They say Father Time is undefeated, to which I say screw Father Time.
I’m not delusional to think that I’ll be able to improve my time for the next several decades. It’s humanly impossible. But you don’t have to get old. I never ran on my high school cross country or track teams for a variety of reasons, so one could say I’m making up for lost time.
So how do you maintain speed and get faster as you age? The answer is simple, but devilishly difficult to complete for an extended period of time. Simply put, there is no substitute for hard work. Earning a PR in any race takes guts, determination and mental toughness.
Even that might not be enough to hit a PR in the marathon. Once athletes get in their mid-30s—and especially in their 40s—recovery, nutrition and strength-training become paramount. World-class runners sleep a minimum of eight hours a night—some 10 to 12—to properly repair the body after hard workouts.
As you age, it takes longer to recover, so getting adequate sleep is critical to optimum performance. Nutrition also plays a vital role for enhanced athletic performance. As you age, it’s easier to pack on the pounds. And more weight means your joints are going to suffer, leading to a greater chance of injury.
At 145 pounds, I’m the same weight I was in my senior year of high school. However, I’m faster and stronger now than I was as an 18 year old. Doing a 180-degree turn on my food choices has made the biggest difference for my running career. It’s also imperative for older athletes to strength train.
We lose muscle mass as we age, but it can be offset by a simple strength-training program. In addition to running four to five times a week, I incorporate one to two strength-training sessions in the gym—one upper body session and the other for legs. This has kept me injury free and boosted my running economy—meaning I’m using less energy on every run.
And that means a lot when it comes to the marathon. The toughest part about training for a marathon is the long run, one of the three key staples of marathon training—tempo runs and interval work being the others. The mind-numbing nature of the long runs can lead to boredom, fatigue and frustration.
Every Saturday or Sunday for the next two months, I’ll alternate between a longer long run (18 to 26 miles) and a shorter long run (12 to 14 miles). On this schedule, there is no time to stay out late on Friday night. No partying. No excessive drinking. And certainly no midnight runs to Taco Bell or Jack-In-The-Box.
The long run workouts test my resolve like no other. My loved ones think I love running for hours on end. I actually don’t. There are actually a lot of other things—OK, perhaps just a few activities—I’d rather be doing on a Saturday than hitting pavement for 2 to 3 ½ hours.
But I love the byproduct of running. Each time I go out there—especially during a speed workout or tempo run—I’m overcoming a challenge and winning the day. Every time the voice in my brain is telling me to stop, I’ve got to rely on my heart to break through. When people give reasons for not exercising—particularly running—you often hear them say, “My mind is willing, but my body is not.”
They’ve actually got that backward. In most cases, the body is willing, but the mind is not. During any tough workout, there’s an inner voice telling you to stop. That it hurts too much. That it’s too hard. That’s when it’s up to you to break through that mental barrier. Often times, your body is stronger than you realize.
But it takes superior mental toughness to achieve your physical potential. That’s why I love running—and for that matter, any workout that jacks up my heart rate. Running tests my resolve like no other physical activity. In the last couple of months, there were plenty of days when I woke up and didn’t feel like working out.
It was hard to go out when it was 33 degrees and pitch dark, with no running partner as usual. But I never missed a workout. For me, everyday is training day. Fortunately for those who don’t like exercising, you don’t need to go all out, all the time to reap its benefits.
Sixty to 90 minutes a week of vigorous exercise is plenty for an optimum return on health benefits. When I started exercising and eating healthier in my mid-20s, I never knew how much more energized I would feel everyday. How tough workouts have built in me a resiliency to handle the rigors of life’s stresses.
How I wake up most days feeling like a spring chicken. When it comes to health matters, you could gather several doctors in a room and even they would disagree on a number of issues.
But they’d all agree that exercise is the best medicine. It’s never too late to start exercising, and it’s certainly not too late to start eating healthy.
Age is never an excuse. If you’re currently walking 10 minutes a day, increase the duration or intensity—or better yet, both—every week. You’d be surprised how much your body can handle. It’s up to you—and only you—to make it happen.

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