Exercise Hero Interview: Gordon the OldRunningFox

Gordon poised for action. :-)

Gordon poised for action. 🙂

It’s been a long time since I’ve published another Exercise Hero Interview, so it was about time I got this out. 🙂

This time I interviewed a runner called Gordon (from the United Kingdom) who keeps a blog named Run for Your Life. He is also the first male Exercise Hero in the series. 🙂

What is remarkable about Gordon is that he started running at age 54 and is still running at age 80. And he’s  not only running, he is still winning races.  The interview is a long one, but it’s worth reading in it’s entirety. I also added a print button so you can print the post out in order to better enjoy the story.


Why did you start running? How long did it take before you started liking it or was it “love at first sight”?

Soon after Maggie Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Britain in 1979 Britain experienced a great recession when millions of workers found themselves out of work and on the dole. It wasn’t long before I became one of them.

Prior to then I’d kept myself fit doing manual work in a carpet factory throughout the week and getting away into the hills walking or mountaineering most weekends. When all that ceased, and with hardly any money coming in, I was living on junk food and piling on weight through lack of exercise.

Furthermore, my wife and kids decided to go their own way, leaving me in an almost empty house and in a bit of a state both physically and mentally. It came to a point where I hated the man staring back at me from the mirror and determined to do something about him. Little did I know that in the next few years that shapeless wreck would become the fastest runner of his age in Britain over distances ranging anywhere from 400m to the marathon.

I know you’re a runner. How did you become one? You could’ve started lifting weights or biking..

By co-incidence (I think!) an Open University package landed on my mat inviting me to take a course called ‘Health Choices’ which, among a multitude of other things, emphasised the importance of regular exercise.I chose running because it was the only thing I could afford to do. I didn’t have a bike, couldn’t afford bus fares, had no money for the gym, tennis courts, swimming pool, or any other Sport Centre activities – but I did have a couple of pairs of old trainers I decided were fit for running.

Reluctantly, on April 9th 1986, I sneaked out of the house when I thought none of the neighbours were around and ran a hilly off-road circuit of around 2½ miles which I gradually extended over the weeks until I could run 5 or 6 miles quite comfortably. Round about the same time I borrowed a set of weights from my brother (which I still have but rarely use) and set about sculpting and strengthening my dilapidated body.

Four months later a racing animal emerged from the wreck and I ran my first race over the fells as part of a four man pub relay team. We won and came away with 24 cans of beer! Two weeks later I ran my first ever 10K road race (43:09) followed the very next day with a half marathon (95:21). I was amazed how easy that ½ marathon felt and began to realise that running really was quite a natural thing to do and I was beginning to enjoy it.

But it wasn’t until ten months later, when I ran my first marathon, that I really became hooked. That warm July day I got the shock of my life. While laid on the grass recovering after the event and listening to the roll call of winners, I suddenly heard my name being called. I climbed onto the podium in a daze while people clapped and applauded, unable to believe what was happening to me. My time of 3:30:04 had been good enough to win the MV55 category.  From that day my life changed for ever.

How do you train at the moment?

I’ve never stuck to any structured training programme. Every now and then, particularly in the run up to a marathon, I’d sit down and write out a plan with all the usual ingredients of tempo runs, hill reps, intervals on the track, fartlek and long runs – but I never carried it through.

If it was pouring with rain I’d take a day off. Or if I just didn’t feel like exercising, I’d give it a miss and be all the fresher for it next day. While some marathon running friends were running around 80 miles a week I’d rarely ran more than 45 but still achieved good results. Altogether I ran eight marathons, won my age category in seven of them and twice topped the British MV60 Rankings with sub 3 hour times. Nowadays, at 80 years old, my training is still higgeldy piggeldy whilst my weekly mileage rarely exceeds 24 mainly easy miles.  I still do repetition runs and fast miles to sharpen up for races, but I’m more than ever ruled by the weather. My old bones can’t stand the cold and damp!

Indoors I’ll infrequently do a set of core exercises – things like leg raisers, plank and crunches – and every now and then I’ll roll out the weights for a bit of upper body work, upright rowing and bicep curls with low weights. I’ve long since given up lifting heavy stuff, which could be a mistake, but it hurts and I don’t enjoy it. Moderate weights are a means to an end rather than an end in itself, my main concern being how it can strengthen my body sufficiently for me to go on enjoying the necessities and requirements of everyday life, rather than bothering about how many Kgs I can dead lift or bench press.

What kind of challenges have you had during your “exercise career”? I know you have run for decades, do you ever have to struggle with injuries?

Compared to the majority of runners I’ve kept reasonably injury free, though for some years I’d a sporadic calf muscle problem.

It was worst in 2004 when challenging for the inaugural MV70 Fell Race Championship, a series of four races organized by the Fell Runners Association. I hadn’t done a fell race for 7 years and only run one race of any kind (a 10K road race) in the last 4 years, so I was very much out of racing condition – though I’d never stopped running in all that time.

I was lucky to win the first race, just, from an old rival I’d never beaten before, but disaster struck shortly afterwards when my calf muscle tore and I was confined to mainly speed walking to the top of a local crag for the next two months. It twanged again three weeks before the next race but with a fair bit of nursing and a powerful anti-inflammatory I won the race and set an MV70 course record over Buckden Pike. Four days afterwards the same calf muscle twanged again while on holiday in Cornwall and I’d all on to get it right for the start of the next championship race a month later – the Kentmere Horseshoe over 12 miles with 3,400ft of ascent in the English Lake District. The muscle tore again, badly, when I was in the lead coming off Kentmere Pike and I ran the last two miles in agony, though determined to finish. I was beaten into second place but fortunately had amassed enough points to take the championship without having to run the last race of the series. I didn’t/couldn’t race again for another twelve months. That medal was very hard won and is one of my most cherished.

Nowadays I wear an over the counter orthotic (Orthoheel Regular) in both shoes and calf injuries appear to be a thing of the past.

Do you have any tips for “prospective exercise heros” or people who think they hate exercise?

Running doesn’t suit everyone but you’ll never know whether it does until you’ve tried it. At school I was hopeless and hated the annual X-country race where girls held the coats of boy competitors to hand to them when they finished.  I wasn’t last, but far enough back for me to be embarrassed when retrieving my coat. I was a bit shy with girls too!

Forty years later, when I took those first tentative steps out the door to restore my fitness, I never dreamed I’d finish up running marathons, winning championships, breaking course records or finishing top of the British Rankings over various distances. The beauty of running is you don’t have to be a Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, David Rudisha or Mo Farrah to win races, 40, 50, 60 and even 80 year old runners like me can take their places on the podium as age category winners.

Fauja Singh was still winning prizes, and the plaudits, when running himself into the Guinness Book of Records at the Toronto marathon when 100 years old. In the 2012 London marathon 1186 runners were over the age of 60 whilst nearly 200 were in their 70’s. You’re never too old to take up what many consider to be the most natural of all exercises. Even when not winning prizes running really is a sport for all, a proven way of achieving lasting fitness, controlling weight and promoting a healthy lifestyle. I’d advise everyone to give it a try. There’s nothing to lose and in most cases an awful lot to gain.

How do you manage to fit exercise into your schedule?

For many years now, it hasn’t so much been a case of fitting running into my schedule, but more a matter of fitting everything else into my running. Running is my main priority and as such I try to avoid anything that interferes with it – like late nights, excessive drinking, junk food, or anything else that’s incompatible with my chosen lifestyle. I’m not into fad diets, I’ll eat anything so long as it’s fresh and unrefined. I must be one of the few people never to have been to MacDonalds!

When I go on holiday the first things I pack are my running clothes and trainers. Places like the Canary Islands, Crete, Spain, or even Cornwall, are referred to as warm weather training camps. My wonderful partner shares my passion and in such exotic places we run together almost every morning before turning our minds to other things and places for the rest of the day. Running has become a way of life for both of us. We never go anywhere on holiday without our running gear.

What is your biggest fitness-related accomplishment so far?

Perhaps my greatest running accomplishment was a remarkable double I pulled off as a 60 year old in 1993. A Sikh friend, Ajit Singh, had bullied me into running the London Marathon as a ‘good for age’ veteran after achieving a qualifying time of 3:10:49 in a Yorkshire marathon the previous July. “You must run London” he said, “it’s like a world championship and you will beat them all”. All in my age category he meant.

Being out of work, and short of money, I was a bit reluctant due to the cost of transport and the necessity of an overnight stay in expensive lodgings. “It’s only ÂŁ15.00 return on the coach and you can stay with my friends for nothing” he said, and eventually I was persuaded. And Ajit was right. I did beat all the MV60’s – and over 23,000 other runners – to go top of the British MV60 Rankings for that year with a time of 2:54:18.

Foolishly, according to many, I’d also entered the prestigious ‘Three Peaks of Yorkshire’ race the following Sunday, 24 miles of heather and bog with 4,500ft of ascent thrown in for good measure over some of the most beautiful limestone landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. This became my favourite race. I know the course like the back of my hand having walked it on many occasions previously. From the moment I found out I could run, the ‘Peaks’ was the one race I’d set my mind on doing. I couldn’t wait to run the qualifying races and times to submit my entry.

Now, here I was, one week after London, lining up with a crowd of top class fell runners for one of the toughest races in the fell racing calendar. Friends said I was mad and, worse still, that I’d kill myself attempting such a thing ‘at my age’. Well, I’m still around, and what’s more I not only completed that memorable race in a time of 4:09:27 – finishing 193rd of 404 finishers – but won the MV60 title to complete an incredible double everyone thought was impossible – and which no-one else has done either before or since.

Do you have fitness goals you’d like to share?

Having reached 80 years old my fitness goals have been tweaked down a bit – in fact quite a lot.  I’m no Faujit Singh and freely admit that marathons no longer feature on my agenda. Not that I couldn’t run one, but I could no longer achieve a time that would satisfy me and, perish the thought, I might even get beat!

Every dog has his day and I’ve had more than a fair share of mine.  My goals are simple now. Each year I make the same New Year resolution, viz. to finish as high as possible in the British Rankings, in my age category, over whatever official distances I choose to race.  Last year I was 1st in three – 400m, 800m and 1500m on the track, and 3rd over 10K on the road. I’ve no idea what I’ll do next though I’d like to claim that No.1 spot at 10K if I can find a flat course to run on. In Yorkshire they’re all very hilly.

What do you do when/if you’re not motivated to exercise?

Other people’s activities inspire me though the main purpose of my Blog/online diary is to keep myself motivated. I have to get out and do things so I’ve something to write about. And it stops me becoming a couch potato. Besides, each Monday or Tuesday my Blog gets a number of hits from people who log in to learn of my latest octogenarian antics!

It’s got to the stage where I get rather frustrated if I can’t get out running, with my camera, to provide something different to write about each week, not just for my own benefit, but for my family and friends who’ve come to expect it.

Likewise, I enjoy reading other people’s Blogs, many of which I find motivational. For instance, if my get up and go has got up and gone, logging in to the likes of Anton Krupicka will soon have me lacing up my shoes and getting out the door. Also, as a staunch Methodist and regular reader in our local Church, I’ll often dip into my Bible in search of inspiration. “Neglect not the gift that is in you” is a quote that regularly comes to mind.

(Stupid question) Does it pay off to start exercising at age 54?

Regardless of age, if anyone gets to the stage when they don’t like the look of that deformed lump stuck in front of them in the mirror, it’s never too late to start doing something about it to restore some self esteem.

There are wonderful stories of people losing 5, 10 or considerably more stones in weight after taking up running and committing themselves to a healthier lifestyle. On reaching  54 I was around 20 lbs overweight – which is nothing compared to some – but 14 lbs of that disappeared in the very first month of running.

The human body is capable of remarkable things if only the mind will let it. Running may not be easy to start with, it may hurt a little, but perseverence can reap benefits beyond your wildest dreams, take you to beautiful places, introduce you to a host of wonderful new friends and sculpt your body to a shape you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life.  It certainly did with me!