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The Old Runner by Dr. Goh Kong Chuan

What happens to the old runner who can only live out his memories and watch the young uns fly past on their marathons? Will he be saddled with injuries, crippled, and hobbling along, or glued to his TV set as a spectator, condemned to his wheelchair?

No! Speaking as one who has done 9 marathons, an ultramarathon, and taken part in many Veteran's athletics, I can confidently say that if you train and compete carefully, you can still continue to do so way into your 60s, 70s, and 80s; that is as far as my experience goes. The 70s and 80s are my patients who suffer from various injuries, and yet continue to compete against youngsters. Let me elaborate:

At 48, I started running my first Marathon in Penang after less than a year of training, and continued to do so yearly for the next 9. In between, 25 of us ran continuously the 76KM around Penang Island from 4am until almost 4pm the next day, and only 5 of us managed to finish it.

Training was enjoyable, and the bulk of it was gradual lsds, with 5.30am runs around the 8KM loop along the Penang Bridge interchange. Speedwork was not forgotten, and this consisted of short intervals of 40-second hard runs of 200m with 3 min rest intervals repeated up to 14 times. The heart rate would fluctuate from 120 to 170. Then there were longer intervals of 400m or 800 metres on the track at the fair speed of 1:40 for the 400m repeated 6 times, or mile repeats at 8 min mile pace. Gym work was regularly done, with squats, leg extension (up to 65Kg), upper body strengthening exercises, and the occasional hill run for endurance.

Eventually the resting heart rate came down to 41(see heart rate tracing)

but the marathon time would never dip below 4:51- proof that you can never go beyond your genetic potential no matter how hard you train. But the medals were only finishing medals, and not the placings. Veteran's athletics proved more fruitful, and the 4x100 and 4x400 relays and a surprising javelin throw finally brought in the gold medals. But it was in race walking that I finally found my talent. This was brought on by a stroke of luck (and serendipity) when a painless lump behind the left Achilles tendon turned out to be Achilles tendinosis brought on by a partially torn tendon from attempting the long jump at 50+. Squats and plyometric jumps were now prohibited, and marathon running was out of the question. Rehabilitation was first on the Theraband elastic bands, then on the Indoor Rower, and quick return to competition was fruitful with the medals coming in from race walking and Indoor rowing.

Now I am glad to say that at the age of 65 I have just completed the North American Rowing Challenge, and come out 4th among >3,000 rowers of all ages and sizes throughout the World. This was a consistent row of 1.49million metres (averaging 46,613m per day, burning 2,406Calories a day, and rowing an average of 4hr51 min per day for 32 days from Mar15 till April 15th).

Nowadays I still train around the 0.92KM Botanical Gardens lower loop, racewalking that undulating road in 6min, and do my interval sprints of 200m with a heart rate topping 160bpm.

So who says old runners become crippled and have to sit it out in wheelchairs watching others compete? We can work around our injuries and still compete with the best the World has to offer.

Dr. Goh Kong Chuan MB.BS (Sípore) MSpMed (UNSW) FAFP (Mísia)
(Formerly running with the Mad Bunch Penang)


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