The coronavirus COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older individuals. This week The Lancet reported that only 4.9 percent of infected individuals aged 40 to 49 require hospitalization. But this figure jumps to 16.6 percent for those 70 to 79, and 18.4 percent for those over 80.
At the same time, it’s also true that regular exercise contributes to mental and physical health (and immunity). So what are runners over 70 doing, and how are they coping? We asked a few.
Don Ardell, 81, Gulfport, Fla.
Don Ardell was one of the first to identify a “wellness” lifestyle in the early 1970s, has written numerous books on the subject, and is a top runner-triathlete-duathlete in his age-group.
Training: “The gyms and pools are closed, so I’m working out on an indoor bike trainer and running and walking on an outdoor bike trail. I do a lot of walking, including 10 flights in a stairwell several times a day.”
Daily Life: “I write from home, so no big changes there. Our annual escape from the Florida heat to summertime in Madison, Wisconsin, is delayed by a couple of months.”
Outlook: “I feel bad that so many are suffering. We are fortunate to still be doing great physically and emotionally. My advice to everyone: Cave alone, and roam alone.”
Rich Castro, 72, Boulder, Colo.
Castro has been a part of the Boulder running and organizing (and university) community for five decades.
Training: “I stopped running with my regular group on Tues./Thurs./Sat. That’s a big change for me after 40+ years on that cycle. I feel fit but have picked up a pound or two during this time. Running intensity is way down but I’m exercising regularly and walking my dogs, so the time investment is about the same.”
Worries: “I am concerned about friends and family since we all seem to fit into the high-risk demographic group. My wife is an RN and has been pulled back into full time work, and my son is working to help first responders with childcare and education.”
Internet: “I have tried hard to maintain a good routine and stay grounded and keeping socially connected via [the] internet (online poker with my buddies).”
Perspective: “I worry that others will grow weary of doing the right thing, and jeopardize the larger community without realizing it. I grew up in a third-world environment so these are not really hardships, just inconveniences.”
Julian Gordon, 84, Lake Bluff, Ill.
Gordon, a PhD biophysicist and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern, started running at 52, and averages three marathons a year. At age 81, he was the 5:10 Chicago Marathon pace group leader.
Be Positive: “I’m a chronic optimist who thinks nothing will happen to me. It’s because of COVID that I am able to work remotely at a cabin, and get in 7 miles of gorgeous trails a day.”
Flexibility: “Because I now set my own hours, I can run whenever I want.”
Recovery Time: “I was training for the Tokyo Marathon before that got canceled. Now I’m in my recovery mode. I have time to make sure everything is working when I ramp up again for Tokyo next year, assuming world health permits.”
Sabra Harvey, 71, Houston, Tex.
In 2017 Harvey was named USA Track and Field Masters Athlete of the Year. A year ago in Poland she set a world record of 2:50.57 for 800 meters.
Changes: “It’s hard—the inability to carry on normal everyday activities, whether it be shopping or seeing the grandkids. Are we out of tomatoes? Yes, but we can manage salad sans tomatoes.”
No gym: “I’ve had to reorganize my core-training sets to replace the weight machines at the gym. An indoor rower has taken up some of the slack as well, but I’m still outside running five days a week. The sixth day is for bicycling, the seventh for rest.”
Pluses: “I’m fortunate to have out-my-front-door access to 20 or so miles of running/biking trails. It’s easy to social distance as I’ve always been a solo runner.”
Regroup: “I’ve been working back from an injury for some months, and was at the point of completing the transition back to running outside just as this virus thing hit. So it made the transition easier to get back outside as I can’t go to the gym to swim or cross train.”
George Hirsch, 85, New York City
Hirsch is past publisher of Runner’s World magazine, and currently chairman of the board of the New York Road Runners. In last September’s New Balance Bronx 10 mile, he ran 1:50:12.
Changes: “I’m now at home pretty much all the time, so I have started a new routine. It’s probably more structured than my schedule pre-coronavirus. I stay active with many NYRR emails, Zoom conferences, and telephone calls during the day.”
Training: “I continue to work out every day. My building has a small gym, and we get to sign up for an hour a day of individual use. I mix the treadmill, elliptical, a bike, and a rowing machine. I run on the treadmill about four days a week. Wednesday was my longest in a while: 5.3 miles. On sunny days, I walk in Central Park, keeping my distance.”
Outlook: “I feel well emotionally and physically, but am saddened by the horrific news about those who are suffering or soon will be. I’m fortunate to have many friends and family with whom I stay in touch.”
Eve Pell, 83, Mill Valley, Cal.
Pell has been a championship age-group competitor from the Fifth Ave Mile to the Dipsea Trail Race for many years.
Daily life: “Covid has affected my personal life—not seeing friends and family, staying socially isolated and 6’ apart. But my training hasn’t changed. For the last year or so, I’ve been walking with friends most of the time and run/walking once or twice a week.”
Annoyances: “I’m unhappy that I can’t go to movies, restaurants, etc., as much as I would like. And of course I’m sad that our Dipsea race, which I’ve run for many decades, has been canceled for the first time since World War II.”
Jan Holmquist, 75, Burlington, Mass.
Jan Holmquist holds a number of American and World age-group records, and still works full time for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Challenges: “I work at a local SPCA. We have had to limit the patients that we see, so revenue is deeply affected at the hospital, which means furloughs or reduced hours begin next week.”
Training: “I am still running as before, outdoors in the morning before work and on the weekends (4-5 days/week for a total of about 25 miles). Due to the cancellation of races (especially the Ramble 10K), I am not doing as much speed work.”
The Mind: “Physically, I am fine. Emotionally, I use mind control much more often to try to keep a positive outlook. This is challenging! I miss seeing my granddaughter in person, as my family doesn’t want to expose me.”
Routine: “I am fortunate to mostly have my same routine. But the running community was my primary social activity on many weekends, and I miss seeing my runner friends.”
Sylvie Kimche, 73, New York City
Kimche, a record-breaking masters runner with Central Park Track Club, consistently places between 84 to 89 age-graded percentile and still hits above 90 in the mile.
No worries: “I’m not worried about COVID-19 as I lead a healthy lifestyle, sleep well, eat well, and have a strong immune system.”
Isolation: “I live alone so the current self-isolation in Manhattan does not really affect me.”
Training: “There is nothing in my daily exercises that I cannot do due to COVID-19. I’m lucky that Central Park stays open so I can run. I’ve also been going up the stairs in my building (going down in the elevator)—an average of over 80 floors per day—to get more cardio/exercise and to keep my leg muscles strong without the pounding of running.”
Stress relief: “I understand that stress can make you more at risk of being infected by the virus. So anything that can relieve stress, like running, is welcome. I’m not paranoid. I’m being careful but I’m not excessively worried and I’m confident that eventually we’ll get through this.”
Bill Rodgers, 73, Boxborough, Mass.
Rodgers, famous for his four Boston and four NYC Marathon wins, continues to run regularly, and to race at select events around the country.
Social distance: “I’m definitely practicing this on my runs, as are all the other runners I see on the roads.”
Training: “I haven’t changed my running schedule much until recently when I backed off my weekly race-pace effort because … no races to run.”
Hardship: “It’s hard not to be able to visit my 96-year-old mother at her assisted-living place, or any other family or friends. But I think we have to bide our time and deal with this virus. I often think about my mom and dad, who grew up with the aftermath of World War I, the Great Depression, and then World War II. If they could recover from all that, we can too.”
Observation: “I feel the people of the U.S.A. are at our best when we work together. I especially admire those leaders, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who keep their focus on the best interests of all Americans.”
Ed Rousseau, 81, Minneapolis, Min.
Ed Rousseau has run 110 marathons, 124 ultramarathons, holds 18 US records, 5 world ultratrack records, and second place All Time in the 100-mile 80-84 group.
Worries: “I‘m worried about losing my streak at certain races that will be cancelled. Can’t do the virtual ones as I only have an old Timex, not a fancy Garmin. Other than that the virus hasn’t changed much for me.”
Cabin fever: “I went to my cabin for the past few weeks for late winter and early spring chores. I also increased my run distances up to 10 miles in the open spaces up there. Now I’m back in Minneapolis with a stay-home order except stores, banks, [the] post office, etc. ”
Little change: “I am not worried about COVID-19 as I take all the recommended precautions, eat well, and exercise. My fitness and running routine has not changed. I don’t need to go to an indoor track for long runs at this point, as I would in the dead of winter. With spring here, I can do my running program outside. The paths and roads around some lakes are blocked to cars, so we runners have more room.”
Future forward: “I am looking ahead to the late July Dome Run ( 24-hour, 48-hour and six day event) in Milwaukee, leaning toward entering the 48 Hour for a shot at the 136 mile U.S. Record.”
Doug Goodhue, 78, Milford, Mich.
Goodhue is one of the country’s most-decorated age-group runners, with numerous victories and records on the track, and in cross-country and road racing.
Family ties: “My wife, Cindy, and I are following the Governor’s separation rules here in Michigan. We most miss family and friends, and have already canceled two family celebrations. We have four married daughters and 10 grandchildren. But thanks to cell phones and FaceTime, we may actually be a little closer than before COVID-19.”
Training: “My fitness and training haven’t changed much. After the year-end holidays, I increased my weekly miles to 50-55 to get ready for two spring half-marathons and the World Masters Championships in Toronto. Of course, they have been canceled. I hope to race in the fall and maybe challenge Warren Utes’ age-group American record in the half marathon, 1:30:19, set in 1997.”
Positive confrontation: “As this national pandemic mounts, I think the coronavirus will force us to confront our vulnerability and our humanity. Those things should bring us all closer to home and family. I hope so!”