Runner’s Story: Old Man Running
We have another inspiring story for you! Allen Leigh, of Old Man Running, was kind enough to share his story with us and we have to say, it’s quite amazing. You can read more about how running actually saved his life here, but for now, he’s going to share his best running tips and advice. Enjoy!
How and when did you start running?
I started running at age 38 due to having pain in my feet when I was on my feet for several hours. I had been raised in a small Utah town in which I walked or rode a bike everywhere. I completed four years of college during which I walked several miles each day just going to and coming from campus twice a day.
After my Sophomore year of college I worked at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as a Bell Hop and was on my feet all day. During my off hours, I hiked 90 miles in the canyon, including a rim-rim hike of 26 miles. The upshot of this is that I had very strong legs and feet until…until I bought my first car and started driving everywhere. After a few years, my feet started to hurt. For example, after 6 or 7 hours of doing yard work, my feet would be so sore the next morning that I had to crawl from my bed to the bathroom. On top of all this, I was born with a very stiff skeleton (a bone specialist said I had the opposite of double joints).
I thought my stiff skeleton might be the cause of the pain in my feet, and I went to a bone specialist. He examined me and said the muscles in my feet were weak and that I should do anything I wanted to do to strengthen them. I began running. I had experimented a few times with running, through the influence of a friend at National Guard summer camp, and I thought running would strengthen my feet. It did, and I kept on running.
What’s been your biggest achievement as an athlete so far?
In terms of running, my four marathons at age 46-47. However, I think a bigger achievement is just that I’ve been running for about 38 years.
Do you compete in any running events regularly? If so, which ones?
No, although there is a local 5K that I like to run each June. Later, after I get my long run back to 15 miles, I’d like to do a half-marathon each year. I’m a very competitive person and like to compete with myself. But, I don’t want to race on a regular basis. I prefer to just run for enjoyment.
What are your goals for the future?
Two years ago I had serious blood clots that literally shut me down. I finished a 22-mile week with a 7-mile run on Saturday. On Monday I could only walk about 200 feet. I was in the hospital for 5 days, and when I left my walking was up to 400 feet. My wife and I walked together, and when our walking got up to 1 1/2 miles, I started to mix in small amounts of running. My long run is currently 7 miles, about 60% running and 40% walking. I alternate short runs with short walks, about 1 minute for running and a bit less for walking.
My immediate goals are to get my Monday or Tuesday rest run to 5 miles (I’ve achieved that), my Wednesday or Thursday medium run to 7 miles (I just did that but my body isn’t used to it yet), and my Friday or Saturday long run to 10 miles. After I reach those goals and my body is getting used to those distances, I’ll increase the medium and long runs until my three runs are 5, 10, 15 miles. At that point, I will consider doing a half-marathon once or twice a year.
What is your favorite thing about running?
I run for enjoyment. I enjoy the running. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the birds and animals that I see. I even enjoy picking up trash along the path I run. I do almost all of my running on the Jordan River Parkway that follows the Jordan River from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake. I like to run the Parkway, because it gets me away from city streets and the resulting smog. It gets me out in nature. I pass quite a few walkers, runners, cyclists, etc., and I enjoy nodding hello to them. There is an older man, who I see once or twice a week, who rides an electric scooter, and I always stop and talk with him. I enjoy races, too, but they are a secondary interest in my running.
What’s a normal workout routine for you?
I don’t do much in cross training, so I don’t have much of a workout routine. I run three times per week, and I stretch before and after I run.
Do you have a favorite runner or athlete?
George “Doc” Sheehan. Even though I never met him, he was my mentor, and I attribute my 38 years of running with only one minor injury to following his advice: enjoy my running, listen to my body, and modify my running by how my body feels. I grew up in running before the technical gadgets were invented, and I learned to listen to my body and run according to how I feel. In my training site (http://runninginjuryfree.org) I’ve posted an essay by Doc Sheehan which was the first thing I read in the running literature. I’ve dedicated that post to Doc Sheehan.
Do you have any running gear that you love?
I’m not into running gear very much. My shoes, shorts, long pants, technical T-shirts, nylon wind breaker, a wide-brim hat, and my Fuel Belt are all I have and need. Oh yes, I have an old Garmin GPS that I use to measure distance when I go on a new path. I don’t carry the Garmin on a regular basis. Just when I need to measure distance or check on my pace. I try not to check on my pace very often, because I don’t want to become obsessed with running faster. I run for enjoyment and let my speed increase naturally.
What’s the one mistake that you see most new runners making?
Pushing themselves too much. Abnormal soreness, pain, side stitches, a high resting heart rate are not normal. They are statements from our bodies that we’re doing too much. If one feels pain, lack of energy, abnormal soreness, he or she should do the natural thing and walk or stop running. It’s abnormal to push ones self through pain. If your body tells you it can’t handle the stress of running, do what ever it takes to reduce the stress. Pushing through the pain increases the stress, just the opposite of what your body needs.
If you could give one bit of advice to a new runner, what would it be?
Run because you want to. If you don’t like running, then walk, swim, cycle, or something else. Listen to your body and enjoy what ever you do.
Be sure to check out Old Man Running for some great running tips, advice, and of course, some insight from Allen!