Francis Marzec is a Health Hero and thoughtful athlete who’s no stranger to running after 50—in fact, his running career spans 4 decades. He began his running career in the early days of triathlon completing several ½ IRONMAN’s and marathons. Wanting to give back to the community that gave him so much, he has been volunteering at the Kona IRONMAN triathlon every year since 2006. One of his proudest moments happened in 1016, when he got the opportunity to help assist the oldest male finisher Hiromu Inada across the finish line. Francis is an early bird that likes to get his runs in first thing in the morning. Read on for some of Francis’s secrets to running after 50.

What is your top tip for runners aged 50+  to keep running strong for a long as possible?

Balance – Gone are the days when I could lace up my shoes at any time of the day and just run without preparation. It is not that I cannot do that anymore, it is just that I trust the little voice in my head that says this is not the best way for you to maximize your routine and stay in rhythm. I have learned that if I want to run strong and stay in rhythm, I must have a balanced habit of eating, sleeping and fitness. I run early so that the three pillars of my habit propel me on the run course. Without this balance I full well know that I cannot stay in rhythm and receive the enjoyment my run routine provides. And in the end if you are not enjoying your routine, you will not challenge yourself to do your best and you will stop. 

 How do you factor and incorporate recovery into your training program?  

First, I listen to what my body is telling me. To learn this information, I run every other day. When I run, I alternate my distance. During my run, I include faster and slower pace. Each of these change-ups provide me clues to my recovery protocol and if it is working. After my run, I access my level of fatigue. Do I require extra rest or nutrition at that moment? If so, I make sure I give my body what it needs. On days I run, I have a fitness routine before I run, and every day off I have a fitness routine that prepares me for my next day’s run. Because I listen to my body’s signals, it rewards me on either longer or shorter run days.  

Francis assisting Japanese triathlete and oldest male finisher Hiromu Inada across the finish line at the 2016 Kona IRONMAN triathlon

What are the main benefits you get from your running now?  

Aside from the health and wellness benefits that come from a running routine, and these are many, the main benefit running offers me is the mental satisfaction I get knowing that I can achieve the same distances I ran in my 20s, 30s, and 40s albeit at a slower pace. Running my best brings me great personal enjoyment.  

What is the biggest challenge to your running program you have recently overcome and how did you do it?  

I was born and raised in Chicago, so I know about cold winters. Most people do not relish the thought of being prepared to leave their home in sub-32-degree temps, let alone for a 6:30 am run. For me, that is exactly the challenge that has motivated me. With the right clothing and the right hydration, temperature is just a number. Just recently, it was zero degrees outside, and I was preparing as always to head out. A family member questioned my thinking, but I knew otherwise. Yes, it was cold to start, but within 2 miles I warmed up. Inside my cocoon with only my eyes showing I was warm and toasty. My eating, sleeping and fitness habits that prepared me for any run and my recovery monitoring protocol made me confident. I powered my run and had the added benefit of seeing the sunrise on a clear blue-sky morning. Find the fun in a challenge and no obstacle will hold you back.  

Francis getting in his run despite the harsh midwestern winter weather

How do you approach the mental aspect of running?  

The first place I would start is to be honest with yourself. Strong running requires you to be realistic. Answer the question? Why am I running? What outcome am I looking to achieve? How much time will I give my routine? What metrics will I judge myself by? How much time will I allow for results to show up? This exercise will offer you goals and lead to following a strategy that works for you. We are all different people so what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Understand that your running will require consistent effort. Results for any endeavor take time. Strong running requires developing a habit. Good habits lead to rhythm. Rhythm leads to performance. Performance leads to measurable results. If you have not set out realistic goals how can you expect to know you have arrived? Running asks you to push through doubt and discomfort. Not just when you start running but continually, as a seasoned runner. Being mentally prepared goes hand in hand with being physically prepared.  

Has what matters most to you changed as you have gotten older?  

There is an old saying, “with age comes wisdom”, and with running it is the same. When I was younger, I wanted to boast how fast, how far, by how much I won. I have friends today that can no longer run because of genetics, habits or bad luck and they all tell me how jealous they are of my running ability. I recognize their jealousy as no longer being allowed in the game. When I was younger, I took running for granted. But now I know I am blessed and grateful that I can still play in the game.  

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Health IQ.