Champion tennis play Martina Navratilova was once asked, “How do you maintain your focus, physique and sharp game even at the age of 43?”
She replied, “The ball doesn’t know how old I am”.
Like Martina, many people have left age stereotypes behind and are enjoying their ideal fitness levels . I spoke with runner, triathlete, and executive education consultant Dr Valerie (Val) Morrison on how she’s running strong at 73.
Running the Kokoda Trail… five times
Six years ago Val Morrison joined a friend’s team for the 96km Gold Coast Kokoda Trail, as a favour. She’d run the Gold Coast Marathon two weeks prior. “I thought, the Kokoda can’t be too bad because they’re walking most of the way,” she tells me over Zoom.
The next year, she ran it. And did so another three years in a row.
“I quite like bush running,” she says, by way of explanation.
The Doctor of Business Administration has run marathons. She’s done triathlons. She’s done the Gold Coast Kokoda Trail five times. This year she had to miss her half-Ironman, a race she’s been training for, due to COVID restrictions.
Fitness helps Val feel good
With nothing to train for Val is “just cruising along”. Up at 5am to train (“it’s nicer that way, with not many people around”) she does three bike rides, three swims, and three runs of varying length. Oh, and three strength sessions a week “to keep me healthy in the long term”. Her setting? The beautiful rainforests and ocean of the Gold Coast.
She’s been at it all her life. In snowy England a ten-year-old Val would get up for a dawn paper run with a heavy sack of letters. Throughout school she was deep into ballet and, later, athletics. Even during a busy career she’d get up in the small hours for a 15km run. “I can’t imagine just getting up and having a cup of coffee, having breakfast, a shower and going to work. I just can’t imagine doing that at all.
Fitness communities are diverse and supportive
Yet there are others like Val. She’s part of a supportive community of all ages with a positive attitude to exercise. At race meets and group training sessions, her running friends push and inspire her to test her limits.
“It’s the people you’re with! I’m surrounded by people aged 10 up to 80. It’s not that I hang out with people my age, I hang out with people who do what I do.”
“It’s competitive. I think, “OK, I’m in the 70-74 age group now. Who have I got to beat?” So I start looking at other people’s times.
“And then I look at people who are 10-15 years older than me and I think, I can still be doing this at that age, because they’re doing fine!”
Outside this community, Val has experienced some stigma from people who think ageing and athletic enthusiasm don’t belong in the same sentence. She doesn’t care. Why should she? She knows what she’s capable of.
“I think people’s perception of age is quite warped. I think people tend to stereotype.”
“The people I run with don’t see me as a 70-year-old, and I don’t see another runner as an 80-year-old. We don’t talk about it. We’re just doing what we’re doing.
“I mean, sure, you slow down. The times I’m running now are nothing like when I was 40, or 35, or 45, or 50. But it doesn’t matter, it’s all relative. That’s all part of being older. But I’m still doing the same thing, still feeling well, and touch wood that will continue for a very long time!”
Attitude is key to exercising at any age
How would Val advise those new to exercise? Build your fitness slowly, do what you enjoy, and get the right advice from positive people.
“You’ve got to get advice from the right people. Just surround yourself with people that know what they’re doing, that’s the bottom line.”
Val’s body is used to a tough exercise regime. To look after it she sees a kinesiologist-chiropractor once a month, stretches, and keeps her diet “sensible – although I did just have a Tim Tam and a coffee!”. But far from being something to worry about, she credits exercise for her overall health and wellbeing.
“I just can’t imagine not feeling well. I don’t know what that’s like.”
The Daily Beacon wishes Val the best of luck for her half-Ironman, when it’s back on the cards!
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org