Fit at 40: Legend shares his secrets

Source:AFP-Global Times Published: 2013-10-25 21:38:01

Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie wins the men's half marathon of the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on October 6. Photo: IC

Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie wins the men's half marathon of the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on October 6. Photo: IC

For anyone who is looking for the secret to staying fit during middle age, it's best to ask Haile Gebrselassie­, the Ethiopian running legend who's still giving­ younger men a run for their money.

Aged 40 but barely slowing down, Gebrselassie says his enduring presence in international athletics has nothing to do with fancy foods or the latest gizmos.

The key ingredient, he said, is in the mind.

"You have to have three things: discipline, commitment and hard work," said Gebrselassie, a double Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000 meters, four-time World Champion over the same distance and two-time­ world record-breaker in the marathon.

'Accept the pain'

It is this discipline which drives Gebrselassie to train twice a day and clock a daily average of 35 kilometers. Preparing for a race provides a goal to commit to, and he said some of his best training comes ahead of a big event.

He admits that the workload is not getting any easier, with middle-aged aches and pains ever-present. So fighting through physical pain and mental laziness is important too, he said.

"One of the secrets, thank you for reminding me, is to accept the pain. Without pain, no gain," he said.

Despite his relative wealth, built up from his illustrious running career plus his expanding business empire, he insisted he still eats "what the people eat" and shuns Western, processed foods.

The "Haile diet" is no fad, being made up of Ethiopia's staple injera, an iron-rich, fermented pancake, plus lots of lean, raw meat. His home country also provides him with an ideal location to train, he said, with its temperate weather and high altitude.

"The best place for training of course is Ethiopia, for me I don't see any place like Ethiopia, I'm serious," said Gebrselassie, who still starts most mornings by running in the lush green hills surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa.

'Age is just number'

Gebrselassie is widely considered one of the world's greatest-ever athletes, and back home his legendary status is rivaled only by Abebe Bikila, the "barefoot runner" who won gold in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

In his career, spanning over two decades, Gebrselassie has won multiple Olympic and World Championship medals, setting 27 world records along the way.

Like scores of other Ethiopian champions, he started running as a child when he traveled barefoot from his humble rural home to school, a 20-kilometer round-trip. He said the 10,000-meter race is still his favorite, because it reminds him of his daily journey to school.

Despite nearing retirement age, he continues to run competitively, racing alongside much younger competitors, including last month when he finished a close third behind his compatriot Kenenisa Bekele and Britain's Mo Farah in the Great North Run, a half marathon in northern England.

Continuing to break masters records in the over-40's category, Gebrselassie is showing no signs of wanting to hang up his shoes: He will run the "seven hills" 15-kilometer race in the Netherlands in November followed by a half marathon in the coming months.

"It's very hard to break the world record [now], but we'll see, I don't want to be very far from the others.

"I want to show the youngsters what running­ means, I want to tell them 'age is just a number.' If you think you're old, if you tell to yourself you're old, if you're old mentally, then you're old automatically physically­," he said, flashing his characteristic­ wide grin.

"I cannot stop running, running is just a part of my life," he added.

AFP - Global Times

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