And she isn’t stopping! Barbara Brady shares her marathon training tips for getting—and staying—in race-ready shape at any age
Barbara Brady ran the Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015 at 71 years old—it was her third Boston finish and 81st marathon finish. Yep, that’s 10 more marathons than years she’s been alive, if you’re doing the math. “I feel like running is the fountain of youth,” says Brady.
Brady started running when she was 28 years old—and got hooked. “I love being outdoors so it certainly allows that; I love the energy and endurance it gives me,” says Brady, “I don't always enjoy the run, but then there are those magic days when I feel very free when I run—I feel like I could go forever.”
Back in 1972, 28-year-old Brady was living with her husband, Phil, and three daughters outside of Knoxville, TN. To combat fatigue brought on by raising a one-and-a-half year-old while working part time, she and Phil joined an exercise class that incorporated short runs, at a local gym. Not only did she feel more energized in her day-to-day routine, she noticed a significant, “amazing” difference in her stamina on a ski trip out west. “We weren’t tired at the end of the day,” she recalls. After that, Brady’s running routine picked up pretty rapidly. She ran her first 10K in Knoxville in 1978 and then moved on to the major leagues, running her first marathon—the L.A. marathon—in March 1990 at 45 years old. (Try these 4 Unexpected Ways to Train for a Marathon.)
Brady, her husband, and her daughter before her first marathon in Los Angeles.
By the time Brady retired in 2006, she had run 25 marathons in California, as well as a few in other states. Then, her husband showed her an article about the “50 States Marathon Club.” To join, you have to have run a marathon in 10 states. (Check out The 10 Best Marathons to Travel the World.) “I became genuinely interested in trying to run the states, so I began trying to link running a marathon with a planned trip. For example, we did a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon Hike; then I ran a marathon in nearby Utah.” In 2007, she officially made the club after running the New York City marathon. (Learn the 26.2 Things You Never Knew about the NYC Marathon.) But don’t think she was ready to hang up her running shoes just yet.
“We travel a lot in our camper van, so we began planning driving trips that would include marathons,” says Brady. “Eventually, I would run a marathon a week for as many as three weeks—I even ran one ‘double’—a marathon on Saturday followed by one on Sunday,” says Brady, who ultimately ran 40 states between the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2012. That’s eight marathons a year!
“After I finished the 50 states, I was injured from running so many marathons in a short period of time,” says Brady, who, over the years, has suffered from a number of severe ankle sprains and torn ligaments, and been in a cast or boot four times. It took her almost nine months to fully recover from that feat. (Too Sore to Exercise? The Active Recovery Workout.) “As you get older, you have to be careful about overuse and injuries because you don't recover or heal as fast as when you were young,” says Brady, who now runs two days on, one day off, to stay injury-free so she can accomplish her next fitness goal: to be able to return to Boston in four years at age 75. “I thought maybe Boston would be my last marathon but I pretty much sailed though it—no blisters, no soreness, no lasting fatigue,” says Brady.
Her other goal: to inspire other women. “I don't like the fact that the number of older women running is very small, especially compared to men of the same age, so I want to buck that trend!”
Brady and her husband before their first 10K.
Steal Brady’s tips to stay in running shape into your 70s—and beyond.
Train on Soft Ground
"I think it is important to run on softer surfaces, so I do a lot of running off the pavement. We have miles of packed sand trails in our town, plus some dirt trails, so I run a lot of miles on these." (See: 29 Ways to Tone Up at the Beach.)
"On the days I don't run, I do a lot of cross training, especially bike riding. We live in a great biking area with mild weather so we can ride all year long. I also cross train at the gym...elliptical, Stairmaster, pool running, swimming. I do core exercises plus special leg exercises to keep my left knee strong, because of a ski injury dating back to my 30s."
Follow the 80/20 Rule
"I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and not a lot of meat; I try to limit the junk food. I don't follow "low carb" or any particular diet. (Actually, I love bread, pasta and rice!) However, sometimes I splurge, especially after 20-mile runs or a long race! Before a marathon, I usually try to drop a few pounds, which is pretty easy with heavy training. I do think it is important to stay "light" to prevent injury." (Check out 4 Ways to Keep the Pounds Off For Good.)
Make Rest a Priority
"Sleep is very important to feel your best, so try to get as much as you need. I used to get lots of colds when I was working and I think it was at least partially because I didn't get enough rest. As you know, there are only a certain number of hours in a day!"
Break It Up
"When I'm running a marathon, I always break it up into parts, rather than focusing on 26 miles. My 1st goal is to make it into the double digits, then the half, which comes quickly. Next I focus on having less than 10 miles to go. Then getting past the 20-mile mark. (Get the Top 25 Marathon Training Tips.)"
Pay the "If I Have to Walk" Game
"I figure out how long it would take me to finish if I ran about a 10-minute mile compared to a 15-minute mile for walking. Each mile that goes by, the walking time gets a little shorter."