It wasn’t that many years ago when exercise conscious people were hard to find. Today with the graying of our baby boomers we began to see their physical challenges growing with them as they raise the bar in what they can accomplish.
In 1970 there was only one runner in his 50’s that crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon. Four decades later, with the running boom in full force, the percentage of runners over 50 completing a marathon (26.2-miles) has soared.
Running USA claims that age 50 plus marathon finishers make up 18 percent of the total number crossing the finish line across the United States. Research shows that a large part of that growth comes from newcomers who are starting to run at an older age and that the “baby boomers” are pushing their boundaries.
In 2000 the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. had a 65 and older age division. This year they had a 75 and over division to accommodate the growing number of people who refuse to allow age to interfere with what they can and cannot do physically.
Right here, on our beautiful island, 68 year old Don Zimbeck from Ocean View is training to do the Big Island International Marathon (Hilo Marathon) in March.
“I’m trying hard to finish the Hilo Marathon this year,” Zimbeck said. “I have never done a marathon in Hawaii and it has been more than twenty years since I did my last one.”
Although he has not done a marathon since 1989 Zimbeck has decided that it was time to give another 26.2-mile race a try.
“I ran a marathon when I was 48 years old in 3 hours 17 minutes and 44 seconds,” he said. “Today I’m realizing how difficult it is to train for something that long in distance and I’m just hoping I can do it.”
Zimbeck credits much of his physical abilities to his mixed strenuous workouts.
“We have chores in the tradition of the Karate Kid,” he said. “Push the wheel barrow up the hill, carry water buckets, O’O the rocks, climb and trim trees, split the firewood.”
Zimbeck considers himself a low level recreational runner with no formal training.
“I did some racing in my 40’s, but not before or much since,” he said. “We are a little remote here (Ocean View) and I haven’t yet found an Over-the-Hill or Shovel-Ready class running group in our neighborhood.”
Despite the lack of training partners or groups Zimbeck has made some strides in preparing for his long distance race by running five days per week.
“Presently I am using a simplified Jack Daniels (author or several running books) concept – repeats, tempo, intervals, easy recovery and long recovery,” Zimbeck said. “For shorter races I try more intensity and for longer ones, like the Hilo Marathon, I’ll do longer training runs with recovery days off.”
Recently Zimbeck did a 16 mile run on the Crater Rim Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and began to realize how difficult it is to train for a marathon especially when the body is getting close to 70 years of age.
But Zimbeck is smart and will back off when his body tells him in order to avoid injuries.
“I am fairy tough as a runner if I can avoid long layoffs,” he said. “I try to limit the intensity of the workouts and will run mostly on grass or dirt. I also rotate my shoes which might help a little in avoiding injuries.”
Zimbeck grew up in Colorado where he played football and tennis in high school and continued with tennis in college.
He didn’t get involved in running until 1981 while waiting for his daughter to have gymnastics lessons at the Casper, Wyoming YMCA.
“I decided to go out for a jog while my daughter was having lessons and I met some real runners,” he said. “I ended up joining the Windy City Striders Club and I learned about leaning into the wind. I started to do some shorter races and in 1984 did my first marathon.”
During the 80’s Zimbeck ran in six Bolder Boulder 10K’s and finished four marathons. It was during his three year stint teaching school in Pahala that Zimbeck bought his lot in Ocean View and in 2000 built his home.
It was also during the mid-80’s that Zimbeck set all of his racing personal records by finishing a 5K (3.1-miles) in 18:57, 10K in 40:46, half marathon in 1:29:36 and his marathon PR of 3:17.
“All my races during the 1980’s were at altitude, but not at the high temperature and humidity like we have here,” he said.
“I feel better if I’m relatively fit and running is the fastest, easiest way to stay relatively fit,” he said. “Now I can run in the mood-enhancing sunshine of our beautiful island.”
And once Zimbeck finishes the Hilo Marathon, what else could be on his accomplishment list?
“I’m trying to run most of the races on this Island, at least once,” he said.
Donald Zimbeck is currently the oldest person registered to do the March 21 Hilo Marathon. Besides the full 26.2-mile marathon there will also be a half-marathon (13.1-miles) for which Hilo’s Robert Karp at age 77 is currently the oldest registered participant.
The Hilo event will also host a 5K (3.1-mile) run/walk that is open to people of all ages. Deadline for entering any of the three events is February 27, after which time a late fee will be assessed.
For more information go to www.hilomarathon.org or call 969-7400.
Coming up on Friday, March 19, is the Big Island International Marathon’s Carbo Load Party in the Hilo Hawaiian’s Moku Ola Rooms starting at 6 pm.
The all you can eat pasta dinner includes a hula show, random lucky number prizes and featured guest MC Israel Gonzales from Lava 105 radio. Cost is $16.50 in advance or $21 at the door and the public is invited.
On Saturday, March 20, from noon to 6pm the BIIM will host a Health and Fitness Expo with free massage from Ki Mana, free taste samples from Island Naturals, running shoes and clothing from Big Island Running Company and more. This event is free and the public is encouraged to attend.
For more information on any of the events associated with the Big Island Marathon contact the Big Dog at 969-7400 or visit their web site at www.hilomarathon.org.
And someday should you happen to see a happy race director jogging around Liliuokalani Gardens remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Email the Big Dog at email@example.com.