Masters Athlete Bill Pritchett – Strong at 50
3-time Boston Marathoner and triathlete Bill Pritchett talks with bestMastersFitness.com about fitness at 50
Bill Pritchett turns 50 in a few weeks. So is he taking it easy? Heck no, Bill is busy training for his next marathon.
BMF.C: Tell us about the physical activities you stay involved in.
Bill: Running is my primary focus. I was a runner in my 20s but had to stop when I fractured my hip in 1988. I got back into running in early 2008 and began to enjoy the sport as much as I had when I was younger. I competed in several 5K races in 2008, and by the following year, I had worked up to the marathon distance. Since the fall of 2009, I have completed 12 marathons, several half-marathons, and numerous shorter races. Although my focus is still mainly on running, I started swimming in the fall of 2010 and began competing in triathlons in the summer of 2011. I enjoy the challenge and variety of triathlon training and have found that swimming and biking improved my running considerably. I round out my fitness routine with lifting and core work.
BMF.C: Why the interest in this area?
Bill: I enjoy running because it fits well into my busy life. A group of runners at my workplace have formed a running team, and we run several times each week during lunch. This allows me to get quite a few of my miles in during times that do not disrupt family time or other activities. Since running is my strongest triathlon sport, I also tend to enjoy it the most. For me, the biggest challenge is running the marathon, and so I make running my main focus so that I can meet the challenge of covering that distance. I have run 14 marathons, including Boston three times.
BMF.C: How do you stay in shape for your activities?
Bill: When I am in marathon training, I typically run 30-40 miles per week. This includes a mix of tempo runs (short and medium distance runs at a challenging pace), a weekly session of speed intervals with slower intervals in between, and a weekly long run at near-marathon pace. Mileage increases to about 50 miles in the weeks leading up to the race as the weekend runs get up into the 22-23 mile range. About two weeks before the race, I taper down and rest so that I’m fresh on race day.
Triathlon training is less structured but just as intense. I typically work out twice a day and choose two activities that work different muscle groups. For example, I might run at lunch and swim after work one day, and the next day might involve biking and core work. The challenge of tri training is to stay active in all three disciplines, as well as in cross-training – this can be especially difficult, since biking tends to take more time than the other two sports. However, since I currently only participate in sprint and Olympic distance events, the amount of distance training in each discipline is manageable.
BMF.C: Tell us about your workouts. What do you do? How often?
Bill: When I am in marathon training, I typically run six days per week and rest one day. Again, this includes tempo runs, speed work, and a long weekend run. Triathlon training also requires workouts nearly every day, so the total number of workouts in a given week is typically 12-14 during tri season.
I find that the key is to have a great deal of flexibility in my workout schedule. For example, I can choose to swim early in the morning at a local community center, hit a beach near my workplace at lunch, or swim with a group after work at a local lake. Running can be done at lunch or after work, and I have friends who enjoy biking in the evening and on weekends. With so many options, I can create a weekly workout plan that fits my schedule and allows me to work out with training partners.
BMF.C: How do you keep yourself motivated?
Bill: Like most runners, I typically have several races on my calendar, because the popular events tend to fill quickly. This keeps me motivated, because I know I need to be ready for the next race. I’m never “just running” – I’m always training for my next event. My friends also keep me motivated, because we hold each other accountable for showing up at workouts and helping each other reach our goals. I also have friends who live in other places, and we all share workout statistics and race results online. Since I know my friends will be checking up on me, it motivates me to do my best to train for each event and to execute on race day.
BMF.C: What is your biggest personal challenge to achieving and maintaining fitness over 50? How do you overcome that challenge?
Bill: I haven’t faced any challenges specifically due to my age. In fact, I think it may be easier in some ways for older athletes to stay active, because our lives tend to be less busy than younger people’s. Many of my younger training partners still have children living at home. Trying to balance family life with an active workout schedule can be quite a challenge for them. My son and daughter are now in college, so I have more time available for fitness-related activities than I have had in years. That said, my greatest challenge is simply keeping up with my younger training partners when we are working out. Since running is my main sport, I can match their pace pretty well on most training runs. However, this can be a huge challenge on bike rides. I let my younger friends push and challenge me — I never tell them to “take it easy on me” just because I’m a little older, and this approach has served me well. They have helped me to get in shape and stay there!
BMF.C: How do you approach diet and nutrition? What are your meals like? What kind of supplements do you take, if any?
Bill: I have developed healthy eating habits and try to eat healthy the vast majority of the time. My overall approach to nutrition is to think in terms of “fueling an athlete” instead of just “feeding a guy.” If you’re “feeding a guy,” you can skip breakfast, grab fast food for lunch, indulge in restaurant-size portions for dinner, and snack later in the evening. By contrast, “fueling an athlete” takes more planning and discipline. I make sure my pantry and refrigerator are stocked with plenty of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy options. That way, I can start each day with a healthy breakfast and pack a nutritious snack or lunch to eat at the office. I enjoy cooking, so I’ll frequently help my wife make dinner, or I’ll fix the entire meal. If we are having turkey or salmon, I’ll usually cook extra portions and immediately refrigerate the extra servings in individual containers. For the next few days, I’ll have healthy lunch options that I can grab on my way out the door in the morning. With a little extra planning, I can make sure I’m getting the right combination of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats I need to fuel an active lifestyle. I still have an occasional treat, but I believe that if I choose healthy foods most of the time, the extra calories from a few indulgences will not keep me from reaching my goals.
In addition to a balanced diet, I take a few supplements. My doctor recommended a daily 81mg aspirin and fish oil tablets for heart health. I take glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM for my joints. I cannot prove that it works, but I know I do not have hip, knee, or ankle problems, even with my running mileage. I also take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement to keep my electrolyte stores high. This helps prevent cramping on longer runs.
BMF.C: Have you overcome injuries and/or surgeries? What were they? How did you overcome them?
Bill: I have faced just one injury since I returned to running as a master. In the spring of 2010 I was training for a marathon and felt some tightness in my left glute on a long training run. The next day on a 4-mile run, the pain became more severe. I ran the marathon but had severe glute and back pain through most of the race. A friend who is a doctor was at that event, and after a quick look, he thought I had inflammation in my SI joint. I sought treatment from a chiropractor who adjusted my SI joints and improved the situation within a few weeks. I still have regular chiropractic adjustments to prevent a recurrence of this injury.
BMF.C: Do you have a target weight and/or body fat level you maintain? What is it? How do you achieve it?
Bill:I weigh myself almost daily, just to make sure I am keeping my weight at a healthy level. Fortunately, I tend to be lean, but when I got back into running, I didn’t compensate for the additional calories I was burning, and I got too thin. Over time, I have learned to eat more so that I balance my caloric intake with my activity level. Between meals, I also eat healthy snacks such as Greek yogurt, almonds, and fruit to get extra calories.
BMF.C: What are your health and fitness goals for the future?
Bill: As I mentioned previously, I always keep a race or two on my calendar so that I stay motivated. My next race is the Detroit Marathon, which is on October 21, 2012. That will be a big day for me, since my first marathon was Detroit back in 1987. I’m thrilled to be returning to the starting line in the Motor City after 25 years. My time in 1987 was 3:19:00, and I hope to beat that time this year. My training partner is only 35 and wants to qualify for Boston, so we need to finish under 3:10 to reach that goal. Our training has gone well, so it looks like we have a decent shot at that time.
Once the fall marathon season is over, I am signed up to run a half-marathon in November and will attempt to set a personal record for that distance. After that race I plan to back down my mileage and focus a little more on lifting and swimming so that I can improve my speed in that phase of next summer’s triathlons. I have qualified for the 117th Boston Marathon, which will be run April 15, 2103, so I plan to ramp-up my running mileage starting in January so that I can be ready for a strong race!