Last October, 74-year-old Californian, Harriet Anderson, was the oldest female to complete the ultra-endurance-demanding Ford Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Making this amazing athletic feat (in which this septuagenarian had to swim 2.4 miles in the ocean, bike 112 miles and THEN immediately complete a full 26.2-mile marathon) all the more astounding is that Harriet persevered through the final 58 MILES with a broken clavicle and injured hip and leg. These injuries were the result of her being knocked off her bike at mile 80 of the bike leg when another rider clipped her back wheel. Because of sharp pain in her thigh when she tried to run, and with her arm taped/secured to her waist due to the broken bone, she had to walk the marathon portion -- which she could afford to do and still finish within the 17-hour cutoff because of her excellent times on the swim and bike. She completed the 140.6 miles of racing in 16 hours 53 minutes -- with seven minutes to spare.

In completing this severe test of endurance, despite her substantial injuries, Harriet kept alive her streak of finishing every race she's ever entered. This streak includes 18 Kona Ironmans, of which she's won her age group nine times (including this last time) and a host of 70.3 Ironman races (formerly called half Ironman), century bike races and rides, swimming events and shorter triathlons in her 20-plus years of competing.

Lest you think Harriet was some great athlete carrying on her athletic prowess from her youth, a little background is in order. Harriet played some tennis in high school. A school nurse by trade, her exercise while raising her family consisted mainly of taking family hikes with her husband, Gary, and their two children. When the kids went off to college, she joined an exercise class that led to 5K and 10K running races. Like so many masters athletes, she had no great goal to be an Ironman or run a marathon, but gradually, as she got in better shape, Harriet took on the challenge of longer and longer races. Not a strong swimmer, Harriet joined a masters swimming club where she greatly improved this skill. Eventually she found her way to the shorter sprint triathlons.

In May of 1989, now 53, she tried her greatest challenge to date, a half Ironman. She was quite surprised when she won her age group at this initial foray into longer triathlons. As the result of her first place finish she automatically qualified for the full Ironman race in Kona. She decided to give it a try and spent the next four months training for the event. In October of 1989, she competed in her first Ironman, did well, and the rest is history, as they say.

What are some of her "secrets" to having the staying power to compete in these 140.6-mile ultra-endurance races through her sixties and well into her seventies? Here are some in no particular order:

•Harriet maintains a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources
•The natural cross training of the triathlete (biking one day, running another day and swimming on others) is easier on the body and psyche than, say, just being a runner or a cyclist
•She keeps flexible and strong with regular yoga and Pilates classes
•Running on trails, instead of the hard asphalt of road running, just three outings per week, and maintaining a healthful weight makes her running easy on her joints ...
•Her near daily massages can't hurt
•Gradually increases her training as major races approach and makes sure she doesn't overtrain or undertrain
•By putting family first and having a number of other interests, Harriet keeps from getting too stressed over her athletic pursuits -- excess stress tears the body down and ages us quickly

To get a better perspective on what Harriet has accomplished when she wins her age group in an Ironman event, let's imagine that someone has challenged you to see if you can keep up with or beat Harriet's time last Fall -- 16:53 -- only you get two weeks to do it. To make it interesting and worth your while, they have committed to paying you $100 if you succeed.

Here's what you'll need to do in this 14-day endurance challenge. The first four days are devoted to swimming. By dividing 2.4 miles by four we get .6 miles of swimming per day or a little over 19 lengths of a 50-meter Olympic-size pool. Assuming you can maintain a little over a two-minute-per-length-of-the-pool pace, this will be an approximate 40 minutes of non-stop swimming per day for a total swimming time of 2 hours 40 minutes.

Next up is the cycling portion. If we divide the 112 miles into 6 daily sessions, that would be five 20-mile bike rides with a 12-miler on the sixth day. Assuming you are fit enough to maintain a brisk 10-miles-per- hour tempo for 20 miles, this will be two hours of peddling the first five days and an hour and 12 minutes on the sixth day. That totals 11 hours 12 minutes of biking; add that to your 2 hours 40 minutes of swimming and you have 13 hours 52 minutes of biking and swimming over the first 10 days. Just 4 days to go.

Finally we come to the running. Since a marathon is 26.2 miles you'll need to run a little over 6.5 miles each of the final four days. Let's say you can maintain a little over a 9-minute per mile pace for the 6.5 miles (this is an average pace for those who run 10Ks or 6.2 mile races). That means each day's run will take about an hour or a total of four hours for the 4 days.

By adding these last four hours of running to your previous total, you have swum, cycled and run the 140.6 miles in 17 hours 52 minutes. That means that Harriet outperformed you by an hour despite her handicap of doing her last 58 miles with a broken collarbone and other injuries -- and she did it on one day -- not in two weeks. Oh, by the way, we hate to rub it in, but you didn't make the 17-hour cutoff, either -- even though we gave you a generous two weeks to complete the faux-Ironman.

Are you telling me that you can do better than my time and pace projections? Well, talk is cheap. You know there's only one way to prove it, and that is to actually take the two-week Ironman challenge. Harriet Anderson has thrown down the gauntlet. If a woman well into her seventies, who is not some great athlete from decades past, can compete successfully, even when severely injured, in 140.6-mile Ironman races, then what can we do at our age that we THINK we're too old to enjoy?! Of course, before you go flying out the door to tackle this 2-week Ironman, you need to check with your health-care provider to make sure it is safe for you to do all this swimming, biking and running AT YOUR AGE!

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From Ed Mayhew -- the author of Fitter After 50, Fitter For Life and other books, CDs, videos and articles on how you, too, can make falling apart as you age merely an option -- NOT a mandate. Why not make the rest of your life the BEST of your life? http://www.FitterforLife.com and http://www.amazon.com/Age-Blasters-Steps-Younger-You/dp/1598589083/ref=s... (click here for paperback or Kindle editions of AGE BLASTERS