PROFILE--Sylvie Kimche has been running for 40 years

Winning on Fifth Ave.
(8-18) Sylvie Kimche is a member of New York’s Central Park Track Club and is a record breaking-masters runner. Now 71, she looks to her age-graded performance where she consistently places between 84 to 89 percentile (it was in the 90s until 2015 when the age-grading table were adjusted and became much tougher) and still hits above 90 percent in the mile. She cross-trains by hiking and biking throughout Asia, Africa, South America, and Africa. 

Kimche grew up in southeast France and competed in alpine skiing before immigrating to the United States in 1979, becoming a US citizen in 1990. She has competed on the road and track in distances from the 400 meters to the marathon, but dropped the marathon from her resume in 1989 to concentrate on shorter distances. She is a well-respected and fierce competitor but when the race is over she is gracious and loves being social.  She retired in 2007 from her work as a designer for Abercrombie and Fitch. Kimche has been called one of the
world’s greatest athletes for her age not only for her records on the road and track, but also for her cycling. At 60 she biked a 40-day trek--2,662 miles from New Mexico to Canada. At 63 she biked from Hobuck Beach in the state of Washington to Bar Harbor, Maine.

What is your current age? 71 (72 in December), the Year of the Dog in the Chinese horoscope. 

How long have you been running? About 40 years - racing for 36 years.

When did you start and why? I started running in 1977 to control my weight.

How much did you run (miles/week) in your peak years?
About 35 miles a week, up to 50 miles per week when I was training for the marathon between 1986-1989. Then I stopped running marathons after the NYCM 1989 and went back to 35 miles per week. I was never a high weekly mileage runner.

What were several of your best racing performances/achievements?
On the track:
800m 2:26: and change in 1990 or 1991. 
800m 2:37:50 American record for W55+ in March 2002

On the roads:
Fifth Avenue mile: 5:11 in 1990, 6:10 in 2011 at age 64, & 6:53 last year (2017), new course record for W70+
5K PR 18:01 Freihofer 5k - Spring 1991
10K PR  38:19 Great Race - Pittsburg Fall 1990
10 mi PR ~ 62:10 at Cherry Blossom 10 miler Washington DC - Spring 1991 
Marathon 3:07:02 NYCM 1987 (before the timing with chips... would probably have been 3:06:something with chip scoring)

How much are you running now?
Not much at all. I average 12 -15 miles a week for the whole year in the past few years.

What was your average (easy day) pace during your peak? What is it now?
Under 8-min mile in 1990-1991 (before a debilitating back injury on Labor Day 1991). Now, I'm happy when I do my runs in 9:20 pace.

What is your typical diet, and how has it changed, if at all?
Guess I would call it a Mediterranean diet: Fruits, veggies, nuts & peanuts, yogurts & mozzarella (but hardly any other cheeses), grains, fish (but very little seafood), eggs (mostly hard boiled), some chicken (but no meat of 4-legged animals), olives, and lots of olive oil.  And no fried food! I was on a low fat diet in the mid-late 80's and was always hungry. Then I read that the brain cells need (good) fat to work properly (especially the memory) so started using olive oil (a lot) in my diet. (FYI, never use butter). Never looked back. Besides tasting really good & reminding me of my roots in Provence, olive oil keeps me regular and I never feel hungry anymore. And whether it's true or not, I believe it helps with my memory.
Summit of Saribung Peak, Nepal: 20,761 feet

How has your weight changed from your peak running years to now?
Not much. I may fluctuate by 2lbs here or there. My weight has been a steady 124 pounds at 5’7”.

What keeps you going? What is your motivation?
I love the effort, the competition, the camaraderie. I love the outdoors and running is the one sport you can do anywhere, any time of the year, in any place in the world, with friends or by yourself. I want to keep in shape for years to come and hope to be running in my 90s.

Have you had significant running or health issues?
I damaged the root of my femoral nerve in 1991. Not sure it was due to running (bone spur on the L4 or L5 vertebra). It wrecked havoc with my right quads and the whole right leg. Could not walk for two months, then walked with a cane, then without a cane and started running/racing again -very slowly - after about 3 years. 

How did you move past them?
Patience and the will to get better. Some PT sessions as well.  Never regained my speed but have worked on my strength and stamina, which are more important than pure speed when you're an older runner. 

What are the most important lessons for lifetime runners?
Take good care of your body. You only have one. Don't abuse it. Be patient: If you have any kind of injury, wait till you're fully recovered to start training hard again. Take time to recover from efforts. Get enough sleep on a good mattress. 

What advice would you give to someone who wished to run for life?
Do other sports besides running to avoid injury and boredom. Give your body time to recuperate after hard workouts when you're young and after regular workouts/ training runs as you get older.  And try to never run on concrete (asphalt is Ok but concrete is the worst running surface.) 

What are your thoughts on cross training (biking, swimming, strength work, stretching, etc)?
I cannot recommend cross-training enough. Cycling is great, even though it's a dangerous sport. You have to be really careful as accidents do happen! Hiking, especially at high altitude, is also excellent. I ran some of my best races coming back from long hiking trips at high altitude. You need to spend at least two weeks to get the benefits of altitude. 

I highly recommend strength training as well, but you have to work with a trainer to make sure you use the machines and the weights correctly. I always stretch after my runs, but I could probably benefit from stretching classes or yoga. I like rowing on a Concept II machine; it's too complicated to row in a boat. Rowing gives you an excellent full body workout without the pounding. It works your core, yours arms, your legs and your breathing.

As I've gotten older, I've replaced running mileage with lots of fast walking mileage. I walk everywhere. Keeps me strong and carries no risk of injury. In the past 3 or 4 years, I've incorporated climbing stairs to my cross-training/ strength training routine. I've climbed an average of 40+ floors per day these past 3 years.

What has running added to your life?
A sense of accomplishment and a sense of belonging. Remember, I am an immigrant. When I first arrived in New York City, running helped me become part of a community. To this day, the running community continues to be my source of pride & belonging and CPTC, my running club, is my extended family. Running has helped me feel good about myself whenever I had doubts or problems in the "non-athletic" part of my life. 

How has running helped you with the aging process?
I guess it has kept me "younger" than sedentary people. I have more energy than most people (especially women) my age. Running and being really active is keeping me healthy & strong. I have to say though that in the past 3 to 6 months, I've been struggling with more fatigue (probably due to stress from extensive remodeling in my apartment not going as smoothly as I had hoped for and also due to a knee tendon problem that does not seem to want to go away... maybe age is finally catching up with me???). I hope it's just a rough patch, but it makes me feel aware that you can't escape getting older. 

What is the question you ask yourself every day about running and aging, and how do you answer this question to yourself?
The only way to live a long life is to get older. Humanity has not found any way around this (yet?). To me, the only way to live a long, fulfilling ,old age is to be active - which means running but also all the other sports & activities I participate in - to keep my body and mind alert and  capable of enjoying more of the best things life has to offer, even in older age.

Favorite quote:  “Age is a case of mind over matter; if you don't mind it, it doesn't matter!” Attributed to Mark Twain

And, “The older we get, the faster we were.”