PROFILE--Ed Rousseau has been running for 62 years

Finishing his 24th straight
Twin Cities Marathon in 2006
(2-19) Ed Rousseau of Minneapolis has run 106 marathons, 117 ultramarathons, and loves races with “hours” in the title as in a 24-hour race or 72-hour race. He also looks forward to the “day” races, as in the six-day race he ran totaling 384 miles. “A guy’s got to run or head for a recliner,” says Roussseau, 79. “I’ll take running.” What he is most proud of though, more than his numerous age-group records, is his 35 years of sobriety.

When did you start running and why? September 1957.  After high school, I enlisted in the air force. During basic training, we had to run three miles on a track. My high school basketball years prepared me for endurance and running and also with a desire to win. I was not going to be last. I was going to win. I finished my first three-mile run out front and realized I was a good runner.  So I owe my running to the Air Force but that’s where I also started drinking.

After the Air Force I worked for a technology firm in Minnesota. My work progressed and so did my after-work drinking which cost me my marriage. A promotion 10 years later had me transferred to a project in Iran and located him in Tehran in 1974, just before the coup. I loved the country, and strangely started to jog because
of my drinking. If I was out drinking and it got to be government curfew time, I sprinted back to my apartment. During the five years I was in Iran, the running boom in the United States had taken hold. When I returned home I saw people out jogging, something new to me. At age 40, I decided to join them and pulled on my old sweat pants, 20-year old basketball shoes, and went for a run. I barely made it around the block. My years of smoking and drinking had taken its toll, but it was my wake up call to get my life back. 

Any early inspirations?  My friend who encouraged me to run my first marathon, the inaugural Twin Cities Marathon in 1982. That was 106 marathons ago. And Frank Shorter for igniting the running boom in America.
First Twin Cities Marathon, 1983

How much did you run per week in your peak years?  I would run up to 60 miles a weeks. Now I run around 30 miles on average. There are some 55-mile weeks when I peak with a long 35 miler and some light rest weeks after a long race.

What were some of your better/memorable races?
My first marathon, Twin Cities. A marathon in Anchorage while working there that I won. My first 100-mile ultra that I won and my first 24 Hour Nationals where I won the 50-54 Masters Division and broke 3 US Records.

How did you train differently in your younger years?  I just ran out the door as hard as I could for whatever distance I planned. No stretching, no cool down. I had muscle and tendons inflamed periodically.

How do you train now? I stretch before and after, and I plan my pace. I stopped running so-called junk miles and now run about 30 miles a week. I run maintenance miles twice a week, one day for speed work, and then I take three rest days and then one long run up to 30 miles. In the winter I’ll put on some wooden snowshoes and head into the woods by my cabin. And I now do a walk-run routine for ultras, which helps with the injuries, and I found I didn’t lose any time.

Has your diet changed through the years?  Well, I haven’t had a drink in 35 years! I basically follow the food pyramid adding carbohydrates before a long race and protein after hard workouts or races. I find that good old chocolate milk is the best recovery drink.

With results board, Sri Chinmoy 6-day race
Cross Training?  I do a lot of strength training, which is so important for us seniors. I also do a lot of snowshoeing when I am up in my cabin in the Minnesota woods. Now that’s a workout.

How do you deal with getting slower? At 79, I know my best times are definitely in the past but I don’t dwell on it. My best marathon time was 2:57 in 1984 at age 45 and I just ran Twin Cities in 5:10. My best mileage for a 24-hour race is 121 at 54 and at the nationals I ran 83 miles. I just stay competitive in my age division and that’s challenging enough for me. I am finally getting smart and using my semblance of a brain when it comes to my running. I run slow now because I can't run fast anymore. In short 5K.or 10K races I am now a back of the packer. So that is the social crowd.

Obstacles along the way?  A week after my first 100- miler in April, 1989, I ended up in the hospital with total kidney failure. Turout my muscles were so depleted they started eating my body’s protein sources. On top of that I started taking ibuprofen for the pain. The combination overwhelmed the kidneys and they quit. By the time I got to the hospital, my creatinine levels, which should be 1 milligram in a male, were over 7. The doctor warned me I might be facing dialysis for life.  Fortunately my kidneys kicked in a few days later. I’ve never taken ibuprofen again. I have had strained hamstrings, shin splints, inflamed Achilles, plantar fasciitis, and even a metatarsal joint that fell apart in a 48 hour race. The race doctor taped it up and I ran another 112 Miles to finish the race.

A favorite quote? “Wisdom is what you have some 30 years after you thought you knew it all.”

Running-training philosophy?  Running is my lifesaving tool that has the bonus of providing me with a group of like-minded people who are like family to me, even though I may only see them once a year at a race.  I look forward to going to events because it’s like a family reunion. We all train and push to be our competitive best but yet we are humble and friendly on a personal level. Like all areas of life, we are here to learn, grow and improve on a daily basis.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? This is going to be a very different take on this question than you are used to reading. Realizing I will always be a recovering alcoholic with a compulsive addictive personality, I need running in my life to keep looking for new adventures and new "highs." I volunteer at AA meetings and other treatment centers as a motivational speaker and go county jails to speak to the inmates about addiction.  I tell them, “Maybe you can handle that one glass. It’s the next ten that get you in trouble.” I live by my motto, "Be the best you can be in every area of life, not just running."  I’m very aware of the pitfalls of falling off the wagon and feel that through my running and motivational talks I’m also helping myself. If I don’t give back I may fall back. I’ve learned to handle the bad with the good and consider myself very lucky. I can win with humility and be a gracious loser thanks to running.
Enjoying a healthy
winter activity

How has running helped you with the aging process? Here’s the best way to describe this. I recently attended my 60th high school reunion back in that logger town in the upper peninsula of Michigan where I grew up.  The alumni group is now down to ten. I always look forward to seeing my best friend from high school and was shocked to find out that he died weeks before the reunion from brain cancer. I had to go to extra AA meetings to help me get through that emotional crisis. At the reunion, most of my classmates weren’t in great shape. One was on oxygen; others were limping, out of shape. All seemed to have degrees of arthritis. My diet and exercise has slowed my arthritis. So I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in and I owe that to diet and running. I find that only a few of us in the USA around 80 years old can still run a 24 hour or multi day ultra. I am glad to be in that group.

What tips would you give a younger runner who wants to be a lifetime runner? I suggest getting a beginner runner-training plan and follow it even if it is too easy at first. Do some mild stretches and leg swings before you run and stretch after. After a hard or long run or races I have used a muscle rub product for several years. It is pure concentrated Epsom salt bath in a lotion called Epsomit. Absorbs in 10 minutes and gets the needed magnesium into my muscles and I feel pain relief soon after and pain free the next morning. Eat a good diet and add carbohydrates and protein to energize and mend those used muscles.