Q&A: 38-Minute 10k at Age 65 – Part Two

We recently interviewed Dan Schlesinger, an acclaimed local artist who finished 3rd at the 1982 New York Marathon (behind Alberto Salazar). Dan also illustrated the Japanese edition Harry Potter books and was formerly a lawyer.

Following on from Part One of the interview, in Part Two we speak to Dan about how his training, diet and how he's able to run a 38-minute 10k at age 65.


1. Training

What does a normal week’s training look like for you?  Do you train alone? What is your hardest session? How hard do you push yourself? 

Of course a normal week’s training today is nothing like what it was forty years ago! Prior to the New York Marathon in 1982, for example, I was running 120 miles a week, including two gruelling speed workouts a week on the track … 5 x 1 mile at 4:30...8 x 800 at 2:02, etc. Oddly long runs were NOT a part of my training regime (instead, to push up my mileage, I would complete two runs of, for example, 10 miles).  As a result I was never training much slower than race pace.

Now, at 65, above all I strive to stay uninjured. I rarely race and seldom run more than 6 miles at a time.  I have three different 5-6 mile loops that I run over the course of each week.  

I generally run alone but here in Princeton, New Jersey, where I have been throughout the pandemic, I try to organise one session each week with another runner - generally someone faster than I am. I treat these runs as special occasions, with a little extra physical and mental preparation. These intermittent runs become my hard sessions, something like a substitute for the races which were once the markers in my year.

I also try to incorporate fartlek sessions into my weekly regime to reinject life into my legs and improve my anaerobic threshold.  One of the courses I run regularly is hilly - I tackle hills to insure muscle balance and develop strength.

2. Diet  

Do you follow a special diet?  What do you eat before and after training?

Until very recently I gave very little thought to diet. Last year I discovered that my thyroid levels had risen significantly and now I take medicine to keep them at normal levels. This has slowed down my metabolism dramatically to what it used to be (from 78 to 48 bpm resting pulse)  and for the first time in my life I have begun to keep an eye on how much I eat. My ideal running weight is about 9.5 stone and by keeping weight off I have minimized the stress placed on my knees, which have stayed healthy despite all the mileage I have logged. I tend not to eat anything within at least 2 hours of my runs (and ideally longer), although I sometimes sneak in a cup of coffee with milk and sugar.

3. Annual Mileage

Roughly how many miles do you run per year? Do you practice periodization? Do you run all year round?

Now I run about 1750 miles a year and I run all year round. As a collegiate runner, I practiced periodization, in keeping with the demands of a varied racing schedule (cross country, indoor track, outdoor track). When I became a marathon runner in my late 20’s, my running program was tailored to maximize performance in the two marathons I ran per year.  Thereafter I stopped racing for many years, during which I trained with two goals in mind: to avoid injury and to take pleasure in my runs. Nowadays I guess you could say I practice non-linear undulating periodization - my runs vary in intensity from day to day but it all depends on how I feel and not on what’s scheduled. 

Marathon Runners - DAN SCHLESINGERMarathon Runners (Study), Dan Schlesinger – 16 x 20 inches

4. Racing

How often do you race (in a non covid environment?)  Do you push yourself in a race and how do you do this mentally?  What is your recommended pre-race nutrition?

With the discovery of parkrun, I resumed racing occasionally; now I am a member of the Garden State Track Club (New Jersey) and the Ranelagh Harriers (although I have yet to train or compete with or for the latter, given that I have been confined to Princeton all year). Having just turned 65, I had originally intended to contest races at the world Master’s championships in Toronto, originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, and the British Nationals, but the pandemic put a stop to that. 

"I dread racing. I always have. I have never entered a race with anything but the intention of pushing myself to my absolute limit. It’s always been instinctive for me."


5. Cross Training

Do you stretch before or after running? Do you do any strength and conditioning? If so, which sort of exercises and how often? 

I occasionally stretch out my hamstrings but not systematically and I am extremely inflexible. I guess it remains to be seen whether a lack of flexibility will impair my quality of life as I age but so far I have been fortunate.  I do push ups and sit ups regularly -- that’s about it.

Parkrun Warming Up - Dan SchlesingerParkrun Warming Up, Dan Schlesinger – 16 x 20 inches

6. Advice

What advice would you give our readers about running?

In the fall of 2019, I was in Japan, acting as chaperone for a top team of Ivy League runners who had been invited to compete in one of the major relay races held annually there (ekiden). The coach of the team I accompanied was Jack Fultz, winner of the Boston Marathon many years ago. Jack offered advice to members of the team:  to make sure to start racing at a speed considerably slower than they felt like racing, to produce a negative split -- this is much harder than it seems -- and having tested this advice over the course of 25 years as coach of the Ivy League ekiden team, Jack knows what he’s talking about.

Unfortunately, Jack’s experience has shown that most of the runners he has coached are either disinclined or unable to take his advice. Nevertheless, I think it is excellent advice which I would like to pass on to your readers, particularly when you are an older runner and don’t feel compelled to stay with the leaders in a race. In other words, it is good advice for runners who are free to set their own paces, uninfluenced by other racers. 

His recent collection of paintings, titled “Runners”, is inspired by his love of running and Marathon racing. Discover his full range of paintings here: https://www.danschlesingerart.com/

In Part One of the interview we speak to Dan about his New York Marathon experience and how he's managed to maintain his running speed with age. Click here to read more.