At 52 years old, Dail St. Claire never considered herself an athlete. In fact, before her first half marathon in 2011, she would tell you she never ran a block in her life.
That all changed when a good friend asked her to join a team to raise money for Crohn’s and Colitis in the run/walk Sonoma Half Marathon in the summer of 2011. Originally, she thought they were only going to be walking, but when they trained as a group, that quickly changed. In order to keep the team together, St. Claire joined the back of the pack—and started running.
When she finished that first 13.1 miles, the urge to keep going hit her.
“I felt like I could go another five miles after completing that half,” St. Claire told Runner’s World by phone. “More than anything, I did not want to stop training. So, I immediately signed up for the next marathon I thought I could train for.”
St. Claire completed her very first marathon in 4:28 at the Chicago Marathon in 2011.
Her newfound passion for running came when she needed it most. In 2010, she left her husband and gained full custody of her two children.
“In many ways, it was my own mental therapy,” St. Claire said.
Fast-forward six years—the competitive athlete has completed a combined 20 half marathons and marathons, with a PR of 1:43 in the half and 3:33 in the full. She has one Boston Marathon and three New York City Marathons under her belt. Along with being a runner, she also balances being an investment advisor in New York City and mom to her 24-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son.
Think it’s too late to become an athlete? St. Claire shares her advice on how to be the best runner you can be, maximize your time, and give back when you have the opportunity.
EXPAND YOUR HORIZONS
When St. Claire was training for her first marathon, she started getting injured, often dealing with back pain. So she became a patient of Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. She knew him because he was her son’s sports medicine doctor.
Dr. Metzl invited her to join the workout group he was setting up. St. Claire laughed, knowing he was an Ironman and a marathoner, and thought—I just started running. I can barely do a pushup. I don’t think I’m prepared to join a group of elite athletes.
But Dr. Metzl put her mind at ease and informed her that athletes of all fitness levels were welcome. St. Claire has now been doing that workout, which Dr. Metzl dubs IronStrength, for five years.
“IronStrength is a tool for me to run. It is a tool for me to move,” St. Claire said. “For me, moving is running.”
In addition to running and IronStrength, she now mixes in variations of CrossFit, Stoked Abs, yoga, and the occasional spin class workout in and around New York City. She views mixing up her exercise routines as a way to help her running.
“It’s great to shock the body,” she said. Since incorporating IronStrength and the additional supporting exercises, St. Claire has been able to run injury free.
St. Claire knows what it is like to juggle a busy life and how hard it can be to make time to go on a run or hit the gym.
That’s why on Sundays, she sits down and takes the time to map out her week in terms of her work and her personal life, and then what she wants to accomplish with her running and overall fitness. But sticking to a mapped out schedule perfectly every week is nearly impossible because, well, life happens.
Her secret? Being able to adjust. For running, some days the only time she has to hit the roads is at 6 a.m. Other days, it might have to wait until 7 p.m. when she’s done with work.
“It’s funny because I have people who run with me in the morning and completely different people who run with me at night,” she said.
St. Claire chooses not to fully book her workout classes in advance—her busy schedule often makes it hard for her to get to classes on time. Instead, she asks to be waitlisted for a class on the day she wants to go. If she makes it on time, and it’s open, great. If she ends up not getting in, she always has a backup class she will put herself on the waitlist for or she goes for a run. The flexibility in her schedule keeps her from ever missing out completely.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE
Looking back, the masters athlete is so thankful that she got started—even if it was after 50 years old.
“Anybody can get started, at any age, no matter what their lifestyle is,” St. Claire said.
She suggests starting with some kind of extra movement, for 10 minutes a day, and slowly increasing that incrementally.
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St. Claire also advises making yourself accountable to someone important to you. For example, St. Claire made herself accountable to her daughter. If you communicate your fitness goals with a loved one or friends, they can ask you how your workout went, or even gently nudge you if you don’t do it.
Finally, St. Claire thinks it is very important to write your workouts and goals down. It doesn’t have to be long—write down a few sentences detailing what you want to accomplish that day. Post those intentions on your refrigerator, or set reminders on your phone so you can hold yourself liable as well.
STAY HUMBLE AND BRING FITNESS TO OTHERS
St. Claire volunteers with Achilles International, an organization that enables people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events. This past November, St. Claire was a guide for the first time at the 2016 New York City Marathon. She was paired with an Achilles-Norway athlete and first time marathoner, Sissel Markhus, who is deaf, mute, and legally blind.
Guiding Markhus was life altering, she said, adding that working with the Achilles athletes gave her a whole new appreciation for her abilities.
“I wake up everyday and I’m just so grateful to be able to even think about moving, and running,” St. Claire said.
After dealing with a concussion at the end of 2016, St. Claire realizes she may have to alter some of the running goals she originally set for herself this year. She planned to run the Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon, and volunteer with Achilles again for the 2017 New York City Marathon.
But even if she has to miss some of the marathons she looked forward to running, she still plans on helping other athletes cross the finish line through Achilles at the New York City Marathon in November.
This article originally appeared on RunnersWorld.com.