"Stay strong, love yourself and do what you need to do"
Two years ago, Ida Keeling ran the 100 metres in 1 minute and 17.33 seconds to set the world record for women aged 100-104 – then she dropped to the track to do press-ups as the crowd roared. In her new book, "Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down", Keeling, now 102, talks about thrilling moments such as this, but also her struggles: growing up poor in Harlem, New York, working in factories during the Great Depression to raise four children as a single mother, and losing two adult sons to unsolved cases of drug-related violence.
This last one sank Keeling into a depression at the age of 67. So her daughter Shelley, a track-and-field and cross-country coach, took Keeling to a local 5K. Miss Ida, as she’s known, felt clumsy at first, but ultimately uplifted. ‘The good part was that the sad part left,’ she says. ‘Running to me is like medicine.’ Since then, the 4ft 6in, 37.6kg (6st) dynamo has raced all over the world and set multiple world records. ‘Every day is another day forward,’ she says. In February, she broke the 100-and-older 60-metre record, finishing in 58.34. Here, she tells Runner’s World about her life, her training regime and the importance of Hennessy brandy.
Did you ever imagine you'd write your own book?
Well, I didn’t expect so much, but I’m very happy it turned out this way. I was just exercising and now I’m all over the world.
You included many difficult moments in the book. Were they hard to revisit?
I wrote about it, but it’s over. The past is sometimes kind, sometimes horrible and miserable. Feeling miserable is a bad thing; it slows you down. I don’t like to slow down. I want to be ready to move.
Is there anything different about being active now that you're past 100?
Your balance is more off than normal. You have to think everything through before you take your steps. So you pay more attention to things, stay alert.
You fell and broke femur last year, preventing you from taking part in the Penn Relays [the oldest track and field competiton in the US]. How did you recover?
That was terrible, but I said, ‘Well, I got to get up from here.’ I’ve been doing well; I just don't want to overdo it. People make mistakes, they say, ‘I won't pay the pain no mind.’ That's stupid. The pain – you better pay it some mind. It’s telling you something.
We hear you're back to working out three or fory days a week. Tell us more about your routine.
I go to the gym, take a strengthening class that has some dance steps. Other days, I’ve got my bike and my running and my [1kg] weights. I squat with them, stretch my arms out. I try to do 10 minutes, three times a day – then it's nap time. When a race gets closer, I also go with my daughter to the track for a 40-minute session of warm-up drills and a single 60-metre run.
Any advice for younger runners?
Stay strong, love yourself and do what you need to do, not what you want to do.
FOUNTAINS OF YOUTH: MISS IDA’S KEYS TO LIFELONG RUNNING:
Keeling circles her legs in bed – ‘I’m up, they got to wake up.’ She also squats as she cooks and cleans.
Take breaks before races. ‘If you get tired, don't push it. Put your legs up on the couch.’
Her diet includes greens, fruits, nuts, orange juice, and cod liver oil and molasses for joint health.
Three or four times per week, ‘I put a little bit in my coffee or in some water’ to aid circulation.