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Avoid processed foods, be in the moment: marathon runner, 93, shares 10 tips for living a long, fit and healthy life

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In December 2022, Mathea Allansmith made history – and broke a Guinness World Record – when she became the oldest woman to finish a marathon, at 92 years and 194 days.

The grandmother and retired ophthalmologist, who lives in Koloa, on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, completed the 26.2-mile (42.1km) route at the 2022 Honolulu Marathon in an impressive 10 hours and 48 minutes.

It wasn’t her first race and it won’t be her last. Now 93, Allansmith, who grew up in a small town in California, still remembers some of her earliest races, which took place “a long time ago”.

“The Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin races in Boston were some of my earliest events,” she recalls. “Those were fun, 5km races, with many participants dressing up in funny costumes. Runners got blueberry muffins when they crossed the finish line.” (Jordan Marsh was an American department store famous for its blueberry muffins.)

Mathea Allansmith made history as the oldest woman to finish a marathon, at the 2022 Honolulu Marathon. Photo: Mathea Allansmith

Allansmith plans to take part in races in Hawaii every other month for the rest of 2023, with her next one scheduled for September.

While proud of her record-breaking accomplishment, Allansmith says that she doesn’t consider herself an oddity. She doesn’t have any special longevity secrets, either.

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“I don’t have super genes, I’m really just a regular person. What helps is to actually do the work to live longer and healthier. Exercise daily and don’t eat processed foods or sugar. Get out the door, get your heart rate up, and connect with life.”

Here, Allansmith shares her tips for staying fit, active and well through the years.

1. Don’t eat processed foods

Allansmith avoids what she calls “c**p” – processed foods and sugar – which she believes does not help her body. Her “food bible” is Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs, by paediatrician, author, and former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr David Kessler.

“The book describes the differences between, and the impact of, processed and unprocessed foods. I avoid processed foods, including flour and sugar first and foremost.”

The cover of Allansmith’s “bible”, “Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs”, written by former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler. Photo: Amazon
“Running and walking outside make me feel good,” says Allansmith. Photo: Mathea Allansmith

2. Get outside

“Just being outdoors and moving fills me with positivity,” says Allansmith, who usually starts training before the sun comes up and the Hawaiian heat gets too intense.

“It’s the open air and spaces, and the exuberance of the outside world, that give me energy and perspective and get me out of my head. When I spend time outdoors, I’m focused on nature and other people and all the activity happening around me.

“It gives me a sense of freedom because it helps me see that everything doesn’t all depend on me; everyone is working together to make things happen and that’s a positive thing.”

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3. Exercise regularly – and don’t make excuses to avoid it

Allansmith started running when she was 45 years old. She was already going for regular walks when a colleague suggested she run two miles (3.2km) a day.

“I started with the 5K Turkey Trots (a popular American road race and a Thanksgiving tradition) and fun runs, and after a few years became hooked on marathons. I’ve continued to train and compete in races ever since,” she shares.

Allansmith currently runs and trains six days a week.

“I never use my age, the weather, or anything else as an excuse to skip training,” she adds.

A middle-aged man surfing. Choose a heart-pumping activity that you love, says Allansmith, because if you enjoy it enough, you’re more likely to do it regularly. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Enjoy your chosen physical activity

You don’t have to take up running to stay fit for the rest of your life. Choose a heart-pumping activity that you love, because if you enjoy it enough, you’re more likely to do it regularly.

“Running and walking outside make me feel good, and that feeling keeps me happy for the rest of the day,” says Allansmith.

“When I started running in 1977, I fell in love with the feeling. It helped me appreciate the beauty of the early part of the morning, it was a chance for me to spend time outdoors – something I didn’t experience in my job.

“It allowed me to meet and greet new people along the way as well as the freedom to go anywhere my feet could take me. Plus, there was always something new to see out on the road and I always felt so accomplished after a run.”

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5. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future

Allansmith says that she is “absolutely” the sort of person who lives in the present, because “the present is all there is”.

“It’s essential to stay focused on today and to be in the moment. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do today?’. That’s how I work things out. Solutions are in the present, not in the past or the future.”

Don’t let setbacks hold you back, Allansmith advises. Find a way to overcome the challenge, but keep sight of your goals. Photo: Shutterstock

6. Don’t let setbacks hold you back

“I’m used to setbacks and challenges since I’m 93!” Allansmith says.

When she encounters a setback, she simply acknowledges it, thinks about what to do, does that, and moves on.

“One example is when I broke a few toes and missed a marathon because of the injury. I couldn’t run for three months, so I switched things up by going to the gym and getting my heart rate up in different ways.

“I was so focused on continuing to train that I never even considered getting down about my broken toes. I just stayed focused on the work, and that gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel more optimistic.”

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7. Have a sense of humour

Don’t let challenges disrupt your plans or throw your goals off track. Allansmith suggests finding the humour in them to help you overcome them.

“It’s important to me to laugh at the upsets that inevitably come my way and then quickly move on from them and get back to doing what I really enjoy – training and being on the road.”

While proud of her record-breaking accomplishment, Allansmith doesn’t consider herself an oddity. Photo: Mathea Allansmith

8. Stay busy, curious and engaged

Training takes up a lot of her day, but Allansmith still makes the effort to catch up with her friends and run errands.

In her spare time, she watches popular TV shows and “works hard to understand” her mobile phone and running watch.

I have many friends, both runners and non-runners, and I make it a point to reach out to them every week – maintaining connections is something I value

Mathea Allansmith

9. Be optimistic about tomorrow

“I think that perpetual goal of the next race is important. I always know when my next race is because I would have already signed up for it.

“This creates a goal to work towards, and having that goal makes me think optimistically and positively about the training I’m doing in the present moment.”

A group of elderly women meet to go swimming. Stay connected with others by taking part in group activities to avoid loneliness, Allansmith says. Photo: Shutterstock

10. Stay connected with others

“I have many friends, both runners and non-runners, and I make it a point to reach out to them every week – maintaining connections is something I value,” Allansmith says.

She also likes to run the same route every day if she can. She usually passes the same people every time, and they smile, wave and hug as they pass one another.

“I even get friendly smiles from the postal workers and delivery drivers, and sometimes the mayor as he’s leaving the beach with his surfboard. Training for races is therefore a big part of how I stay connected with people every day.”

“I have regular meetings with groups that would miss me if I weren’t there and to whom I owe a duty of service.”

“I am also surrounded by a loving circle of friends and family,” she adds.

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