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Fit over 50: Ultra runner William Sichel

Written by Fiona

December 06 2018

William Sichel is a successful long-distance runner. He is also a self-employed wool dyer offers some online coaching. He is 65 and lives on the Island of Sanday, part of Orkney. William has a mantra in his later years: Keep moving. Beware the chair!

It was in 1997, that a diagnosis of  testicular cancer led to William pledging he would “do the things that I really wanted to do”.

He said: “I was shocked and stunned to be diagnosed with cancer. It came just a year after I had made my debut in the GB 100km road running team. Fortunately, I noticed it in the very early stages and following surgery and radiotherapy I had no further recurrence.

“Physically it didn’t affect me much but mentally it was a huge blow to my confidence, which took a while to rebuild. I also resolved to do things that I really wanted to do as soon as possible rather than defer them to a later date.

William celebrates at another ultra race.

William says he’s noticed a few changes as he had grown older. He says: “They are slight changes. The most obvious is deteriorating eye sight. I need slightly stronger glasses every year or two. I have also had  changes in memory capacity, similar to those experienced by many people over 50.

“And the other thing is some stiffness which wasn’t noticeable before. That’s why I have a mantra: ‘Keep moving. Beware the chair!'”

William is the only Brit to finish this race before the cut off-point of 52 days.

William’s running successes

William has set multiple ultra distance running records (from 30 miles on the track to 3100 miles on the road) at world, British and Scottish level, including age-group records.

Highlights in his career so far are: Marathon in 2:38 (1995); 10 km in 7:07 (1996); 24 Hours for 153 miles/246 km (2000); 6 Days: 532 miles/857 km (2008); 1000 Miles: 13 days, 20 hours, 8 minutes, 1 second (2010); and the World’s Longest Certified Footrace: 3100 miles (5000km) in 2014: 50 days, 15 hours, 6 minutes, 4 seconds. William is the only ever British athlete to have finished this event inside the 52-day cut-off.

Since 1994 ,William has competed in 101 ultra-marathon events and won 18 of them.

See: A blog I wrote about William in 2010.

Build gym work into your routine.

William’s exercise routine

For many years, William’s running training has been based four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He says: “This produced peak performances for me in events ranging from the half-marathon to a  3,100 mile race.”

He has competed regularly in ultra marathons of varying distances and if there was a gap of more than two to three without a race he invents a “training camp”. He explains: “I mimic an ultra event by simply running a lot for a two or three-day period.”

William also started doing what is now called cross-training in 1992.He says: “Nowadays I do a gym routine up to four times a week involving all the aspects mentioned above. I have a good gym set-up at home with my own treadmill, comprehensive weights etc.

“I also walk a lot and build movement into my everyday life.

“And I’m a fan of the biomechanist Tracy Bowman and the American fitness coach Steve Maxwell. They have produced a wealth of great material.”

William works out regularly in his home gym.

William’s tips for over 50s

Invest in yourself. He says: “I find many people are reluctant to invest in themselves even when the financial aspect of this is not a consideration. I like to use the analogy of your car. Don’t wait for it to breakdown. Instead keep it serviced regularly.

“By this, I mean have regular massage, use a chiropractor, get regular dental checkups and if your feet need attention see a podiatrist and so on.”

Push, pull and lift things. “If you build all these movement patterns into your exercise programmes and don’t neglect the more difficult ones like pull-ups you’ll stay in better shape.”

Do floor work. William suggests crawling, Turkish get ups etc. He says: “There are very simple, basic human movements that all babies and young children do. The ability to perform these movements can decline alarmingly in later life so keep working at them for as long as you can and include them in your weekly activity schedule.”

Think variety in all that you do.  William urges people not to get stuck in a rut and go stale. He says: “Learn a new activity or skill every year. It doesn’t matter what it is. Last year I learnt to paint in oil.”

Think of your training as mental as well as physical. He says: “The two can’t be separated and are mutually beneficial.”

Build exercise into your normal daily life routines. Walk when you can, for example, walking to the supermarket, park away from your destination and walk the rest, lifting your shopping is training, housework and so on.

Dress for the weather. Invest in decent foul-weather clothing so you don’t feel limited by the weather.  William says: “This remove excuses that stop people exercising.”

Keep your weight down: I see too many over-weight runners, cyclists and gym users. People should weigh themselves every week or two. They need to develop a sensible attitude to body weight and take action when, or if, it spirals upwards.

A positive outlook

William describes himself as a “glass half full” type of guy. He says: “I think that one of the great benefits of being older is experience. It’s often unseen and under-appreciated when, in reality, it can be one of the greatest assets of getting older.

“You’ve probably seen it all before and are now you are in a position to make wiser choices than you made earlier in life.

“Hopefully, you have a fuller understanding of what works for you and are in a position to act on that knowledge.”

For more information see: William Sichel’s website.

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