Matt Gemmell might be 59 but he believes he is fitter and healthier than ever before. In fact, in 2018, Matt ran more miles than the year before, recorded a greater height gain when running and ran three big ultra races, the Triple Crown of all three West Highland Way races. (Only 217 people have achieved the Triple Crown.)
Last year, he also became a sponsored athlete and brand ambassador for Just4physio and marshalled 10 races, giving up 34 days to volunteer. In another recent volunteering mission, Matt headed to Indonesia on behalf of Disaster Aid UK & Ireland.
In 2019, his goal is the Original Everest Marathon and his future plan is to run a marathon 50 years after his first.
Matt, who lives with his wife and dog in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, said: “I feel fit and healthy; probably more than I ever have. I am very content with my life.
“I first ran a marathon in 1982 and I feel I am running as well as I ever have in my late 50s. I am fortunate because I retired from the police at the age of 55 and this has allowed me the time to train very consistently and thus keep my fitness levels up.
“I’m slower at running but I think my stamina is as good, if not better than ever.”
Matt, who has two children and four grandchildren, also believes he is happier in his late 50s. He said: “I’ve always been happy go lucky but now I am more than content with who and what I am. Since retiring, I think this is the best period of my life. I’m having a ball.”
Good health and fitness
Matt says he has been fortunate to enjoy good health and fitness all of his life. He said: “Growing up, I played every sport but particularly football, cricket, cycling, badminton and golf.
“As a young adult, I took up hill walking and climbing and now hill running is my main passion. I have enjoyed many long-distance wilderness treks, mainly solo and fully self-sufficient. I still hill walk but I focus more on hill running.”
Matt’s first marathon in 1982 was the Scottish Peoples’ Marathon in Glasgow. He has completed eight ultra marathons, including the Triple Crown ultras, the Highland Fling, the Ron Hill West Highland Way and the Devil of the Highlands Footrace.
In his 50s, Matt focuses on regular quality training with plenty of rest and recovery. He said: “I like to look after myself when it comes to training. I am very hill focused and I structure and monitor my own training. I have a physio, Shona McNab at Just4physio, who I see when I need her and I have a fortnightly sports massage with Ailie at the Haven on Loch Lomond.
“I stretch and do core work but above all try I to be positive and happy. I eat well but have treats as I believe I deserve them and I just enjoy life. I don’t stress about running or if I miss a session and I listen to my body so if I need to rest I do.
“It seems to work well for me. I feel healthy and fit.”
Matt’s volunteer work
As well as running, volunteering is a big part of Matt’s life since retiring. He said: “I discovered race marshalling in 2016 when I volunteered at the first Cape Wrath Ultra and I have been all over Britain with about six separate race companies. I am approaching 100 days of volunteer work in total. I find it’s great fun.
“I also volunteer with CHAS at their children’s hospice at Robin House at Balloch, I run a Jogscotland Group and I mentor a handful of runners informally.”
Goals for 2019 – and on
As well as his “mid-term goal” to run this year’s Original Everest Marathon, Matt has a long-term goal of running a marathon 50 years after his first. He said: “That’s going to be when I’m 73. That’s a good reason to keep my training ticking along.
“To be honest, I can’t think of any lows of being in my 50s other than being old grey and ugly but my sense of humour has improved and I just laugh at myself.
“I also run with a group of folk from time to time and I’m old enough to a father to most of them and I keep up. I’m not competing and trying to beat younger folk, but I’m quite happy to still be there.
“I’m happy, settled in my own skin and very, very grateful for the things I am able to do.”
Matt’s fit over 50 mantras
- Hills are your friend.
- Live like you were dying.
To find out more about Matt, read his blog: The Man in the Arena.