Longevity in athletics

Kim Jay Photography

Five tips from endurance athlete Lucy Smith

— By Casey Jones

Athletes like Lucy Smith hold the key to longevity.

A 19-time Canadian champion in running, duathlon, and triathlon, and two-time silver medallist at the world duathlon championships, Smith is one of Canada’s most versatile endurance athletes.

And at the young age of 50, she shows no signs of slowing down.

Despite running her last world championships as an elite athlete at age 40, Smith still participates in running events where she resides in Victoria, B.C.

While her training load was more than 20 hours a week during her 20s and 30s, she‘s since let go of the need to train constantly after having two children and establishing a successful coaching business.

After 40 years in athletics, Smith gives great perspective on growing as an athlete, finding gratitude in sport, and staying fit with age.

Here are her five top tips for the aging athlete:

1. Do functional strength training to stay young

Smith recently sustained a hamstring injury causing her to take a year off training, and found that functional strength training was the perfect medicine for recovery. After implementing weights into her routine three times weekly, a practice she never undertook during her professional running career, she found herself coming back stronger than ever. “I ran a 5,000m on the track as fast as I did in my 20s,” Smith says, “and I owe that speed to strength training and my chiropractor.”


2. Stay flexy!

Maintaining mobility is key for any athlete, and even moreso for those no longer in their younger years. Mobilization of joints is important to prevent injury, sustain recovery, and maintain stability in the body. For Smith, this means yoga at least once a week when she’s not racing vigorously.

3. Sleep needs don’t change with age

On sleep, Smith says “the more consistent you can sleep, the better you’re going to function and perform.” She’s consistently been careful with sleep her entire life, and keeps even closer attention to it now.

4.  Eat for performance and health

Smith says that she never dramatically changed her diet during her career, but rather always ate healthily. During her running career at Dalhousie University, she went through a brief period of caloric restriction which she says wasn’t “physically or emotionally healthy.”

“Being a triathlete helped re-set my system and solidify good patterns. I eat as clean as possible without too much thought or money put into it.”

More: Nutrition tips from a top dietitian

5. Seek gratitude in your sport

Smith’s 40-plus years in athletics give her a unique perspective on sport from her days as a professional to now as a coach and weekend warrior. When asked what she would tell her 16-year-old self, she simply states “don’t worry so much!”

“Young athletes worry so much that they don’t even know what they’re worried about. My time in sport has given me a huge sense of gratitude.”

On mindset tips, she says that athletes shouldn’t be so hard on themselves and allow ways to find success.

“You can be happy even if you’re not at your full potential for that time. We need to find a way to appreciate some kind of success; whether it’s eating properly pre-run, or digging deep into the third interval of a race.”

And that, we would argue is the true key to longevity as an athlete.