Lew Hollander: An Ironman at 80

Today, we begin an occasional peek at everyday athletes who excel, and their secret for how they do it.

Lew Hollander’s goal is to live to be 120. If the 80-year-old Bend, Ore., resident succeeds and does so at the rate he’s been going, he will race to the pearly gates with 61 Kona Ironmans under his belt.

Hollander’s first Ironman was in 1985, at the age of 55. 2009, at age 79, was almost his last. The 17-hour cutoff was fast approaching when a field reporter asked how he was doing. “I’m on the edge,” he admitted. Asked why, at the age of 79, he was still doing the Ironman, he replied, “I don’t know. If I don’t finish this one, it may be my last.” He did finish — with 7 minutes and 31 seconds to spare. Only two of the 1,654 finishers that year were behind him. At this year’s Ironman Kona, he shaved an hour and four minutes off last year’s time, finishing in 15 hours, 48 minutes and 40 seconds.

Hollander identifies himself as a motivational speaker and scientist (with experience in everything from atomic weapons to semiconductor research). Mostly, he’s an advocate for not letting age define you. “You do lose some quickness, agility, range of motion, and a reduction in maximal output,” he acknowledges on his Web site. On the plus side: “We are still competitive. We still have good long-term endurance even though the maximal output is diminished.”

Hollander in a nutshell:

When he’s not swimming 2.4 miles, riding a bike 112 miles, then running a marathon, he’s: An accomplished endurance equestrian and author of “The Bible of Endurance Riding.” (Hollander has also written a sci-fi novel called “And Chocolate Shall Lead Us”.)

Advice to the young: “If you want to be functional at 80, you better damn well pay attention at 40.”

Why 40? “The process of aging after 40 is a gradual shut down of this system,” writes Hollander. “The system is built to shut down about 15 years after the last birth. From evolution that makes a lot of sense. Why feed and house and use valuable assets of the community to maintain a person who is not producing offspring. This means the system starts closing down about 35 to 40 and reaches a noticeable impact by around 55 to 60 … .”

On his peer group: “Most men my age are dead.”

Rules to live by: Hollander has eight (you can read them on his Web site), but the two that rise to the top: 1) “I never eat anything I can’t identify the parts to, like hot dogs or anything like that.” 2) “Go anaerobic every day. Warm up, then go as hard as you can until you can’t go any farther.”

More on eating: Avoid all processed food (fresh-frozen fruits and vegetables are OK), avoid hydrogenated oils, use “lite” salt, use soy flour whenever possible.

A good investment of a half hour a day: Stretching.

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