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51-year-old Calgary woman talks about training, endurance after setting marathon record

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WATCH: A 51-year-old Calgary woman set a new Canadian record in the Servus Calgary Marathon on Sunday. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports – May 30, 2022

Maria Zambrano doesn’t see herself as anything special — just a mom who likes to run.

“It’s a thing that I love to do and I try to push myself when I can,” she said on Monday.

This year, Zambrano had a goal of setting a marathon record in the 50 to 54 age group.

On Sunday, at the age of 51, she posted her best Calgary Marathon result yet: two hours, 46 minutes and 59 seconds.

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Zambrano was the first woman across the finish line and now she owns the unofficial national record for her age group.

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The mother of two teenagers credits her faster times to having more time to herself now to train.

“I’m happy that I can inspire people my age,” Zambrano said. “I think there’s no secret. It’s just doing the training and being consistent and wanting to do it.

“At this age, we have a little more time (and) more freedom from our kids to just plan your goals. And once you have a goal and you register for the race, it’s easier to do the training and go for it.”

“I’m very impressed with her time,” said Tish Doyle-Baker, a sports scientist at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology.

She said as we age, our VO2 max — the maximal ability of the body to use oxygen — declines, but endurance holds up relatively well over time. The key is to keep moving.

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“Continue to be active and to work relatively hard at being active is the No. 1 message, because that will prevent your decline in terms of your VO2 max,” said Doyle-Baker.

Studies have shown that women actually decrease their ultramarathon performance time difference as they get older with men who are running.

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“Women get better and better at ultramarathons and that performance gap between males and females gets smaller and smaller,” Doyle-Baker said.

“That could be about how we use fuel — our ability to tap into our fat metabolism. We have more fat so we have more reserve fuel, so that might be part of it as well. I would say certainly we have the ideal physique.”

Zambrano has had a few injuries a long the way so she switched her training up with swimming and weights.

Her other advice is to get lots of sleep, eat properly and find some other runners to inspire you.

“Throughout the pandemic we gave support to each other with our little running group, and I’m grateful for that because that’s what keeps us going at this age,” Zambrano laughed.

Doyle-Baker said the most important takeaway from Zambrano’s “fit at 50” story from a public health perspective is that we need to continue to do lifelong exercise.

“Continue to do it, but maybe don’t do the same thing,” she said. “You lose strength as you age, so work on strength. Do some resistance training because that is super important as we age.

“Athletes need a lot of sleep because they need to recover. So I would say continue to exercise but make sure that you recover well and listen to your body and embrace what you’re doing and enjoy it.”

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