ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – For anyone looking for the secret to staying fit into middle age, who better to ask than Haile Gebrselassie – the Ethiopian running legend who’s still giving much younger men a run for their money.
Aged 40 but barely slowing down, Gebrselassie says his enduring presence in international athletics has nothing to do with fancy foods or the latest gizmos.
The key ingredient, he said, is in the mind.
“You have to have three things: discipline, commitment and hard work,” said Gebrselassie, a double Olympic gold medallist in the 10,000 metres, four-time World Champion over the same distance and two-time world record-breaker in the marathon.
It is this discipline which drives Gebrselassie to train twice a day and clock a daily average of 35 kilometres (22 miles). Preparing for a race provides a goal to commit to, and he said some of his best training comes ahead of a big event.
He admits that the workload is not getting any easier, with middle-aged aches and pains ever-present. So fighting through physical pain and mental laziness is important too, he said.
“One of the secrets, thank you for reminding me, is to accept the pain. Without pain, no gain,” he told AFP.
Despite his relative wealth – built up from his illustrious running career plus his expanding business empire – he insisted he still eats “what the people eat” and shuns Western, processed foods.
The “Haile diet” is no fad, being made up of Ethiopia’s staple injera – an iron-rich, fermented pancake – plus lots of lean, raw meat. His home country also provides him with an ideal location to train, he said, with its temperate weather and high altitude.
“The best place for training of course is Ethiopia, for me I don’t see any place like Ethiopia, I’m serious,” said Gebrselassie, who still starts most mornings by running in the lush green hills surrounding the capital, Addis Ababa.