Meet the 66-year-old elite athlete
Winner of multiple European and world titles Joe Gough has no plans to retire – rather, he’s looking forward to competing in the over-100s
Joe Gough is narrowly beaten by David Roy Wilcox of Great Britain in the Men’s 800 Metres Masters Final at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, in 2016. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images for IAAF
“There’s no reason why I can’t enjoy another 30, 35 years in this sport,” says Joe Gough, a perfectly reasonable statement, even if coming from a 66-year-old.
Because not only does Gough look exceptionally fit and healthy for his age, he also has the motivation to compete against – and preferably beat – the best in the world. And at an age when most people are slowing down, retiring, or at least seeking more leisurely pursuits, the Dungarvan runner (now resident in Kilkenny) continues to set himself fresh ambitions on the track in Master Athletics competitions.
It helps too that the honours and medals keep coming fast: in early February, Gough was named World Masters Athlete of the Year in middle-distance running, the icing on the already sweetly layered cake that was his 2018 season, both indoors and out.
Indeed, with multiple European and world titles to his name already, Gough enjoyed arguably his best 12 months, the highlight being double gold in the over-65 division at the World Masters Athletic Championships in Malaga.
He puts his success, and longevity, down to two things – but insists there is no great secret: he trains hard, yes, but also looks after himself in simple ways.
Nothing is ever taken to excess.
Growing up in Waterford, he competed in a range of sports in his teenage years, including athletics, then drifted away in his 20s and 30s, as work and family life took priority. “Then at age 45, I got my first Irish Masters cap, to compete in Moscow,” he recalls. “I’d never ran outside the country before then. So it was my first time running in an Ireland vest, and I actually won, beating all the Russians in their home town.
“That got me hooked, I suppose. The big thing about any sport is confidence. Without that, you won’t perform. And that gave me confidence. It took me five or six years to realise that, it does take a while.”
Since then, Gough isn’t so much extending his athletics career but turning back the clock on it, and not so much embracing the ageing process but defying it.
World Masters Athletics (WMA) is the worldwide governing body of the sport, for track and field, cross country and road: originally founded as the World Association of Veteran Athletes, in 1977, it became the WMA in 2001, and follows all the rules and event specifications of the IAAF, the governing body of world athletics
Into their 100s
The Masters age categories start at over 35, for men and women, going up in 13 multiples of five to over-100 (O/100), some competing well into their 100s. Gough was nominated WMA for the middle-distance award, having already won that category when named European Master Athlete of the Year in December: “After another excellent year in 2018, athletes from every discipline have once again shone high and bright, being a beacon for the world of Masters Athletics,” said WAM (the overall women’s winner being 75 year-old Canadian sprinter Carol LaFayette-Boyd, American sprinter Charles Allie (71) the outright men’s winner).
In his preferred event, the 800m, Gough ran 2:16.37 to set a new European record, before winning his first 1,500m world medal at the longer distance. He also completed a European Master indoor double in Madrid earlier in the year, and set an O/65 world record over 800m.
Gough, who competes with West Waterford AC, does offer some advice for those wishing to compete into the senior years: last year, he also retired after 38 years service as youth officer with Waterford City, but just because he has more time on his hands doesn’t mean more training.
He has a coach, Dick Murphy, who helps design his training sessions, but flexibility is key, in more ways than one. “On average, I train six days a week, sometimes more, rarely less. I do train hard, but smart. Before any track or speed session, I do lots of drills, warm-up bounding, and that’s half an hour. I see very few athletes doing that. That, I think, is very important, keeping the intensity up, because it’s easy to go out and do junk miles. I don’t do heavy mileage, because I don’t need it.
“There is no secret, only sensible training. I think we tend to over-complicate running as well. I wear an old Casio watch, cost me €20, it stops and starts, and that’s all I need to know. I can measure my own heart rate. I also do some aqua-aerobics, same as doing circuit training in the water. So no impact, loose, and you feel fantastic. Men don’t like it, see it as girlish. There’s a class of 40, and I’m only the only male. To me, it’s of great benefit. And I like a bit of gardening. A good night’s sleep too, that’s one of the kernels, to me.”
He also limits his intake of food supplements, suggesting they too are typically used to excess. “Protein supplements, no. We have enough protein. Maybe if I was low in iron. I do take some joint supplement, not because I have any joint problems, just to help maintain them. Food is there to be enjoyed, as long as what you eat is healthy. I’d eat more fish than meat, but nutrition is a first-world problem. In the third world it’s where will we get our food?”
He does give special mention to Mileeven honey, the family-owned company at Owning Hill, in Pilltown, Kilkenny – also favoured as an energy source for the race horses of neighbour Joseph O’Brien, son of Aidan. “I’d have honey every day, with porridge, on my bread, with a banana, and it boosts my energy. It’s a natural sugar, from bees, not processed. Anywhere the O’Brien race horses go they bring, so it could be said to be the source of two champions.”
And those next 30, 35 years? “Well touch wood, if I’m still moving. There is an over-100 category, world records and all that. It’s about the mindset, really. I think we can all do a lot more than we think we can, but the mind stops us. Winning is also a habit as well. If you’re successful, you want to win more.”
Next up is the World Indoor Masters in Torun, Poland, at the end of March, and later the European outdoors in Venice in September. Last year’s World Outdoors attracted some 7,000 athletes from 102 countries.
Joe Gough’s Master Athletics success, 2018
- Munster Championships: 1st – 200m/400m (Nenagh)
- National Championships: 1st – 200m/400m/800m (Athlone)
- European Championships: 1st – 800m/1,500m (Madrid)
- Irish Records: O/65 200m/400m/800m/1,500m
- World Record :O/65 in the 800m (Abbotstown)
- Munster Championship 4 Mile (Castlelyons)
- Munster Championships 1st – 400m (Castleisland)
- National Championships: 1st – 800m (Tullamore)
- World Championships: 1st – 800/1,500m (Malaga)
- Irish Records in the 400m, 800m/1,500m
- European Record: O/65 800m.
- Munster Championships 1st (Clarecastle)
- Munster Athletics International Athlete of the Year
- Irish Master Athlete of the Year
- European Master Athlete of the Year (middle distance)
- World Master Athlete of the Year (middle distance).
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