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Written By Brooke Warren


For more than 40 years, running has been a fixture in 72-year-old Eric Spector’s life. When he started, it wasn’t a slow progression of 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and then longer races. No, his first race was the New York City Marathon.

He was in his early 30s, working more than 60 hours a week in his New York City startup. Fifteen pounds overweight, and overworked, he became inspired to run after two former classmates from Harvard Business School came to the city to do the marathon.

Spector said to himself, “If they can do it, I should get my act together and get this weight off.” So he started running, and a year later, in 1979, at age 32, he was running the marathon, his very first race.

It was a warm day in October, and he got to run through the city streets with sun glinting off high windows while spectators cheered him and fellow racers on. He finished in 3:26, feeling great and with a smile on his face. Neither of Spector’s classmates, who initially inspired him, ever ran a marathon again, but, “I was hooked,” he says.

Spector said to himself, “If they can do it, I should get my act together and get this weight off.” So he started running, and a year later, in 1979, at age 32, he was running the marathon, his very first race.

Photo By: Ramin Rahimian

A Life-Long Obsession Leads to Western States
That first race sparked a life-long obsession with fitness and running that has brought Spector, who lives in Palo Alto, California, an envious opportunity: Now in his 70s, this summer, he could be the second-oldest person to finish the Western States Endurance Run, the world’s longest-running 100-mile race, which weaves through the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. In 2018 Nicholas Basset finished the race at age 73, a shy three months older than Spector will be on race day in 2020. The race is notoriously hard to get into since it only accepts 369 racers, and thousands more apply for the random lottery to toe the line. In 2020, a record 6,664 people hoped to be picked.

In each of the three years Spector has qualified for the Western States’ lottery, he’s attended the live drawing held at Placer High School in Auburn, California. The event is a gathering of ultrarunners, where the excitement sends the crowd into hoots, hollers and applause when the names of hopefuls, many of whom have been vying for the race for years, get pulled from the lottery bucket. This year, Spector returned to watch spots doled out, hoping that the measly less-than-five-percent chance would work out in his favor.

Before the lottery started, he was introduced to Jim Walmsley—who won the race the past two years and holds the course record with a time of 14:09.; Walmsley feigned agreement with Spector that he had a paltry chance of getting a spot in the race … then said, “I’ve got news for you; you’re going to run in 2020.”

“I was looking at him like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Spector says, “’The lottery hasn’t even started yet.’” That’s when Walmsley told Spector that HOKA ONE ONE, the race’s 2020 presenting sponsor, had awarded Spector its sponsor entry.

Spector started wearing HOKA ONE ONE shoes when they first came on the market in 2009. He had just started ultrarunning and found the increased cushioning and support very helpful. He quickly took to the Stinson model, and hasn’t used a different shoe since, despite trying other models and brands periodically.

Spector was delighted to get a bib number. “Western States, to me, is like the Super Bowl of ultras,” he says. He knew he had a limited chance to get in, not just because of the competitive lottery, but also because he assumes he has a narrow time frame to continue running ultramarathons. Although it will be his first time running at Western States, he’s preparing to finish strong.

Spector is already familiar with 40 miles of the course, because, in 2017 and 2018, he paced other racers in the second half of the course. This February, he’s doing a 20-mile training run to see more miles of the trail, and, in March, he’s running the Ruck a Chuck 50K, which follows part of the Western States trail.

“I will have some experience with the course, but likely not all of it, by race day,” Spector says. “It's helpful, but the reality on race day is that you have to adapt to the conditions that day – the weather might be 70 degrees hotter than when you ran the canyons in training, for example, or many miles could be snow-covered. Adapting your plan to the conditions and your body’s feedback is what counts.”

“I was looking at him like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Spector says, “‘The lottery hasn’t even started yet.’” That’s when Walmsley told Spector that HOKA ONE ONE, the race’s 2020 presenting sponsor, had awarded Spector a special entry.

Warding Off the Aging Process
After Spector’s first marathon in 1979, he‘s run over 20 marathons in the US (including Boston twice), and several abroad, including even Shanghai and Montreal. . In 1988, he moved his business to Marin County, California. There, he discovered the oldest American trail race, the Dipsea Race, which covers 7.5 miles on single track in the Bay Area, and decided trails were the ideal running venue. It wasn’t until he turned 61, in 2009, that he started running distances longer than a marathon, and finished the Way Too Cool 50K, which ends in the town of Cool, California.

“Running is invigorating, when you are in shape,” Spector says. “And trail running takes you outside, so you can enjoy everything nature is throwing at you.”

Spector follows the latest science-based articles touting the benefits of staying fit and posts them (now over 350) on his twitter account, @fitatallages. The articles recount studies linking exercise to lower risk of heart disease and dementia, and improved neuron development and mood, to name a few benefits.

“Why would you not exercise, when the evidence is so overwhelming about its physical and mental-health benefits?” Spector says. “You stay more alert, and have more energy. It’s just a no-brainer to invest in your own health.”

Spector spends time swimming and biking in conjunction with running to maintain his fitness without overtaxing specific muscle groups and joints. Along with trail races and ultras, he’s finished a handful of triathlons, including an Ironman when he was 65. Plus, he always pays attention to developing his core stability. “Core drives form, form drives efficiency, and efficiency drives speed and endurance,” he says.

Age Groupies
Runners start paying closer attention to age groups as they get older, Spector says. He holds age-group wins in 50K, 100K and 100-mile races. “We have a little advantage at that point,” he chuckles, “given fewer competitors.”

He rattles off age-category records for various races, with many statistics memorized. “Ray Piva set the [70-and-older] record at Western States 22 years ago, in 1998, with a time of 28:09. He was a pretty storied runner in the Northern California scene back then,” Spector recalls. Piva was 71 years old. “No one has touched that record since.”

Some of the challenges of running over 70 include a lower capacity to process oxygen, which diminishes muscle performance and speed. At Spector’s age, planning becomes even more necessary, because he has to accommodate more recovery time between long runs in order to avoid injury. It can take up to twice as long to heal an injury, such as a fracture or muscle pull, than for someone in their 30s. Spector says warming-up and cooling-down exercises have also become more crucial for him.

“Doing exercises before and after you run are important for all athletes, but for older athletes it’s a defensive must,” he says. “When you’re younger you can gut your way through something when you’re really tired and things are falling apart. But for an older person, in these long ultras, you really have to pay attention to the posture and mechanics.”

And Spector has experience with ultramarathons gone wrong. In 2016, he ran his first 100-miler, the Javaelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Temperatures exceeded 104 degrees in the Sonoran desert, and heat exhaustion ultimately led him to drop out at mile 91. It was his first DNF in all his years of running.

Two years later, at age 71, he made his second attempt at 100 miles in the Rio del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run, and secured the record for the oldest person to finish that race.

“I was not nearly as well informed in 2016 about what was important to running and finishing an ultramarathon. And if you miss any of the important items, chances are lower that you will make it to the end,” he explains. All those things—pacing, adequate fueling, proper hydration, electrolyte balance, not falling or getting injured—are even more essential for older athletes.

Community Spirit
And when Spector isn’t racing, he finds joy immersing himself in the running community. He regularly volunteers at aid stations and as a pacer. He’s volunteered at the Rucky Chucky Western States aid station two different years. This spring, he’s volunteering at an aid station for the Quicksilver 100K, a South Bay, California race. Pacing and helping at aid stations is Spector’s way of contributing to the camaraderie of ultrarunning, where everyone looks out for one another while on trail.

The ultimate reason Spector finds joy running longer and longer distances? “If you find a sport that you love and it feels good and brings fitness, then you just need continue to stick with it for the long term.”

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Paul Herrerias
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Paul Herrerias

Very inspiring! Would like to learn more about how to stay fit and healthy in 60’s and 70’s…I hope to do more trail races in my seventies, yet am feeling some of the challenges in my 60’s that Eric cautions us about.

Judy
Guest
Judy

I love my Hoka One One, they keep this 79 year young lady on the trails. I enjoyed this story very much. I started running/racing almost 40 years ago. I had NO idea how much it would help me age. Love hiking.

Scott Reeves
Guest

Cool article, inspiring. I work constantly with what a 74 yr old body can or not do.

Tony Mollica
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Tony Mollica

Very cool that Hoka selected Eric as their sponsor entry! Good luck Eric. You are awesome!

Tim Branham
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Tim Branham

Been running for 44 years and can really understand what he is talking about, both the good and the bad. Thanks Trail Runner for writing this, please do more on older runners! Everyone needs to know about running and getting older as we will all be there sometime

Spike
Guest
Spike

Yes, a dream come true. I’m envious. Spector clearly has advantages. Money, healthy body, good genes. Now a non-lottery entry into WSER. C’mon Jim, give the entry to someone who’s more the common runner who lacks the advantages and good fortune of Mr. Spector.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

By “common” do you mean a poor sport?

trayce turner
Guest
trayce turner

I agree!

Dave
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Dave

Good luck. Would love to see a training article for people over 60 BU Mr. Roach

Zoe Hrom
Admin

Hi there! You might also enjoy this article – https://trailrunnermag.com/training/getting-better-with-age.html

Robin Schiller
Guest

Way to go Eric! As a 67 year old with four marathons last year, I agree – running is a great way to live better as we age. Right-on about the longer recovery time though, we just don’t bounce the way we used to.

Best wishes at WS.

Any day we can run is a great day!

Ralph Mason
Guest
Ralph Mason

Stop whining Spike, sound like Eric has more than paid his dues to the sport volunteering, pacing, and as ambassador to overall health for the older athlete. I have been a runner since 1974, trail runner exclusive since 1979. I’m 64 now and STUDS like Eric lead the way.

Melody-Anne Schultz
Guest
Melody-Anne Schultz

Great Article. Thanks to Trail Runner for sharing Eric’s inspiring story of determination, courage and perseverance in achieving ultimate success in his goals. To have a dream, to face and overcome the challenges, to cope with the aging process is an inspiration for me and all of us!
Good Luck Eric at Western States 2020

Eric Spector
Guest

Thank you for your kind words. (And also for your memorable runs in 3 Dipsea Champion years!)

Christine Hueber
Guest

Love it…very inspiring!

John Pick
Guest
John Pick

Awesome article for us “more mature” runners. Wish he’d share more of his training advise. I’d pay extra for that!

John Pick
Guest
John Pick

Awesome article, especially for us “more mature” runners. Wish he’d share more training advise. I’d pay extra for that! How’s he feel about back to backs, for example.

Len Goldman
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Len Goldman

Bravo Eric and good luck at Western States. Len

Victor Fabricius
Guest
Victor Fabricius

As a 69 year old, just months away from 70, I run trails exclusively and bike road and trails and appreciate any advice and guidance to prolong trail running activities. Just this past week, my orthopedic surgeon says I have not cartilage left in right knee that caused recent pain and now I’ve had sciatica for the first time sidelining me from most activity. Really would like further info as orthopedist says the more running I do, the faster I’ll require knee replacement which I want to avoid. Obviously, more biking is highly recommended along with swimming which I loath… Read more »

Marc Soulliere
Guest
Marc Soulliere

Try Stand Up Paddleboard ? another great workout, easy on joints, full body and you can choose your distances

Jonathan Williams
Guest
Jonathan Williams

Hey Victor, There are cartilage replacement surgeries that I’d look at as an alternative to a TKR. Dr. Kevin Stone in SF has pioneered this stuff. I got a minescus replacement from him back in 2005 and while the recovery was long I am now doing marathons and 50ks.

Bryan Walker
Guest
Bryan Walker

Good luck, Eric!

Gunhild Swanson
Guest
Gunhild Swanson

Eric, this is such a beautiful and inspiring article about you. I wish you all the Best at Western States and I’ll be tracking you and cheering for you when you get on the track and cross that finish line. I know how how that feels.

Eric Spector
Guest

I know that you do know, and congratulations! Thank you also for your encouragement.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Great article, especially for us older runners. Wish you the best Eric!

Jim
Guest
Jim

Great Achievements Eric!! Best of luck at WS!!
I’m planning on the Javelina Jundred for 2021, sounds like the heat may be an issue.

Ronald Morgan
Guest
Ronald Morgan

I just started running at the age of 65. My first race was the Make-A-Wish 5K in Las Vegas Nevada. Since then I have had numerous 5K, 10k and half marathon races. My first marathon was as a guide for an Achilles runner in the Las Vegas rock ‘n’ roll Marathon 2018. No bling or bib number for this as a guide. The Chicago Marathon 2019 was my first official marathon that I have ever ran. I ran this marathon after having back surgery on March 19 of 2019. Desert Dash and Triple Dare are 2 Trail Racing companies here… Read more »

Jane
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Jane

I’m 69 and have been running..ok jogging..since I was 28..many marathons, qualified for Boston when 50..needed those extra minutes! My last was the Authentic Athen Greece in 2018..broke a leg last year..running slower…jogging???…now and rebuilding milage. I take no medicines and spend little to none on healthcare..though I do pay for my healthcare with sweat and keep those dollar bills in my pocket..keep running ..older age is great!!!

Jane
Guest
Jane

Ps I wear Hoka also

Victor Selenow
Guest
Victor Selenow

Way to go Eric and best of luck at Western States. I started running in 1969 at UF Gainesville with the Florida track club.Have run many races since. I run trails almost exclusively since 80’s which have saved my knees somewhat. Have also completed over 300 triathlons since 1980, including 50 Ironmans and 28 IM age group wins. I am very blessed to be able to still do what I love at age 68. Most of my friends cannot run anymore . Not sure how much longer I can run but I hope for many more years. When I am… Read more »

Rodger Smith
Guest
Rodger Smith

Good luck, Eric. 74 and going downhill fast. Recent pacemaker and offered hip replacement. WS has always been a dream. Good luck. Do it for us old guys! BTW, how much do you weigh?

Dina
Guest
Dina

Thanks for sharing. It’s been hard adjusting to an older me. I started running trails in my mid 20’s through my 30’s but things changed as I approached 40. Stories like this inspire me to believe I’m not done just different.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I had the privilege of running about 10 miles of the 2018 race with Mr. Bassett, from around Auburn Lakes Trail all the way to Pointed Rocks, sharing those hours with him shortly before he became the oldest finisher ever. Mr. Bassett was unbelievable to run with…a true example of humility and grace. I am sure Mr. Spector is the same way. Stories like these is why I hope to continue running these events until I am his age.

Gerry K.
Guest
Gerry K.

Great story!

Ricardo Gonzalez
Guest
Ricardo Gonzalez

Awesome, I almost 57 and start to run half,trail and marathons my goal it’s running Ultras,this article enlightened me to fellow my dream,I love the Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada.