Ken Poole knows a few things about keeping an aging body limber enough to remain competitive for 26.2 miles. At 71, he is the oldest of the entrants from Milford in the upcoming Boston Marathon.
But he's not the slowest.
He's running faster now than he did in his 60s. And he has the experience of a veteran runner who knows how to handle Boston, what he calls "the cruelest marathon." Last year, he was passed at the beginning of Heartbreak Hill by a young woman in a running skirt, who had pinned a sign to her rump: "You've just been passed by a skirt."
As he passed her midway up the famous incline, where she had slowed to a near-walk, he said he tapped her on the shoulder and said: "You've just been passed by a 70-year-old marathoner."
She wasn't amused, he said.
Poole is training for his 16th Boston Marathon this year, and his 38th marathon overall. He's been running since his early 20s, when he and fellow GIs in Berlin started a running club.
The Boston Marathon, for him, is part of a family legacy. His grandfather completed the marathon in 1902, coming in sixth place in a field of 47 men. His uncle ran the marathon through the 1930s. Poole, an architect who grew up in Natick, ran Boston for the first time at 55, in 1996, as a bandit. He finished in 4:05:00.
He's qualified for the marathon every year since 1999.
Poole said he runs about 60 miles a week now in preparation, all outdoors, and works out with weights at a few times a week. An accommodation for his age has been greater attention to stretching out before runs. He spends about 20 to 30 minutes on stretching movements before each run.
His recommendation to aging runners: take a teaspoon of cod liver oil daily to keep your joints moving, and don't stop running. "Don't stop what you're doing. Once you stop, you're dead. You just have to keep going."
He anticipates finishing the marathon this year in just under 4:00:00.
Of the Boston Marathons he's completed, he said, the most difficult was in 2007. "It was hard because it was the worst weather in marathon history." It was cold and rainy, he said, which he didn't really mind. But the headwind made running difficult. "It was tossing you all over the place," he said.
Six days later, he ran the London Marathon, he said. And the temperature was 85 degrees at the start. "And they served you hot tea," he remembers.
That year, he ran what is called the Five Majors, a series of marathons so-named because of their size: Boston, London, Berlin, New York and Chicago.
His favorite marathon, so far, has been the New Hampshire Marathon, in Manchester, last year, in which he won his age group of 70 to 75.
Next year, he plans to run the Boston Marathon again, with a younger partner. "Next year is our jubilee year," he said, of his family's five-generation commitment to the race. "I'll be running with my grandson."
The greatest misconception about older runners? That they're slow.
Behind the starting line, he said, he often fields questions from younger runners sizing him up. "It's a lot like going to an old car show," he said. "You're standing around, waiting. And everyone wants to lift your hood, to see if it still works."