By Valerie Fortney
“Get up every day and get moving,” says Gerry Miller. “If you’re moving, you work better mentally, spiritually; and your body definitely works better.”
When it comes to advice for healthy living, Gerry Miller’s got it by the truckload. “I start my day with chia seeds, hemp hearts, full fat yogurt,” he says as he shows me around his kitchen. “Coconut oil mixed with peanut butter, on a rye crisp – it’s delicious.”
On Thursday morning, I’m all ears to take in Miller’s tips. After all, he clearly knows a few secrets to robust longevity: this past Monday he came in second in his age category at the Boston Marathon, men aged 80 and up, with a finishing time of 4:32:54.
“We didn’t get home from Boston until after 2 a.m.,” says Miller, bouncing around just a few hours later in a running shirt, shorts and ankle socks. “But I happen to be having a great morning.”
Another thing Miller has by the truckload, if you haven’t already surmised, is the ability to make people feel good and inspire them to follow in his footsteps.
When we meet at the home he shares with wife Gwen in Calgary’s far south, the wiry octogenarian hardly stops moving. After showing me his spare room full of medals and other mementoes from 20 years of competition, we return to his living room for an interview. Rather than sit down, he paces back and forth, answering questions with a broad smile and a lot of hand waving.
“I’ve been moving all my life, I never stop,” says Miller, who grew up on a farm near the hamlet of Galahad in east-central Alberta. “Running emulates life,” he adds. “You never know what the day is going to bring.”
On April 15, 2013, the retired University of Calgary education professor couldn’t have imagined what that day would bring. When he was about 1:20 away from the Boston Marathon finish line, the second of two bomb blasts went off. “I saw all the white smoke as I was sprinting to the finish line,” he says.
One of his running buddies, 78-year-old American Bill Ifrigg, was just ahead of him. “He was knocked right over from the shock of the bomb,” says Miller of his friend. A photo taken of the fallen Ifrigg, who then got up and completed his run, became one of the iconic images of the infamous terrorist attack.
Miller tears up at the memory of the day that brought out both the worst and best in human nature. “I saw someone with their leg dangling from their body, it was terrible.” He was also the recipient of random acts of kindness. “One lady came up and gave me a blanket, another offered me a banana.”
The tragedy didn’t stop him from going back the next year and the three after that. He now has 11 Boston Marathons under his belt. “You have to dig deep into your heart and soul to manage the Boston Marathon,” says Miller, who at the 2013 New York Marathon placed first in the 75-79 male age group. “It’s by far the hardest of the six major marathons,” he says of the race that attracts 500,000 runners each year.
He started running marathons at age 60 when Running Room founder John Stanton convinced him to sign up for a longer run than the 10k race he was entering with one of his sons. “John said, ‘Gerry, pay more and run the half-marathon,'” says the father of four and grandfather of six, now a veteran of more than 35 marathons. “I won it without training.”
From that day forward, Miller became a passionate adherent of marathon running, though today he’s more of a guru.
“Runners are part of a wonderful community,” says Miller, who’s also logged thousands of hours as a volunteer at race events. He encourages other seniors to run, walk, swim or do whatever physical activity they enjoy. “Just keep moving, be part of a community and the blessings will follow.”