Photos by Sincerely Gone Photography
At 70 years old, you may think that intense exercise is out of the question. But for Karen Allman, exercise is part of her daily routine to prep for the triathlons she’s been competing in for 12 years. From swimming 1,500 meters in frigid waters to biking through the Panhandle, Allman is still going strong!
How do you live a 360life?
First, I spent my career working as an RN, so I have seen firsthand the importance of living healthy. Shortly before I retired (about 10 years ago now) I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. PKD is a genetic disease where cysts develop over time and impinge on kidney function. I had 42 percent kidney function at diagnosis. PKD has a 50 percent chance of being passed on to a person’s children. Two of my three children have been tested for PKD — one has PKD and one does not.
Wellness is an everyday affair. Diet, hydration, blood pressure control, training smartly and keeping a strong core are all important. Rest/recovery days are just as important as workout days. I find competing in triathlons and races helps keep me mindful of living healthy every day. My kidney function has dropped down to 32 percent over the last year, so I find I need more rest and recovery. I have also started using the Galloway running/walking method. We run/walk intervals. Following this system and focusing on overall health, I can do a long run with better endurance at my age.
What is your wellness mantra?
My mantra is to live every day to the fullest and appreciate what you have. I learned this from working with my oncology patients for so many years.
How long have you been active/ competing?
I have been running since 2001 and competing in triathlons since 2004.
How did you get started?
I started running in 2001 after watching the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. Everybody looked so happy and accomplished after running 26.2 miles. I came home and did the Jingle Bell 5K run by the Brain Institute on the UF campus. I had so much fun I haven’t stopped since. A couple of years later a couple of physical therapists at work said I should do a triathlon with them. I didn’t own a bike or know how to swim using proper form. I bought an entry-level bike and started to learn how to swim with the help of my coach, Karyn Austin (she’s the best).
Today, I am still going strong. What I like about triathlons is they incorporate so many things you have to prepare for. I believe that keeps you healthy and more injury free. I was also able to complete the Marine Corps Marathon in 2004.
Can you tell us about your favorite competition?
My favorite competition was the USA Triathlon National Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2014. You have to qualify at the state level to participate. It was one of my best swims. Every part went well and I felt great after. Maybe I should have even pushed myself a little more. This qualified me for the World Championships in Chicago in 2015.
Everything that went well in Nationals went wrong in this one. A storm the night before made for choppy, freezing water — even with my wetsuit on, I froze. The bike ride went from bright sunlight to the dark tunnels of the overpasses with sharp turns. It was a great experience and an honor to compete with the top athletes from all over the world. These were Olympic distances — swim 1,500 meters, bike 24.8 miles and run 6.2 miles.
Do you have races/ competition/events that you would like to complete on your bucket list?
I already accomplished the National and World Championships. With my kidney function declining, I’m going to stick with the sprints and half marathons for fun and health.
What are you training for right now?
I am training for Senior Games, State to qualify for Nationals, which will be held in Birmingham, Alabama in June. I also am training for a half marathon in Ocala in January. I already qualified for the triathlon for Nationals. I am competing in cycling in Clearwater for cycling time trials and the 20K road race. You have to finish in the top four of your age group at the local level and then the state level in order to go to the national competition.
What is your daily workout routine?
My training depends on what I am training for. I swim, bike, run and do core training at least twice a week. Sometimes I do a brick workout — run/swim, run/core, bike/ run on one day. It is just as important to have rest/recovery days. I usually do three weeks of longer training and the fourth week is an easier workout.
What is the most important lesson competing and being active has taught you?
Train hard and proper and the race will be easy. You also feel better and have a better quality of life. I would like to mention that not everyone likes competition. Any activity you enjoy, just do it. Try to make it a lifestyle. Many people just walk 5Ks. There are many programs in Gainesville to help with disabilities or painful arthritis to keep you functioning.
What is your go-to diet?
Since I have kidney disease I am on a low-salt, low-protein diet and drink 2–3 liters of water a day. I was fortunate to be on a clinical trial at Emory University for six years. My clinical coordinator was also a triathlete. They helped me with my diet and highly encouraged all my exercise. With the Florida heat, I especially have to watch my hydration and electrolytes with hard training. I like Accelerade as my exercise supplement. It is a 1:4 protein to carbohydrate ratio, which helps with my low protein diet and electrolyte replacement.
How would you encourage others to start living a 360life?
I think any level of physical activity is important for you to not only stay healthy, but also to have a good quality of life. It’s amazing how you feel so much better after you exercise. I know a lot of people with arthritis that have difficulty with activity and pain. There are so many programs available in Gainesville with mobility exercises. This also helps to prevent falls in the elderly. A lot of the 5Ks encourage walkers as well as runners. I know that when I do triathlons I get so much encouragement from younger athletes. They see my age boldly printed on the back of my leg during the race and encourage me on as they pass me. I have many come and say to me afterward that they want to do it at my age.
What is your favorite book?
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. Fiction, but based on historical fact.
What is your favorite restaurant?
Kudos to Blue Highway in Micanopy for being my goto restaurant. I recently took my two grandchildren there for a birthday lunch. I had the beet salad and three slices of pizza. I came home and my blood pressure was on the low side of normal. I have a hard time going to restaurants because of the high sodium content. I’m usually lucky to have one slice of pizza without meeting my whole day’s limit of sodium.
How do you like to wind down from a busy week?
I like to read, especially mysteries, and watch movies.
Last question! What is one thing you wouldn’t compete without?
Anything else you’d like to share?
I just did a five-day bike tour with three other senior ladies. We loaded up our bikes with all our gear in panniers, which meant we were carrying 25–30 extra pounds. We had tenting equipment, clothes, everything we would need. We rode 45–48 miles every day to a different campground in the Panhandle. Everyone was so nice to us everywhere we stopped. The camp host at one campground had us over for venison chili for breakfast as we took off for our next campground. No flat tires to report, just one night of cold when the temperature dropped down to 40 F. We started our trip at Ochlockonee River State Park, and then moved on to St. George Island State Park. Our next stop was St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, then Dead Lakes and our final campground was Torreya State Park.