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Breaking records and thriving at 100 - Mike Fremont shares his secrets

Centenarian Mike Fremont smiling.
Picture courtesy of Harvey Lewis, legendary ultrarunner and a good friend of Mike's.

I first heard of Mike Fremont when my mom sent a picture of him to our family group chat.[1] Mike turned 100 this year and People magazine ran a profile on him.

A picture of Mike Fremont running taken by People magazine.

I read the article and was blown away, inspired beyond belief. For some reason, I felt a strong urge to learn as much as I could about Mike.

Luckily for me, Mike had recently been interviewed on the Rich Roll podcast. Rich did a great job covering Mike’s life and some online articles I found helped fill in the gaps.

So who is Mike Fremont and why is he so inspiring?

Who is Mike Fremont?

Mike is a retired mechanical engineer turned climate activist, as well as a lifelong athlete.

He was born on February 23, 1922, attended and wrestled at Yale (class of 1944), and was spared from World War II—a fact that still pains him[2]—due to his asthma.

He’s 5-foot-3, weighs 125 pounds, and is a longtime Cincinnati resident. After running his own business for over forty years, he retired in 1988 at the age of 66.

That’s Mike in a nutshell. But there’s much, much more to his life. So let’s keep going.

The turning point

Mike’s life, like everyone’s, has had its share of pain.

In 1958, when Mike was 36, his first wife died of a brain hemorrhage. She had given birth to their third child—a daughter—just two weeks earlier.

Mike was left alone with three kids—three lives wholly dependent on him—and, feeling lonely and stressed, he started running every day after work as an alternative to the two martinis that had become a habit.

He found that running made him feel better and it became a lifelong pastime.

Mike goes green

In 1962, Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring.

The book, which covers the outsized and often harmful effect that humans have on our environment, turned Mike into an environmentalist.

A year later, he picked up canoeing and became a marathon canoe racer.

And it was the combination of these two seemingly unrelated events that led to Mike’s career as an environmental activist when in 1966, he became active in the protection and restoration of Ohio’s rivers, a subject he is still passionate about.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

Steve Jobs

Mike’s cancer diagnosis and switch in diet

In 1992, Mike was diagnosed with colon cancer. The exams showed that the cancer had metastasized[3] and Mike, then 69, was given three months to live.

But even in the darkest times there is hope and salvation can appear unexpectedly, in many different forms.

For Mike, salvation took the form of a book, The Cancer Prevention Diet by Michio Kushi.[4] His son had sent him the book back in 1985 when Mike was 63 in case he needed it some day.[5]

Mike devoured the book and then traveled to Massachusetts to meet Michio Kushi and take his one-week course.

As prescribed by Kushi, Mike went cold turkey on a plant-based diet[6]. No meat. No milk. No eggs. No exceptions.

Two weeks into the diet, Mike noticed that the arthritis in the back of his neck, in his shoulder, and in his fingers had disappeared. His hands and lips, which had been chapped since he was a kid, felt better than ever.

To Mike, this was irrefutable proof of the power of a plant-based diet and he decided to skip chemotherapy and stick to the diet.

Two years later, in 1994, the tumor began to bleed and Mike had it surgically removed.

After the surgery, the doctor looked throughout Mike’s body for further tumors but didn’t find a single one—the plant-based diet had reversed the spread of the cancer.

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself,
don’t swim in the same slough.
invent yourself and then reinvent yourself and
stay out of the clutches of mediocrity.

Records are meant to be broken

In 1970, at the age of 48, Mike entered his first race, and a year later, he ran his first Boston Marathon.

Forty years later, in May 2010, he became the world record holder for the fastest marathon for an 88-year-old at the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with a time of 6:05:53[7].

Nowadays, Mike holds the record for the fastest marathon for an 88-year-old, a 90-year-old (with a time of 6:35:47[8]), and a 91-year-old, as well as the fastest half-marathon for a 90-year-old (with a time of 2:56:26[9]) and a 91-year-old.

At 96, he set the American one-mile record for the 95 to 99 age group with a time of 13:55 at the Grand Blue Mile race in Des Moines, Iowa.[10]

And at 99 he was the oldest person to race the Canoe National Championships.[11]

Mike Fremont’s diet

Mike has been plant-based since his cancer diagnosis and he credits his diet for his longevity and health.

His diet consists of vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, nuts, and soups of all kinds.

Here’s how Mike describes his diet[12]:

I eat a lot of whole grain bread, rice, oats, other cereals including corn, potatoes, sweet and white, but no grease.

I also eat tofu, onions, greens including kale and chard, carrots, canned beans, fresh vegetables such as asparagus, peas, lentils, string beans, bok choy, mushrooms, oat, hemp and almond milk, oranges, grapefruit, berries when available, melons, grapes.

Occasionally some form of Tofurky as part of a sandwich.

As he shared on the Rich Roll podcast, for breakfast Mike might have oatmeal with blueberries and an extra serving of fruit on the side.

For lunch or dinner, he might have half a can of beans—black, kidney, or garbanzo—with a bit of tamari and a side of broccoli florets with a bit of ketchup.

Mike tries to eat beans every day and takes no supplements or medication, except for vitamin D in the winter.

Mike Fremont’s fitness routine

In preparation for his record-breaking half marathon at age 90, Mike was running 23 to 50 miles a week, canoeing another 9 miles, and doing 100 to 400 push-ups every other day.[13]

When not training for a race, Mike ran 10 miles, 3 times a week—Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday—in a local trail.

He maintained this regimen until he was 98 when he decided it was taking him too long to run 10 miles. He’s since reduced the 10 miles to 5 while maintaining the 3 outings.

He runs the first mile at his top speed and the other four under pressure to run fast.[12:1]

Here’s how Mike describes his running routine[14]:

It takes a big piece of the morning because I’ve been running in the same place for over 40 years. And I know everybody and all their dogs, for three generations of dogs, and remember some of the dogs’ names even and their ailments, as well as the ailments of their owners. So it becomes as much a social visit as it does an exercise thing.

Mike is also a canoe racer and he keeps up with his training.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are reserved for canoeing. He’s at the lake at 7:30 am and rows for three miles.

And as if running and canoeing weren’t enough, Mike also finds the time and energy to squeeze in some push-ups and pull-ups. He can still do 50 push-ups and 8 pull-ups in one go.

Quotes from Mike Fremont

On life

These, believe it or not, are the very best years of my life. No question. Things that I’ve worked for and worked on have blossomed out. I’m still here. I can still run, so to speak. For my age, I’m practically number one.

Real satisfaction consists in helping other people, period. In whatever way. As much as you can. That brings real rewards. It brings the pleasures. It’s not the money.

I realize how tremendously fortunate I happen to be. And it seems like it’s been a simple process, no intellectual depth or dangerous ventures or anything but just grinding along, doing the best you can. I’ve been very happy about it.

Stress also kills. And if you can keep your life from distress as well as stress, you’re very fortunate. But diet and stress are the two things that can kill.

On running

I don’t think I ever became competitive until I was 88. I ran a marathon when I was 88 and I got first. First place in history in what they call the world single-age running category.

On diet

No question in my mind. Absolutely, it is diet that has determined my existence, my continued existence, and my beautiful health.

I just don’t do bad things in eating.

On sustainability

The sustainability issue is an enormous issue because there isn’t any way we can go from a population of close to 2 billion to one that is close to 8 billion in my lifetime. The planet’s not getting any bigger. It just won’t work.

You can talk about going to Mars. I don’t know anybody who’d be willing to do that.

Learn more about Mike Fremont

If you’re as taken with Mike’s story as I was, I recommend his interview on the Rich Roll podcast. You can watch it on YouTube or listen to it on Spotify or Apple/Google Podcasts. All the quotes from the previous section come from this interview.

Interesting articles on Mike include this one from Runner’s World magazine (2013), this one from Trail Runner Magazine (2018), this one from Great Vegan Athletes (2021), this one from Yale Alumni Magazine (2012), and this one from People magazine (2022).

You can also check out Mike’s website where he lists some of his records as well as his thoughts on running and diet.

Summary

Mike’s story was a breath of fresh air.

We live in a culture where getting older is a reason for despair—life is passing us by, we think, and we’ve yet to achieve all we once hoped.

But as Mike shows, getting older is also a blessing. If we keep our mind and bodies in good shape through diet and exercise, we need not fear age—it is nothing but the turn of a page.

Tomorrow you’ll wake up, a day older, with the gift of a blank sheet. It’ll be one more opportunity to reinvent yourself, to reimagine your future, and choose who you want to be.

May you choose well, live long, and thrive.

Footnotes

  1. Which is ironic given that we’ve been trying to get my mom to adopt a consistent exercise routine for about 20 years now. ↩︎

  2. See this part of Mike’s appearance on the Rich Roll podcast. ↩︎

  3. In other words, the cancer had spread and taken root in other parts of the body. See metastasis in Wikipedia. ↩︎

  4. As with any other guru, Michio Kushi is a controversial figure. ↩︎

  5. Mike mentions this in this 4-minute interview. ↩︎

  6. Michio Kushi called it a macrobiotic diet. It’s a plant-based diet that’s heavy on whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. It’s not vegan as some fish and seafood is allowed. ↩︎

  7. This is an average pace of 13:58 per mile. ↩︎

  8. As Mike writes on his website, he set this record on November 11, 2012 at the Huntington Marathon in Marshall University in West Virginia. His average pace was 15:06 per mile. Here are the official race results. ↩︎

  9. As Mike writes on his website, he set this record on August 19, 2012 at the Little Miami Half Marathon in Morrow, Ohio. His average pace was 13:28 per mile. ↩︎

  10. See the Grand Blue Mile records page. ↩︎

  11. See Mike’s canoeing times courtesy of PaddleStats. ↩︎

  12. This comes from Great Vegan Athletes. ↩︎ ↩︎

  13. This training regimen is detailed in the article on Mike in Runner’s World magazine. ↩︎

  14. This comes from this short video from Blue Cross Blue Shield spotlighting Mike’s attempt to break the American road mile record in the 95+ age category. ↩︎