On the trail for 30 years

This 61-year-old has run, biked or swum every day for the past three decades

Just after 7am on a sunny day in June, a 61-year-old woman darted in front of taxis in Columbus Circle outside Central Park, New York City. The woman, Gisela Mandl, wore a bright green T-shirt, grey running shorts and white knee-high compression socks. She had just finished a 35-minute run through the park and was starting an 8-minute jaunt back to her apartment where she would stretch, do push-ups and sit-ups, and enjoy a breakfast of steamed vegetables doused with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

This routine was nothing new. Mandl, who moved to New York from West Germany in 1967, says she had run, biked or swum every day at 6.30am for the past 30 years. Wait—every single day?

“I remember once having the flu," she adds. “The park was frozen. I had to sit down and scoot down a hill on my heinie in here because there was no way to walk it. But I would get myself up and get myself out and then go right back to bed."

That was in 1998. She has not been sick since, she says, save for “seasonal sniffles" from spring pollen.

Her customary route starts at the monument, crosses over to the east side of the park and up to the reservoir, and goes along the west side back to the start.

Her pace usually settles around 9 minutes per mile. “I’m not Speedy Gonzales, but I’m having a good time," says Mandl, who has never run a marathon. “And it’s all about having a good time, you know?"

Early in the run, she describes how she biked to school and swam for fun as she grew up in the rolling hills of Bavaria, Germany. When she was 13, her family moved to Long Island, US, she says, where she “was introduced to mayonnaise, peanut butter and soda". At 21, because of a boyfriend, she began her lifelong pursuit of fitness.

“He used to tease me about not being fit enough," Mandl says. “Now, at 21, how could you not be fit? Everyone’s fit at 21. And that inspired me. Somehow I made a decision for myself that nobody was ever going to say that to me again. So I’ve been doing it ever since."

Her 20s were sprinkled with short runs on the beach, but her every-day-for-30-years routine did not begin until her early 30s. She started running seriously when she met Heinz Rüegger, a marathoner from Switzerland with whom she worked at the Swiss bank UBS in New York.

“I knew nothing about it, other than that it felt good," Mandl says of the 1-mile jog. “At the end of it."

Hurricanes, biting cold, late nights—none of them have stopped Mandl from running, biking or swimming in the morning.

Near the end of the run, Mandl was asked what kept her going, why she ran.

“What keeps me going?" she says. “I don’t know, you know? I just know I have to do this."

She paused and thought some more.

“It’s an experience of self-love," she says, “because I’ve done something good for myself, you know?" The New York Times