Hall of Fame hockey player Mark Howe trains for Flyers alumni race
In any sport, a number of former professional athletes who haven’t played in 20, 30, or 40 years seem like they haven’t even exercised in 20, 30, or 40 years.
It’s safe to say that Mark Howe is not one of them.
The Hall of Fame defenseman, who spent the best 10 years of his NHL career in a Flyers uniform, maintains form by running five days a week an average distance of nearly four miles.
At 66, he discovered that this form of athletics not only benefited him physically but also mentally.
Howe put a strain on his body as a player and it took him the better part of a decade after his retirement to realize that aerobic training, while difficult, might be the best form of therapy.
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Today, he goes out regularly and is currently training for the Flyers Alumni Stroll, Run, Walk event on April 23 at Washington Crossing Historic Park. Howe prepares for the 10K. Other distances include a 5K and a 1K.
“The weird part for me in all the years I played was I tried to run but when I ran fast my knees got really bad,” Howe said in a phone conversation from his home in Jackson, New Jersey. “I had tendonitis. So after about three weeks I couldn’t run at all.”
So Howe pretty much limited his off-ice conditioning to riding a bike. It was less stressful on his body and there were even a few summers when he was “reduced” to swimming under the watchful eye of then head coach Pat Croce.
By the time he finished a three-year stint with the hometown Detroit Red Wings, he was 40, decided to retire and the last thing he needed was to drag himself out of bed every morning. and feel obligated to stay in shape.
Howe said he gained about 10 pounds from his game weight of 185 and knew they weren’t just going to get away with it without a job.
But the decision to run went far beyond weight control.
“I had kind of stopped doing everything for about 10 years,” Howe confessed. “The main reason I started again was that I had no energy. I felt sluggish, I didn’t like the feeling. Then I started doing something and the easiest thing to do is put on a pair of shoes and run out. I ran to feel better and running did that for me.”
One mile led to two, two led to three and now – again 10 years later – Howe is doing long runs in the 12 mile range.
Her long-term goal is to compete in the 13.1-mile (half-marathon) leg of a half-Ironman triathlon to be held in September with her daughter and a friend of hers.
If all goes well there, he might even dream of running his first marathon. Imagine a two-time Norris Trophy runner-up navigating the ultimate 26.2-mile challenge.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been setbacks along the way. Picking up his speed and setting time goals, he suffered a severe case of plantar fasciitis in one of his feet that cost him a good chunk of the year. A hamstring burst. And so on.
Howe finally found a happy medium. He’s not trying to set records, he just wants to make sure he completes a practice or a race.
At the time, Howe focused on speed work, specifically simulating hockey’s 45-second shifts. The transition to long distance was not so easy.
“I feel like I’m running with two sea anchors behind me trying to slow me down,” Howe said with a laugh. “But this way you can do more miles.”
Working remotely allows a runner to “clear their mind” so to speak. Many life decisions are taken into account when the road opens up in front of us.
“Running really helps me mentally,” Howe said. “It keeps my mind clear, takes the stress away. It’s wonderful for me that way.”
Why aren’t more former athletes seeing the light like Howe?
“I don’t know,” Howe said. “I was one of those guys for 10 years. During that time I just wasn’t myself. Running makes you want to do things. My sleeping habits are so much better now. My body works best when I exercise.”
Perhaps the problem for some of the ex-athletes is their inability to “slow down”. They’ve done everything in their prime and it’s hard to compromise.
Howe was one of the fastest skaters in his prime, but everyone has to make concessions to Father Time.
“I can’t come close to doing what I used to do,” Howe said. “And I wouldn’t. Once in a while, you have a day where you feel wonderful. But if I push too hard, my body responds. I just had too many injuries and I just can’t tolerate doing this.
Howe sets realistic goals. He hopes to run the 10K in 55-60 minutes and would like to do the half marathon around 2:10-15.
“This (Washington Crossing event) will be my first real race,” he said. “And it’s for a good cause (including the Bucks County YMCA’s military wellness initiative).”
An Olympic silver medalist aged 16 in 1972 and a former left winger who many skeptics said would never succeed as a defender, Howe has always surprised the doubters.
So look for it to achieve your goals, and more, in running.
“I see people running around with headphones on, but I like to think,” Howe said.
This approach dates back to when he played hockey and is certainly a healthy prospect for years to come.
Princeton 5K, 8:30 a.m., Princeton. Contact www.runsignup.com