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How long can Adrian Peterson play? Answer might lie in work-life balance

HOUSTON -- It’s almost 3 p.m. on a Monday, and as Adrian Peterson sips an organic smoothie in the lobby of his gym in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, his focus begins to shift from the 3-hour workout he just completed to the 45-minute drive through the city’s snarled traffic and sweltering heat still ahead of him.

Peterson and his trainer, James Cooper, opened O Athletik in Houston so they could consolidate different facets of the Minnesota Vikings running back’s training under one roof. A high school track sits just two miles away, and after beginning his day with six sprints -- three of 300 meters, three of 200 meters -- Peterson returns to his gym for the rest of the workout with a group that includes San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter and free agent receiver Andre Johnson, among others.

The gym, which opened in March, already has nearly 1,500 members, with Peterson and a group of five other investors eyeing expansion to three West Coast locations by the end of 2017. Peterson is planning to move his family from the Woodlands neighborhood north of Houston to a house closer to the gym so he can cut down on his commute. His ability to keep his football career in balance with his family life might ultimately determine how long he continues to play.

The running back has talked several times since his 2014 suspension about how much he learned to cherish simple things, like dropping his kids off at school and attending events with his daughter. Those who know Peterson best, who gathered around him on Saturday night for a celebration in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, believe the running back's time away from football also gave him an important dose of perspective about where his career fits in his life. At the moment, he is intently focused on helping the Vikings reach their first Super Bowl in 40 years -- a game that just happens to be in Houston.

Cooper knows, however, what can happen when that focus changes.

"You have to look at the offseason like you're getting ready for a fight," Cooper said. "You're preparing for that season like it's your Everest. It's tough as you get older, you build family and kids get older, so your values change. It's tough, because I've got to sound like the negative one, so to speak. It's like, 'Look, man -- I understand you have kids, I understand you have a wife you have to spend time with, but I need you here. You'll have plenty of time with them (later).'

"For family, that's the wrong approach. But in his mind, we just have to balance it. That's the tough balance for a lot of athletes."

There's a deep belief in Peterson's camp that the balancing act, not the onset of age, is the only major obstacle between the running back and numbers no NFL running back has posted in his 30s. Asked how long Peterson can continue at this pace, Cooper relays an anecdote of his first race against USA Track and Field masters champion Bill Collins, who quickly became Cooper's track coach after he nearly edged the sprinter in a 100-meter dash at age 46.

"It was an all-comers meet," Cooper said. "I'm like, 'OK, we've got one heat and then I'm going to make it to the finals.' I didn't know who Bill was at the time. So I got out there -- 'Pow!' -- (the gun) went off, and I'm running. I feel this same old man right next to me and I'm like, 'What the hell?' It threw me off when he got even, and I had to nudge him back out. I went and got my time, and he said, '10.52 (seconds).' I'm looking back at the guy -- and I knew I wasn't going to run all the way out just try to get to the finals. This guy ran 10.58, at 46. The next heat, he came in second. I think I was like 10.3 something, and he was right there at 10.4 something. I'm like, 'Holy crap.' I just shook his hand, and he said, 'Yeah, I'm a coach.' And I started training with him. It taught me that 40 is not the age to submit. Fifty is not the age to submit."

Only 12 players in NFL history have run for 1,000 yards at age 31; Peterson will attempt to become the 13th this fall. Should he stay healthy, no one around him -- or with the Vikings, for that matter -- sees a drop-off on the horizon. How long can he keep it up? That probably has more to do with what he wants than it does with what he can take.

"We’ll see how things play out," Peterson said. "I think you just have to wait for that time to come, and it will feel right, or it will feel wrong. Right now, it feels good. It feels right (to be playing).”