The age old debate: What age is old in triathlon?

It has come to my attention that next week I will be expected to celebrate another birthday.  What? Didn’t I just turn 40? I have written about aging on a few occasions (here and here), but the theme of age and athletics seems to pop up regularly in my life. Just last week, I was interviewed for an article for espnW about how women are staying fit in their sports longer than ever.

If athletes in their 40’s and beyond are “old” the corollary must be that athletes in their 20’s are young. The lore that is handed down from generation to generation is that younger athletes recover better, they can train harder, and they are resistant to the pitfalls of the older athlete. Youth almost begs for recklessness in training as the mistakes are seemingly easily forgiven.

I beg to differ.

I recently started working with a very young triathlete at the beginning of her career. She came to me tired, over-trained, and verging on burn out. Her situation has made me rethink about age and athletics.

There is no magic formula to longevity in sport, but here is a truism. You can be old at 25 and sprightly at 50. Much of it depends on your outlook, resourcefulness, and willingness to change.

It is the willingness to change that I want to embellish on. Longevity embodies durability, prolonged survival, sturdiness. How does one achieve such things? Doing the same training, year after year, expecting the same results is foolhardy. The mind and body change over time and so must training.

A key, then, to longevity, is a willingness to leave your comfort zone and modify your daily routine. It is recognizing that without varying your workouts you will stagnate. There are endless ways to keep training exciting, to move yourself forward, to postpone the effects of time.  It may mean joining a new Masters swim group. Finding new training partners. Hiring a coach. Adding intensity to your training. Doing less mileage. Purchasing a power meter. Running new trails. Getting a massage.

There is no doubt, with age comes the baggage of age. But learning from the mistakes of the past and incorporating change into your present will keep you young and fresh and help you find your fountain of youth.

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2 Responses

  1. don says:

    Thank you for this article. People often ask me if I am too old for triathlon which causes me to question my participation in the sport. Perhaps I might stop doing Ironman distance races in the future but right now it enriches my life in a way that I would not want to give up.

  2. The Dude says:

    Frankly, I enjoy being an "older" athlete. I'm not especially gifted, and what little speed I have is gained with lots of hard work and discipline. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from "beating the clock" and some of the younger athletes that never see me coming. (Although how they could miss seeing my fat paleness, I will never understand!) Remember, It's NOT an age, it's an ATTITUDE.