I am a creative but not a complex creature and usually find comfort in balance, although I often skip, trip and teeter along life's path. I like to write but certainly nothing of an award-winning nature. I love to compete and train to be the best version of me in this crazy sport of triathlon. I swim some days, bike some days and run on my fave days. I am extraordinary but only because I have the incredible ability to laugh at myself...I'm quirky and I'm imperfect... but I'm also caring and find devine satisfaction in living my life as a single mom of two as happily as can be...
How aging affects athletic training and insight on what to focus on for better performance.
The success of a triathlete is a personalized journey, executed with scientific precision. It can take years to perfect, only to change again without notice, and the work begins anew. Are we going crazy or are we simply “aging up”? We are fearless competitors, regardless of our level of experience. We will push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and sometimes fail to accept the fact that our numbers are changing because our age is. Is there a “peak” age to compete? Is there a specific age that endurance athletes begin to see an obvious decline? This is a frequently debated topic, loaded with a lot of noise and too many opinions.
I began this sport in 2009, I was 33 years old and had two children ages 1 and 4. I was eager and motivated, but had little to NO knowledge of how to construct a training plan. The only background that I had little insight on was in running, so I came from the mantra of “Just go out and run!”. I applied this science to triathlon, but learned quickly that it was not going to work. I bonked. We all have experienced the “bonk”, but when it happens over and over again for a simple 20-mile bike ride or 40-minute run, you have to sit back and re-evaluate the plan. Is this simply too hard?
I learned quickly that securing a well-versed coach was an absolute necessity, somebody to provide me with proper guidance. I needed to learn not only about myself and how my body might function in a 3 modality sport, but also about proper gear. Over the years my knowledge base grew and I began to understand why things like HR, diet, rest, proper periodization, and a comfy bike saddle all mattered.
While my own understanding grew, it didn’t mean that I necessarily had myself “figured out”. I used to (and still do) use myself as a test case for the plethora of theories that exist regarding training fundamentals. Train mostly at aerobic capacity for all endurance related events. Train at threshold 50% of the time for short distance races. Eat carbs - lots of carbs, and always have a recovery meal 30 minutes after a workout to replenish glycogen stores. Eat a balance of carbs and protein, focus on metabolic efficiency. Do strength, lots of strength. Balance and core – every single day. Do plyometrics 1-2 times a week. Do yoga and mediate. Rest for 6 weeks after your season is over. Do NOT rest or stop training after your season is over, but instead embark upon recovery zone workouts. Gain weight on the off season. Don’t gain weight on the off season. The list of DO’s and DON’Ts are endless and they all seem to contradict each other. The frustration builds and when we finally figure out which avenue works best; it all comes crashing down in one poor race performance. And then, we are back to the beginning. This cumbersome, frustrating and at times seemingly futile endeavor is what makes us come back for more.
This high or “peak” lasted for a good 2 years and then the things that I swore by as my own personal bible began to fail.
I wouldn’t call myself a naturally gifted athlete but with my work ethic, focus and motivation, I knew I could get myself to be the best version of me possible. Finally, at age 39-40 years I had my diet, my recovery protocol, training periodization, gear and everything else dialed in to perfection, meaning it didn’t deviate every few months. I felt amazing… well rested, full of energy and I could take on any workout like it was no big deal. This high or “peak” lasted for a good 2 years and then the things that I swore by as my own personal bible began to fail. My heart rate zones changed. I needed to sleep more. Certain foods (that I always swore by) began to bother me. Was I overdoing it? Perhaps, but the absolute reality was that I was failing to acknowledge and understand that I was simply aging. Yuck – not me, not now, I’m a triathlete who finally “figured it out!!”
The research exists, on a few levels. In short, our VO2 Max declines with age. If you ask the Google, she says that it can go down nearly 10% with every decade. The question is, when does that decline truly begin? It really is relative to each individual person but it’s a fact, age does change how our bodies use oxygen. The good news is that if we choose to train hard and compete even as we age, the drop-off becomes much less significant, by nearly 50%, says the Google. Why? Why does this decline happen? Because our HR max drops as we age and our cardiac output is reduced and shortly thereafter, our muscle mass declines.
As proud endurance athletes, we may refuse to see that aging is a huge factor contributing to the year over year decline in performance. We call it a “phase” or “bump in the road” and fail to understand that our body may need a little more TLC and a lot more respect. As we age, we become more sensitive to things and if we push harder, the setbacks become greater. Anecdotally, we might observe other athletes getting faster as they age, or having a longer peak phase or one that is later in life. Rest assured, they too will eventually start to see a steady decline in their ideal performance. Our own personal body is only truly capable of what our genetic blueprint and God given talent says.
“Aging Up” is inevitable and it can be an unfortunate, sometimes devastating, realization but it’s a natural process that we cannot avoid. If we listen to what our body is telling us at each stage along the way, we can still achieve some pretty outstanding things. With the proper training program, rest, diet peace of mind and personal respect, we can still land a spot on that forever-calling podium.
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