I am not a fan of spreading Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) but I was beginning to wonder about how long a body can continue to make improvements and take the punishment of training and competing. I am not just a coach I am also a competitive runner, road cyclist and duathlete and every time I feel slower or get some little injury my mind turns to the following:
- How long can I keep racing?
- Will I continue to improve on past performances?
- Where can I expect to see declines and why?
- How can I reduce the risk of injury?
- How long do I want to continue racing?
I remember an old friend giving me grief in college about me talking about a bunch what if scenarios unrelated to work I needed to complete. He said “you need to get all the what ifs on paper and out of your head and get back to work!” So I have decided to delay some other work and articles to research this a bit. By no means will anything I write in this article be considered for a sport science journal but it is helping me get past a bunch of unfinished thoughts and hopefully you the reader make sense out what to expect as you approach midlife competition.
How long can I keep racing?
So how long can I keep racing? I just turned 45 and ever since I turned 38 I have noticed some subtle and some not so subtle issues. The biggest one being that it takes so much longer to recover from this or that workout, interval or race. I have learned quite a bit about recovery that I am planning on sharing later this season with you the reader that has really helped. I also worry about cumulative damage to my body and how to mitigate it and I work very hard and trying to maintain a healthy life style. So theoretically if I don’t sustain a career ending injury or come across some hereditary illness how long can I keep racing. I guess the answer is indefinite. Between masters’ level events, age group events and the senior games I could look forward to racing into my 90s! Not sure I want to race that long but it’s nice to know there are those that do I often wonder how many of these awesome seniors started racing late in life or are life time racers. This I have not been able to discover. If you know someone in his or her 70-90s who is racing let me know!
Will I continue to improve on past performances?
This has been a big question of mine for some time. In one of USAT’s new Duathlon series races, the Double Oak Duathlon I was amazed at the times age groups were producing for both men and women. As awards were being given out at this South East Regional Championship I was hearing times for the 50-54, 55-59 and even the 60-64 that were comparable to the 40-44 and 45-49 age groups in my home state. The 40-44 and 45-49 age groups in KY, IN and OH are often the most competitive age groups as far as split performance and over all time is concerned. It is not unusual to see sub 6-minute miles and even bike splits approach 24-26MPH on average. I was blown away to hear that some in the 50-54, 55-59 and even the 60-64 were close to this and in many cases faster! Granted this was a World qualifier so it brought out some of the top competitors in the South East but still it flies in the face of sport science.
In the Journal of Physiology they have been looking at the decline in performance for marathon and swimming age groups and discovered that endurance athletes wont see a huge decline in performance until their 50s. I did notice that the times and splits at Double oaks did not show large performance drops until the mid to late 60s. Granted this is one race and not years of data or a large cross section of athletes but I was so excited to see so many age groupers putting in some incredibly impressive times.
In the next article I will cover the rest of the questions and even give out some recommendations to staving off or mitigating the impact of age on your own endurance performance!
Until then Train Smarter Not Harder
Rob, you asked whether we knew of anyone in their 70’s who are still racing.
I know of two, one in our club. One is 72, ex-Olympics and Tour de France rider. He rides B grade, is of course tactically great but is also still a very strong rider. Gets placings in the road races.
The other is 73, rides in our Saturday morning group rides in the A group, and regularly attcks. Not so good on the hills any more, but still very strong. He came 6th in the Worlds in Austria in his age group last year.
I’m 58, race in B grade, usually finish in the top ten in our road races (never been a good sprinter but I’m a pretty good climber). I get called Machine so often the name is starting to stick. I can outride lots of guys half my age. In April I did a 238km organised ride with 2500m of climbing in 7hrs 40mins, but I had to wait up a bit for my team mate who wasn’t such a good climber.
So, there’s quite a bit of life left for a cyclist if they are prepared to keep up the training. It’s amazing what your body can do.
That is great news. I love to hear about cyclists that have had long and loved cycling careers. Especially amateurs. When I was younger I often wondered what Olympic athletes did after they retired. I know that many do leave their sports but I also am amazed when I hear that many are still competing after retirement. I know that training and racing becomes such a part of out daily routines.
I’m reading Joe Friel’s book, “Fast After 50: How to race strong for the rest of your like.” Addresses some of the same questions. Just started it but it’s pretty interesting so far.