Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Personal Insight: Training & Racing in your 20's v. 40's

For life long athletes, getting older sucks...especially if you make the mistake of comparing your older self to your younger self, 'back in the day'.:) Declining physical output, slower recovery times and the responsibilities of everyday life - including work, family and just 'stuff' seem to get in the way of the "all-important" training. (Sarcasm meter on RED!)

When I was in my 20's and racing as an elite amateur and pro, I was a single guy with no kids and focused on two things... training hard and building my coaching business. My schedule was my own and I'd coordinate my life to accomplish my goals daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. I could pound myself with large training volumes and high intensity day after day and bounce back quickly with no injuries or other negative consequences. And trying to live an active social life, I was known to have a 'good time', enjoy a few beverages and still be able to get up early the next day and hammer out a long day of training (usually with a pounding headache). I'd go to local, regional and national events and almost always expect to 'place' in the top 5 overall, if not win the thing outright.

One season, I did 8 'half ironman' races and Ironman Hawaii in order to test myself against competitors nationwide... earning the distinction 'Half Ironman of the Year' by TRIATHLETE Magazine. I even had corporate sponsorship that year with ROSS LABS (makers of ENSURE) writing me a big check and placing my image and profile on the box of ENSURE you'd buy at the local grocery store. Ah, the life!

Now, as I'm 40 and far removed from that time in my life, I'm re-engaging in the sport as a (hopefully) competitive triathlete and I'm noticing some BIIIGGG differences I'd like to share with you. In no particular order, they include:

1. Training Time and volume: As a highly involved dad of two little girls, a corporate employee for a large health club company and a small business owner and coach, I'm finding that training time doesn't come to me as it used to. Travel, which I do fairly often and will do a ton of this summer, always throws a wrench in to training plans. Family activities take priority and just simple 'down time' is needed too. Like many of us, I'd like to 'do more', but that's not in the cards and I do what I can, when I can.

2. Recovery: I used to be able to train hard one day and then turn around and do it again the next day... or , train the same sport over several consecutive days without any lingering fatigue. This is NO longer the case! Nowadays, I notice that fatigue builds over fewer consecutive days and I need more 'days off' or 'light aerobic' days to bounce back. I'm curious to see how it feels when I get in to higher intensity training next month! geeezzzz.

3. Aches and pains: Umm, getting out of bed or standing up out of a low chair can sometimes be a humbling experience! My knees ache, my lower back aches, my ankles ache,... and I could list the rest of my body parts that ache, but it would take too much time! Even during some 'longer' workouts, I notice that my neck and shoulders 'ache' more than when I was in my 20's. Go figure!

4. Focus: You know what they say... the thing you focus on the most is what you do best. Triathlon, especially preparing for Ironman triathlon, is a selfish endeavor. You need to be somewhat tunnel visioned in order to achieve success to your potential. Just watch the documentary 'What it Takes', how Peter Reid and the other top pros featured follow almost 'monk like' lives in preparation for key events. (That's why they are pros.) While I never had the luxury or desire for that level of 'commitment', mine was also pretty high during my late 20's. Nowadays, focus is diluted, as mentioned in #1, to the bigger picture things in life and tri training isn't at the top of the list.

5. Desire: When you're a young gun trying to make a name for yourself in the sport as I was in my 20's, your desire and motivation is sky high. Triathlon almost becomes your identity as a person, and you want to be the best you can be at swim-bike-run. I see that too in many age group athletes... and while that 'focus' on achieving personal goals can be positive, it can also be a negative as one's life can tilt out of balance. While today I have that desire to be competitive again as a masters athlete, I'm also working hard to maintain that all-important balance with family, career and training. In my audio CD I produced in 2004 called IRON FOCUS, I made a comment that people have told me resonates with them... "'Triathlon' is what you do, it's not what you are... it doesn't define you as a person." You've gotta maintain that balance.

I hope some of these points are useful to you and perhaps applicable to your own situation as a competitive age group athlete. If you'd like to share differences you may notice in your training and racing as the decades march on, please do. We can all learn from each others experiences. Happy training!

Train smart,
- coach Troy


  1. Amen brother - I am 41 going shortly on 42, and the aches and pains are more than ever. Interestingly, it seems that the only time I get some real relief from the aches is when I am working hard in a training session and my body seems to "forget" about the aches for awhile. Well, at least until the next morning!!!

    Thanks Troy for the inspiration for us older guys. Your Spinervals CDs have revolutionized my indoor training - I detested training indoors before, but your CDs keep me engaged and the time passes much more quickly. Keep up the good work and keep cranking out the good products.

  2. Thanks Chris. I agree with you that, after a good warm up, the body starts to feel good...but the warm ups now take longer, and longer...

    Keep me posted regarding your progress and good luck this season!

  3. Thanks Coach!

    As a 40 year old, single mother of two little girls, I "do what I can". It is difficult to maintain focus on triathlon training when there is laundry to be done!

    Another thing that I do to keep my muscles younger, recover faster and not ache is yoga. I have been doing yoga far longer than I have been in triathlons. I love it for not only the strength and flexibility of my muscles but of my mind too.

    I also enjoyed this post for the simple reason that we should accept our bodies as we get older. I believe our bodies respond to us when we work with acceptance and power instead of force.

    I found the following article from Mark Allen in the Wall Street journal last fall very helpful.

  4. I'm nearing my 40s and totally understand where you are coming from - it's a balancing act of doing enough to perform at personal expectations without risking injury and/or neglecting other responsibilities (be it kids, spouse, work or life outside of sports).

    It will be interesting to see how your finish times compare to those from 20 years ago!

    To get in my training without impacting my worlds, I have found that sleep is usually what is sacrificed instead of time with the wife, playing with the kids and spending time at the desk because I’m working out early in the morning and/or early evenings during the work week. To make up for this, I now take power naps over my lunch hour because I can squeeze in 20-30 minutes of shut eye instead of a workout.

  5. I just started all this endurance madness 3 years ago, training for my 1st marathon. i'm 39 now and feel i am in the best physical health of my life. in addition to monthly acupuncture, i take a hand full of vitamins 2xs a day. those include fish oil and glucosamine/msm, magnesium for muscle recovery, and many more. i also take in 100g of protein a day!

    Prevention is KEY when we're at this age.

    Men prime in their 20's and women seem to prime much later.

    Ice baths + compression tights are a bonus.

    Good luck, can't wait for your comeback. I'm doing your DVD's all the time!

  6. As a 50+ athlete I agree with the article. I would like some of your thoughts on the mentioned topics from your article but focusing on the middle aged athlete and how they can be most efficient and successful. Looking forward to reading your response.

  7. Linda,
    Have coached several athletes over the age of 50 (and 70), it's clear to me that the work/rest-recovery ratio needs to be in sync for the individual. This varys from person to person, but it's a fact that mature athletes need more time off, recover slower and need more rest between 'quality' sessions. Additionally, extra attention needs to be placed on strength maintenance (i.e. resistance training) and flexibility. Also - the mature athlete shouldn't really have an 'off season', but more of an 'easy season' because the loss of fitness is so much faster. I hope this helps! :)

  8. Coach Troy, I like the fact that you're keeping it real with this blog. This article hit home with me as well. Just turned 45 last week, and you're right! I just don't feel like I used to. It's hard to remember sometimes that age is catching up with me. I find myself going out and pushing myself a little too hard at times, just because I felt good that day. The recovery time is so important, but I do find that I have to keep moving too. Active recovery, that's the ticket!

  9. Coach Troy appreciate the response maybe you could speak in a practical sense to the active recovery, "easy season" terms because those are difficult terms to understand when our bodies are a certain age but our minds are of another (much younger). It is always difficult to balance the two worlds.

  10. Coach Troy,

    I am turning 45 years old in a couple of days, and understand where you're coming from. I've decided that I can only race the present incarnation of myself . . . to be the best that I can be right now . . . and to embrace the things that take away from training, but make my life much, much fuller.

    Good luck juggling.