Triathlon and the effect of ageing

Today I turn 33. Becoming a year older always make me reflect on the fact that I am getting older. I am not in my early 20s anymore, for sure. It’s 8 years since I passed the biological prime age of 25. I probably do need more recovery. I probably can’t train as much (recklessly) without being punished for it. It is probably more difficult to develop explosive power and high-end speed.

Personally, I don’t feel any off it the negative effects of ageing. My performance in swimming, biking and running are better than ever. Especially on the run, I have done speeds I never achieved before, like 6 x 1 mile at 19km/h or 6 x 1 km at 20km/h. On this years Halv-Fet I finished 8 minutes faster than last year. While cooler race conditions helped, the improvement was significant.

One year older and fitter than ever shaving 8 minutes of my last year race time at Halv-Fet triathlon (70.3 distance). Photo: Ola Morken.

33 years is by no means a bad age in triathlon, and I may look at it differently when I am getting closer to 40. In other sports, you can see a decline in performance when passing 25 years, like sprinters in cycling. In gymnastics, they may already have retired at that age. Triathlon, the longer distances particularly, it is different. You can see giants as Craig Alexander (46), Camron Brown (47) and Natascha Badman (52) performing at a very high level. Javier Gomez (36) showes that he still can compete with the best ITU triathletes despite being more than 10 years older than most of them. One of the all time best triathlon performances was set by Jan Frodeno (37) when he outran Javier Gomez and Alistair Brownlee at the 70.3 World Championship last year.

Craig Alexander (46) is still going strong at 70.3 distances winning several of them. He was «the king» of triathlon when I started getting the interest in 2008 winning Ironman Hawaii both 2008 and 2009. In 2010 he got beaten and rose up to the changing race dynamics having his performance winning both 70.3 and Ironman World Championship, at the age of 38. A true inspiration.
Last years 70.3 World Championship had the toughest competitive field to date. The race was, not unexpectantly, dominated by the former ITU superstars. That the oldest of them, Jan Frodeno would pull of on the run was more of a surprise, leaving second place to Javier Gomez and third place to Alistair Brownlee who is maybe the most talented triathlete in history.
Not as fast but at least as impressive. 85-year-old Hiromu Inada becomes the oldest Ironman Hawaii finisher in last years race. Also, note that he did start swimming when he was 60 and first started triathlon after turning 70 and slowly building the distance.
Sister Madonna Buder, known as the Iron Nun, is a legend having previously owned the record of oldest Ironman finisher. She is not doing Ironmans anymore but still competes in triathlons now as she turned 88(!)

Becoming older does change you, a lot for the better. You are wiser and more experienced. That can be used to train smarter and more effective. You can have a better race strategy and execute it. Most of us are also more settled in life which allows for a better framework for being an athlete.

My top advice for ageing athletes

  • Train smarter – That means as much as needed to give the wanted physical adaption but not more.
  • Prioritize recovery and sleep – you need more recovery and sleep as you get older (Adolescents and younger need more).
  • Address injuries fast – Don’t wait for a potential injury to grow serious, treat it right away.
  • Improve nutritional habits – give the body all the nutrition it needs for optimal regeneration
  • Hit the weights – doing strength training is increasingly important, as you are getting older, and specifically for women.
  • Don’t play old boys football – or other similar sports, which demands rapid speed changes, turns or involuntarily hard impacts 😉

These pieces of advice are obvious good for younger athletes as well, but younger athletes have a bigger room for error without the same negative consequences. Having a very active four-year-old son makes that rather clear. He is exploring the world in a physical way and getting a lot of bruises and cuts. The following day they are healed. Mine wounds do not, and I cannot afford to risk getting that many.

In one of my previous blog post – Triathlete for life – I write about how I want to be a triathlete as long as I live and still want to do races when turning 80. I cannot wait to continue this journey and see where it brings me.

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I am a 33 year old PRO triatlete. My goal is to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, and enjoy the journey. All my adventures and triathlon related stuff is well documented on this blog.

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