Getting coached, part 2

I promised you a post on how I benefit from coaching. This one will have a lot about me, and if you’re bored with me, it might not be very entertaining. But I’ll do what I can to make it useful.

The coaching relationship is based first on a training plan, so let’s take a look at training plans.

Training Plans

While everybody needs a training plan to prepare for a triathlon or a race season, you don’t necessarily need a coach to get a training plan. You can get a competent training plan at That site features free plans of varying lengths to train for a sprint or olympic tri. The free ones are printed only, which means you’ll have to track your progress with paper and pencil. But generations upon generations of successful athletes tracked their progress with pencil and paper. And, in any case, you can pay a membership fee and get access to a more interactive web-based plan. I don’t know what the membership fees are (there are several levels), but I assume they are cheaper than hiring a coach.

You can also get a training plan from Training Peaks. The plans at Training Peaks are often designed by multisport and endurance sports celebrities. The cost is fairly reasonable, often around $20, and includes a Training Peaks account with which you can track your progress.

As long as I’ve brought up Training Peaks, permit me a short detour into the web as a training tool.

Most coaches communicate training plans to their athletes through websites. Coaching has become largely web-based these days. When you hire a coach, he or she will give you an account on a website where you read your plan and enter the results of your workouts. Some websites are pretty much like diaries, others are fairly interactive and sophisticated.

The interactive ones will let you load your workout data into charts, compare your current abilities to your previous ones, or chart your performance improvement. Some coaches have their own web systems, but I think most of them probably use third-party sites, such as Training Peaks. You don’t have to be a coached athlete to use Training Peaks. A basic Training Peaks account is free. Upgrading to a paid account gives you more features and eliminates the ads that free users have to put up with.

If your coach uses Training Peaks, then he or she will set up a coached account for you. It’s the same as an upgraded plan, and it has the coach’s logo on it, but it’s “free” in the sense that you don’t have to pay Training Peaks, although your coach will build the cost of it into the fee you pay for coaching.

Whether you have a free, upgraded, or coached account, Training Peaks will not only let you track your workouts, it will make doing so very convenient, because you can upload your workout data directly into your account. It doesn’t even matter what device you use. Polar, Garmin, Timex… Training Peaks seems to accommodate all of them.

I don’t want to attempt writing a review of Training Peaks, because that’s not what this post is about. But if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should go have a look at it, because it’s pretty incredible. It will do far more than track your workouts. You can also track your nutrition (it even has meal plans available), your sleep, your weight, or a number of other variables. And, not only does it track your performance, but it will also predict it, which is a good way to time your peak to your “A” race.

End of detour. Let’s get back to talking about training plans. Using a packaged plan, you have some assurance it’s been tested by other people and that it probably hits at least the high points of what you need. But personally, I need a plan that’s geared to the needs of a person my age, my tendency to hydrate ineffectively on the bike, my inability to master bilateral breathing in the water, my weak left leg, my poor flexibility, and the myriad other things that I imagine are my special requirements.

I need, in other words, something that’s customized to me. So a packaged plan is probably not ideal for me. Then again, I could get something tailored to me by developing my own plan. If you want to know how to do that, get a book called The Triathlete’s Training Bible. In that book, Joe Friel, one of the top coaches for endurance sports, walks you through the process and the rationale behind periodized training, from setting your goals through building your calendar. He has questionnaires that let you determine your strengths and weaknesses and methods for building your workout calendar. If you’re a self-reliant do-it-yourselfer, that may be the way to go. It’s certainly economical.

Brand new, The Triathlete’s Training Bible sells for less than $17 at as I write this. Used, it’s even cheaper. Just make sure you get the latest edition. You may want to get it new anyway, just to make sure nobody’s written in it before, since you’ll probably want to use it as a workbook.

So I could work my way through The Triathlete’s Training Bible and presumably tailor the program to my needs, but here’s where my personality deficiencies first begin to come into play. Let me explain with an arithmetic lesson.

I can’t do factoring

I was absent from school the first day of factoring. Ever since then, I’ve been able to get along OK when factoring was required, but I’ve always worried there’s a secret first step that I didn’t get. So if I were to have anything serious riding on a factoring problem, I would hire a mathematician to do it for me. I’m this way about nearly everything I try to do on my own. I worry I’ve got something wrong, and I’m unaware of it.

In fact, this feeling was confirmed when my coach, Colin, was checking my form for my strength training exercises. He had me do some squats, and then he showed me I was lifting my heels when my feet were supposed to be flat on the floor. Nobody had ever watched me do squats before and nobody had ever told me to keep my feet flat on the floor. That could be 50-some years’ worth of squats wasted. No wonder my quads are so anemic.

Maybe you have more confidence or self-reliance than I have. But I don’t want to try to create my own training plan, and I’m willing to pay for a custom plan, which means hiring a coach. Actually, what I am willing to pay for is the security of believing that my plan covers all the bases.

Furthermore, I need a plan that will change with my changing circumstances. If I get hit by a car and can’t work out for a while, I need my plan to adjust to that and then tell me how to get back on track when I’m ready, or even how to figure out when I’m ready. To get a plan that changes when my circumstances change means hiring a coach.

There’s one other reason that I don’t want to try to do this entirely on my own, and it’s kind of complicated. Please bear with me.

More personality deficiencies

If you’re visiting this website just because you’re interested in aging or triathlon or both, you probably don’t know this about me, but I am a novelist. If you’re interested in learning about my novels, you can find information at my other website: My novels aren’t important here. But the story of how I became a novelist is.

Although I wrote fiction all my life, but I didn’t write a novel until I was in my 40s. That’s because of my misapprehension that writing is a solitary, individual undertaking. Throughout my 20s and 30s, I started novels all the time. I would write as much as a couple chapters, and then the novel would fizzle out. After a couple decades of such disappointments, I finally joined a writers’ group dedicated to novel-writing. The group met on a regular schedule, and having to produce chapters on that schedule kept my novels from fizzling out. The experience of having other people expecting to see a new chapter whenever I showed up for a meeting was as much structure as I needed to keep a novel on track.

What I learned from that is I can perform best when a process gives me somebody besides myself to answer to. That’s another of my personality deficiencies: I am perfectly happy to disappoint myself, but I can’t stand disappointing others.

Join a club
OK, so I’ve decided I don’t want to try to train on my own. But there’s another alternative to consider before hiring a coach. I could join a club. A club would give me access to other members’ experience, and it has all sorts of other benefits, including things like discounts on equipment purchases and the opportunity for socializing with other people involved in triathlon.

I am a member of NorthEast MultiSport, and I think it’s worthwhile, but it’s not useful to me for training. First, I don’t mind working out alone. Sometimes I run with my occasional training partner, Bill, but only when we can make our schedules work together, which isn’t very often. I don’t mind running alone in the dark. I don’t mind climbing on the trainer in the morning and pedaling for an hour and a half or two hours by myself, although sometimes I’ll set up a television and watch an episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand if the workout doesn’t call for a lot of variation or drills.

Second, I can’t seem to work any of the club activities into my schedule. With a daily 2-hour commute, the only way I’ve been able to pursue triathlon is to get up at 3:30 a.m. every weekday. I do my email and catch up on the news from 3:30 to 4:00. I eat breakfast with my family from 4:00 to 4:30, and I start working out or get ready to head off to the swimming pool at 4:30. I’ve never been able to work out in the evening, and in any case, I don’t get home from work until 7:00 p.m. There’s just enough time to eat dinner before going to bed so I can get up at 3:30 and do it again. I know I shouldn’t be going to bed on a full stomach, but this is the only way I’ve been able to work it out.

So the club is a great source of information for me, and I like the people, and I like wearing the club’s colors at my races. But I still need a coach.

I imagine other people realize other benefits from being coached, but for me, there are primarily two: a flexible, personalized training plan and someone I need to answer to on my way to fulfilling my goals. That I consider these benefits probably tells you more about me than about the coaching process. What about you? How does your personality respond to coaching? Have you had coaching experiences you’re willing to share? Comments are open.

While I’m on the subject of comments, be sure to check them. There was one comment last week from Bill which is full of resources. I will be devoting some time to exploring them myself, but you can check them out on your own right now.

I’m sorry for the lack of posts this week, but my recovery from the accident has proceeded quite well, and consequently I am almost nearly back to my regular workout schedule, which leaves me with a lot less time for both life and this blog.

As far as my season goes, so far, I’ve missed one race (The Massachusetts State Triathlon in Winchendon, MA), and my coach has advised me to miss the next two on my schedule: The Sharon Triathlon in Sharon, MA this weekend and the National Age Group Championships in Burlington, VT the following weekend.

He has advised me to skip these races, not because they might aggravate my injuries but because I’ve lost training time during my recovery and to get ready for my next half-iron (Pumpkinman, September 9 in South Berwick, ME), I need to focus. The accident damaged my run the most, and I have barely enough time to rebuild it.

I did my first long run since the accident this past weekend. It was only 6 miles. I had discomfort in my hip from the first step, so to increase my chances of finishing the workout, I used the run-walk method, walking precisely 30 seconds every 10 minutes. I’m not going to share my time for that run because it was abysmal. But at least I finished without appreciable pain.

Today’s weight: 157.0
Waking pulse: 53

When do geriatrics slow down? Another look

In my last post on this subject, I complained that while everybody knows performance deteriorates with age, there didn’t seem to be any research on it.

I was looking in the wrong places.

My friend and occasional training partner, Bill Skirkey, sent me a link to, and an item in which author Doug Jansen discusses age vs. performance in the Mount Washington hill climb. There are two Mount Washington bike races: the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb in August and Newton’s Revenge in July.

Mount Washington is in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and it’s the highest peak in the northeast U.S. If you live in New England, you’ve probably seen a bumper sticker that says, “This car climbed Mount Washington.”

That people would be proud of their cars for getting up a hill probably tells you all you need to know about the climb’s length and steepness. Now, imagine that hundreds of people (201 at the most recent Newton’s Revenge) bring bicycles there twice a year to race up it, time trial style.

Doug Jansen’s discussion is based on a data file reduced by Eric Brandhorst from three years’ worth of Mount Washington races, 2002-2004. This chart depicts the age distribution of riders. There’s a column for each age, from 15 to 80, and the height of the column shows the number of riders. The most common age is 42, with over 100 riders. At the low end, there are a couple 15-year-olds and at the high end, there’s one 80-year-old. Let’s hear it for the 80-year-old! That’s the geriatric spirit.

Mount Washington bike racers slow down as they age

Rider ages are distributed in a sort of bell-shaped curve; but average times describe a steadily increasing slope.

The red squares show the average time for the riders of that age. Up to age 21, the averages are all over the place. I take it this is because there are so few cases in those age ranges and because performance is so variable among young people. But starting about age 22, you can see a fairly clear progression: times increase with age. As Doug Jansen notes in his commentary, they flatten out from about age 37 to the late 40s. He attributes this to the tendency of middle-aged men (and they are mostly men) to get more competitive as they feel their abilities beginning to wane. After the late 40s, they apparently find it more and more difficult to hold the line against decline, and performance falls off more dramatically. Here’s Jansen’s take.

Around age 50, an aggressive slowdown kicks in as noted by the abrupt increase in slope.  I know many elite senior and masters riders that do not come out to Mt Washington.  If these riders were more proportionately represented in the sample set, I would expect a much broader dip in the 25-40 year old age groups.  Then, if a trend were plotted from say 25 to 80, you’d see a much more aggressive slowdown with age, probably over a minute per year.  The flatness of the data from 30 to 50 years of age doesn’t mesh well with personal experience of riding with people spread out over these ages.  Most competitive 30-35 year olds I know are much faster than most 40-something year old riders I know.

A second chart, which I’ll let you go to the site and see for yourself, plots a linear regression of finishing time with age, and it comes out to a gain of 45 seconds for each year of age.

So, there you have it. Scientific data for the effects of age on performance. Among Mount Washington hill climbers, every year means a gain of 45 seconds in the race.

But note what the data don’t tell us. These are the records of a population of riders. They are not longitudinal views of individual riders. That is to say, the data prove that old guys ride slower than young guys. They don’t prove that a particular rider will slow down as he ages. It’s very likely that’s true, but it isn’t proved here. And, in fact, Bill, who pointed me to this website in the first place, and who only took up the Mount Washington hill climb race after he turned 50, reports he has improved his time every year. (That might not be saying much; he’s still quite a few years from being geriatric.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I took up triathlon at the age of 60. And for the races I’ve repeated from year to year, with few exceptions, I’ve done them faster each year. The training effect seems to me to have been cumulative over the past 6 years. So it’s my experience that if you continue training, you get more fit the next year. And this is one of the reasons I started this blog: to try to get a handle on the interaction of training and aging. If my performance is deteriorating every year, but my race times are getting shorter, just how much performance can I expect to lose due to age? And when?

If anybody reading this has some personal race records that shed any light on this, I’d be eager to read about them in the comments. I’d like for this site to eventually become a sort of clearinghouse for this and other geriatric-related discussions. This kind of information is going to become more and more important as the ranks of the geriatric triathletes swell.

Today’s weight: 155.9
Waking pulse: 55

My experience of being coached

Maryanne left a comment on one of my posts in which she asked about working with a coach. Here’s what she said:

As someone who is new to the idea of working with a coach, I would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on this topic….i.e., what to look for, roughly what would cost, if you’ve found it more beneficial than going it on your own or training with a group, any negatives/drawbacks, etc.

It turns out I have a lot to say about this, so I’m going to cover it in 3 posts. This one will describe my experience with getting coached. There will also be one about the costs of coaching services and one on why it has made sense for me to have a coach.

First, my experience of getting coached…

I took up triathlon six years ago, at the age of 60. The first year (2007), I did one sprint. I intended to have a full season of racing the second year, but my schedule was interrupted by starting a new job. I managed to do a duathlon sprint (Max Performance’s New England Season Opener) the day before I started the job. But then I gave up racing for a year until I was sufficiently established in the job to back off a little from 10-hour workdays to make time for a serious training program. But I continued working out as much as I could, to prepare for the following year.

I was very haphazard about the training in this period. I never planned a workout until just before I was ready to start it, and most workouts consisted of a 3.5-mile run at tempo pace, a 30-mile bike ride with the neighborhood riding group, or a half-mile swim at the YMCA near my office. I did everything at the same intensity. For the biking and running, I used a Garmin Forerunner with HR functions, and I faithfully uploaded the data files of my workouts. I sometimes looked at my HR curves, and they showed me nothing useful.

The picture is a chart of my heart rate for a run I did before signing on with a coach. See any pattern? I didn’t think so. Without a pattern, there’s nothing useful to learn from it.

Heart Rate Chart

The HR chart for an unplanned, undisciplined workout just looks chaotic.

The reason they showed me nothing was that I didn’t know 1) how to structure a workout based on heart rate or 2) what to make of the chaotic charts that resulted from my sessions. As you can probably imagine, I wasn’t actually improving. But at least I was reasonably regular about it, and when you put in enough miles, you build a little endurance.

After a year of my haphazard self-directed workouts, I resumed racing in 2009. I decided to start the season by doing the tri instead of the du at the Season Opener. It was a great race. I placed 158 out of 347. But I was on the podium in the 60-64 age group, which is to say I was second out of two! One of the advantages of being a geriatric triathlete is that there are generally so few competitors in your age group that you get to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the podium.

And I got a little bag full of prizes. The bag included what appeared to be a season’s worth of apple-cinnamon Hammer gels and a coupon for a free month’s coaching with B&S Fitness in Salem, MA. I looked at the coupon and thought, Why not? So I called up and spoke with Brandi Dion, who runs the B&S Fitness coaching program, and she set up my free month. She had me complete a questionnaire about my fitness and my goals. It was the first time I’d thought about such stuff.

The way it worked, and the way almost all coaching relationships work these days, is there’s a website where the athlete has an account. The coach uploads a plan for the athlete, which appears on a calendar in the athlete’s section of the website. The athlete performs the activities on the calendar, uploads the data files from whatever device he or she uses (or writes up time and distance), and makes comments on the workout about how easy or hard it was, what it felt like, and so forth. The coach reviews the results of the athlete’s workouts and adjusts the plan in whatever way is needed to stay on track to reach the athlete’s goals.

We tend to think of coaching as focused on the workouts, but in fact, in good coaching, the workouts are only a means to an end. The coach intends the workouts to damage your muscles in a very specific way, and then you rest (or train at a more relaxed level) to let the muscles recover. The recovery heals the damage, and the healing makes the muscles stronger. So the purpose of a workout is to set you up for recovery. That’s where the work is done.

In order to achieve this, you need to work in cycles: hard workouts interspersed with easier workouts or rests. But the cycles don’t just happen during the week. You also have hard weeks interspersed with easier ones. Usually, the pattern is hard week, harder week, hardest week, easy week. That’s an oversimplification, but I’m just trying to explain why my self-directed workouts, which were always at the same level, were sort of futile.

So there’s a pattern to the weeks, and there’s a pattern within the weeks. And there’s a pattern within the workouts. Hard workouts will usually be characterized by intervals of intensity interspersed with periods of recovery. The workouts I got from B&S Fitness were far more disciplined than anything I was doing myself. Brandi sent me an information sheet providing the terminology of the workouts, complete with a chart explaining how to recognize heart rate zones. The chart said in zone 1, for example, I should be capable of singing. In zone 2, I should be able to talk. In zone 3, it would be hard to talk. And so forth. The plans Brandi uploaded to my website gave me what I called scripts for each workout.

The scripts prescribed how to do the workout: so many minutes in zones 1&2, so many minutes in zone 4, followed by recovery in zone 1, and so on. With the descriptions of how each zone should feel, I didn’t even need to know ranges (in beats per minute) of my heart rate zones, which was a good thing, because I was quite unsure of what they should be. (That rule of calculating your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 is not prescriptive; it originated as a statistical summary of a particular population of athletes. If you use it, don’t use it for anything but a starting point.)

After my first B&S workout, I uploaded the data file, and looked at the chart. Instead of the mess I was used to looking at, this one had peaks, valleys, and plateaus that corresponded to my higher intensity efforts, recoveries, and sustained efforts. It was beautiful. It was scientific. I was hooked.

The chart shows cadence, pace, elevation, and heart rate for one of my workouts this past spring. The red line is heart rate. Notice how it echoes the green line, which is elevation (blue is speed and brown is cadence). This workout was a set of hill repeats. The pattern of the red line tells me I did this workout more or less correctly.

Elevation, heart rate, speed, cadence

The chart from a well-scripted workout can have a nice aesthetic.

Then Brandi gave me a lactate threshold test on the bike to reliably establish my heart rate zones, at least for the bike. (They are slightly different for the run.) Following the program she set for me, I got more fit than I’d been in previous years, and the rest of the season went well for me. Of my three remaining races that year, I placed first in my age group twice.

I did another two years with B&S Fitness, and I had great results, including my first half-iron: Pumpkinman at South Berwick, Maine, where I placed third in my age group (out of 8!) in 2011. I decided to take a month off after that and go back to my own haphazard workouts while I figured out what to do next.

I wanted to see if I could coach myself. I joined a triathlon club, NorthEeast MultiSport (NEMS), hoping that I could get guidance and information from other triathletes. The great thing about NEMS is it has an email list, and members post to it when they plan workouts, so if you want to work out with somebody else, you can join them. But in the off-season, I discovered, there weren’t very many organized workouts going on. And I found it difficult to get to the meetings and the parties. So I never met anybody to get advice from.

And then I read an article in a triathlon magazine about Mark Allen Online, the coaching service set up by the legendary Mark Allen. I went to the website and found that it was quite inexpensive for the basic service, which is maintenance (i.e., training without a goal). The way Mark Allen Online works is that you follow a maintenance plan until you get a certain number of weeks away from your next race, then you upgrade to a plan designed to get you to the race.

The Mark Allen Online system is highly automated. It has an intake questionnaire just like the other services, but then the website’s program creates your workout plan from your answers to the questions. I continued with Mark Allen Online for a couple months. But I was never conscious of anybody there looking at my files. I’m sure it was a good plan, and I suffered no deterioration of my fitness. But I didn’t feel I was making progress, and I began to realize I would have to opt for a higher level of service (at a higher cost) in order to get any real interaction.

It was still off-season when I entered an indoor bicycle time trial sponsored by NEMS. At that event, I met the club president, Colin Cook. Colin’s coaching service is Peak Triathlon Coaching. He lives in the same town as me, and it seemed to me there might be some advantage in having a coach who lived nearby and whom I could meet from time to time if it was necessary. So I made an appointment to talk with Colin and during our talk, I signed on with him.

Working with Colin has been similar to the other services in that he puts my plan up on the website, and I do the workouts and upload my data files. But I get frequent comments from him about my workouts and my progress. He’s certified in Functional Movement Systems (FMS), and we had another appointment in which he assessed my movement patterns. He is also a certified swimming instructor, and we had a session at the pool in which he assessed my swimming and gave me some pointers.

And, when we were just a month away from Mooseman 2012, he went with me to the Mooseman site to ride the bike course. That was important, because it includes a category 3 hill which is quite brutal. Of all my experiences of getting coached, this one with Colin is the one in which I’ve felt I’m being watched most closely.

Until it was interrupted by the accident a month ago, I was having a pretty good season. I beat my previous best time at the Season Opener by 6 minutes or so. And I beat my previous time at the Greater Nashua Y Triathlon by 4 minutes. I missed my goal at Mooseman by more than 20 minutes, but it was a race under particularly difficult conditions, and in a 70.3-mile race at my level, 20 minutes isn’t an enormous gap. Note also that I placed third in my age group. I did that race at the highest fitness of my life.

Mooseman was June 3, and my accident was 3 weeks later, June 24. After the accident, Colin didn’t give me any workouts at all for the next month. But I began working out again within a couple weeks, and he has been reviewing my results. Now, a month later, he has put up a new schedule for me this week. It is considerably reduced from my training volume of a month ago, but he’s bringing me back gradually, and he continually tells me to listen to my body.

Getting coached has been invaluable for me, and it has brought me further along than I could have done on my own. In my next post on this subject, I’ll discuss why.

Today’s weight: 158.1
Waking pulse: 54

All over the Geriatric Triathlete landscape

An article at Daily Burn from April 27 says (to quote the unsigned article’s title), “Turn up the intensity to turn on the anti-aging benefits of exercise.”

Daily Burn is what I think of as a “numbers” site. It features articles like “5 Avengers Workouts to Get You in Superhero Shape” and “10 Sneaky Ways to Trick Yourself into Drinking More Water.” I’m not sure tricking yourself into drinking more water is the key to effective hydration, or why you’d want to be sneaky about it. But that’s just me.

I sought out the article because exercise intensity is an important question for geriatric triathletes. Should the geriatric’s training emphasize intervals or endurance? Do you get more, for example, out of a 1-hour bike ride with half a dozen efforts in zones 4 and 5 than you get from a 4-hour bike ride in zone 2? Is that even a meaningful question?

Chris Carmichael, who gained fame as Lance Armstrong’s coach, has been promoting exercise intensity for the past couple years, saying “athletes in their 40s and older, especially those who are short on training time, need more intensity in order to attain high-performance fitness.” Carmichael is the author of The Time-Crunched Cyclist and The Time-Crunched Triathlete.

In any case, the Daily Burn article suggests high-intensity exercise is a “miracle cure” for “the physical markers most people associate with old age.” Here’s the billboard graf:

It all has to do with human growth hormone (hgh), a natural hormone excreted by the body that regulates body composition, tissue growth, and muscle and bone repair. Hgh is excreted during the deepest phase of sleep, and works to regenerate the body. Studies show that exercise-induced growth hormone response (EIGR) is a mechanism within the body that is stimulated by intense resistance training. A study published in the academic journal Sports Medicine notes that, “evidence suggests that load and frequency are determining factors in the regulation of hgh secretion.”

But the bulk of the article profiles three people who have “reversed the markers of old age through intense exercise.” Gregory Ellis, 64, is a diet book author whose regimen features carb restriction and weight training. Art De Vany, 73, a proponent of the paleo diet (and author of The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging suggests that our ancestors adapted to their environments with lots of languid periods interspersed with short bursts of very high-intensity efforts.

The only one of the three who isn’t hawking a diet book is triathlete Margaret Phillips-Steinam, 87. She’s a retired internist. She’s been doing two triathlons a year since she turned 60. A profile of Phillips-Steinam from two years ago says her routine includes an hour of tennis a few days a week and 30 minutes of cardio, strength training, and stretching.

Interestingly, the Daily Burn article says nothing about Phillips-Steinam’s exercise intensity. So I don’t think this article has any interest for geriatric triathletes, and I sat down to write this post to save you the trouble of going to look at it. On the other hand, it features a photo of Phillips-Steinam, posed with a child and wearing a tri suit. And it’s worth the effort to go and see the photo. For an 87-year-old, she looks outstanding. In fact, she looks outstanding for a 57-year-old.

But I don’t have a photo for you to look at today. I’m writing this before taking off to the pool to do 1800 yards of swimming drills before going to work, and I don’t have time to track down Phillips-Steinam’s photographer to get permission to use her photo.

I did spend some time at Flickr looking for something I could use under the Creative Commons license, but an hour’s worth of searching on the phrase “aging athlete” turned up almost nothing but photos of the Beijing Olympics. What’s up with that? The average age of an American Olympic competitor is in the late 20s, and I imagine the rest of the world is similar. This is the reason the media gets so much mileage out of Dana Torres stories. That, and she’s gorgeous.

When I think “aging athlete,” a scene from the Olympics is pretty much the last thing that occurs to me. Yes, the oldest competitor at the Beijing Olympics was 67-year-old Hiroshi Hoketsu, who will also be in London this year (at the age of 71!). He’s been competing in the Olympics since 1964. His event is dressage. But people like Hoketsu and Dana Torres get into the news precisely because they are unusual.

If anyone knows a good source of photos of genuine aging athletes (in the public domain or available under the Creative Commons license), please let me know.

Today’s weight: 156.3
Waking pulse: 53

Geriatrics of the Lake Placid Ironman

Geriatric Triathlete congratulates the geriatrics who finished the Lake Placid Ironman yesterday. The results are in, and the race had 2,273 finishers, of whom 47 were aged 60 or more: 43 men, 4 women.

The oldest man to finish the race, at 2,216th overall, was 76-year-old Herb Brown from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the first and only finisher in the 75-79 age group. His time was 16:40:30.

He is a board member of the Charlotte Track and Triathlon Club and seems to be fairly well known there, and has done dozens of triathlons around Charlotte going back at least to 2001. He also finished Lake Placid in 2009 and 2010 and did his yearly Ironman in 2011 at Ford Ironman Florida.

The oldest woman to finish was Cheryl Woodworth, 69, of Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Her time of 15:30:27 gave her 1,938th place overall. She was first of two in the 65-69 age group.

I found triathlon results for Woodworth back as far as 2004. Ironman Arizona in 2009 appears to have been her first Ironman race. She finished the world championship at Kona in 2010 and 2011 and also finished the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas in 2011.

Photo of the 2010 Lake Placid Ironman by buffalotriathlonclub (Flickr). Creative Commons License.

The photo shows competitors preparing for the start at Lake Placid in 2010. It was posted to Flickr by the Buffalo Triathlon Club. I wish all the Lake Placid geriatrics a speedy and comfortable post-race recovery.

Today’s weight: 156.4

Waking pulse: 59

When do geriatrics slow down?

I came to triathlon at the age of 60, and I’ve found both an advantage and a disadvantage in that. The disadvantage is that I regularly have to compete with athletes who have decades’ worth of experience and training. And I have come to realize that fitness is something you build up over a long, long time. You can get yourself ready for a big race in a year, but it takes many, many more years of base miles and more intense training to reach your peak.

But the advantage is that I can do nothing but improve. Since I didn’t do triathlon before the age of 60, there’s no younger me to compare the older me to. I have not had the disappointment of seeing my performance deteriorate. You can can stay fit and perform at a high level for a long time, but eventually, they say, it drops off some. And that must be a difficult adjustment to make.

Mooseman 70.3 2012. Keep smiling!

The photo was captured by my support crew just before I crossed the finish line at Mooseman 70.3 this year. You can see my new philosophy at work — keep smiling.

The interesting question to me is, when does performance begin to deteriorate? We all take it as a truism that it does, and there are plenty of triathletes in their 60s who complain they can’t run or bike at the same pace they could sustain when they were young. But there is yet very little scientific evidence to go on. For one thing, the over 60 population in triathlon is so still small that it’s difficult to make a study of us. So the researchers study younger people.

An article first published onlilne last February in the journal Age, for example (“Relative improvements in endurance performance with age: evidence from 25 years of Hawaii Ironman racing”) looked at the results at Kona from 1986 to 2010. Romuald Lepers, Christoph A. Rüst, Paul J. Stapley, and Beat Knechtle found that master triathletes (whom they defined as participants in their 40s — kids, in other words) increased their presence at the world championship race during this period.

Their second finding was that men over 44 and women over 40 made significantly better times in those 25 years, as well as improving their performances in all three disciplines. Finally they found that for the 40-44 and 55-59 age groups, the gap between men and women narrowed. You can find the article here, but it costs money to read it. Fortunately, the abstract, which includes the findings, is available here.

Another article, published the following May in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports (M. Stiefel, B. Knechtle, and R. Lepers, “Master triathletes have not reached limits in their Ironman triathlon performance”) had similar findings for Ironman Switzerland from 1995 to 2010. That article is here. It’s another one you have to pay for, but the abstract is here.

I think there probably is a point at which performance in triathlon deteriorates, regardless of your training, but I haven’t yet found any scientific proof of it. Then again, all those kids in the 40+ age groups are going to be geriatrics in another 20 years or so. Maybe we’ll know then.

Today’s weight: 155.5
Waking pulse: 56

Day 24, and I’m in no hurry

It is 24 days since the accident, and unless I rub the point of my hip or take off my clothes and look at the remains of the bruise in the mirror, it’s hard for me to tell I was ever injured. But that feeling only lasts until I try to run.

I hit the road just before dawn this morning and ran 1.5 miles. I saw a bat overhead — flitting about and getting breakfast, apparently. But I guess when you work the night shift, a meal at dawn is probably more like dinner. I like to see bats. They are an asset to a neighborhood because they eat mosquitoes.

I generally work out before dawn on weekdays. There’s only one streetlight in our neighborhood, about a mile from our house, and I’ve seen quite a bit of interesting wildlife out there in the dark. One morning, I heard a chittering followed by a thump, and an owl landed in the illuminated circle of my headlamp on the road surface. Then it took off with something in its talons. I realized it had knocked a squirrel out of a tree then landed to retrieve it. The interesting thing was, except for the noise of the squirrel’s fall out of the tree, the whole scene played out in utter silence. I don’t know how owls achieve silent flight, but I felt privileged to witness it.

On this morning’s run, I began to feel things moving against each other in my hip at about 0.8 miles. And in my knee for some reason at about 0.9 miles. Then I ran another 0.6 and quit before the hip had a chance to get painful.

The Garmin Forerunner said I ran 10 minutes in heart zones 1 and 2. The rest of the run was in zone 3 (i.e., tempo), until the final seconds, in which I reached functional threshold. At times, I felt like my form was good, but that feeling only lasted for a few seconds.

Then I had a brisk walk home (about 0.3 miles), recovering my heart rate by 25 bpm (from 144) in the first two minutes of the walk. I have been known to have enjoy two-minute recoveries in the 40s, and of course I’d like to get back to that.

When I got home, I added the run to my spreadsheet before doing about 5 minutes with the roller, working my hips, thighs, and calves from every angle I could manage. Then I did the breakfast dishes.

The breakfast dishes represent a salutary change resulting from the accident. Before the accident, my weekday workouts ranged from an hour to two hours, and it was all I could do to get a shower and get dressed for work afterward. That meant the breakfast dishes were always left to my support crew, which she doesn’t seem to mind, but makes me feel a little like a freeloader. But with workouts of a half hour or even 45 minutes, I generally have time to do the breakfast dishes before my support crew gets home from her walk with our dog, another predawn routine.

I am pleased to have run any distance without apparent damage. A lousy mile and a half isn’t much of a workout, but I know it’s best to be patient and not to try to hurry this process, especially at my age.

Today’s weight: 154.7
Waking pulse: 55


Cute but mean

There’s a pond about 15 minutes’ drive from our house where I practice my open water swimming about once a week. Last weekend, I was swimming with some other athletes, and I had my wetsuit on first, so I took a few strokes by myself to get acclimated. As I was doing this, I saw something like a stick protruding from the surface of the water directly in my path. I didn’t think anything of it until I was 3 or 4 yards away, and it vanished.

I realized it wasn’t a stick at all, but the head of some kind of creature, probably a turtle. And it reminded me that in open water swimming, I’m usually sharing the water with creatures who are more at home in it than I am. It usually isn’t as bad as sharing a lane with another swimmer at the pool, but it’s a little disquieting sometimes.

I’m glad I don’t live in Florida, where I imagine you often have to share the water with alligators. And now, I’m glad I don’t live in Duluth. According to an article in the Star Tribune on Monday, a triathlete named Leah Prudhomme, swimming in Island Lake near Duluth, Minnesota, was attacked by an otter.

Photo “Otter” by William Warby from Flickr. Creative Commons license.

The otter in the photo is not the one that attacked her. I found the photo on Flickr and put it up there as decoration and to show you what an otter looks like, on the slim chance you don’t know.

At 33, Prudhomme is not geriatric, but what happened to her doesn’t seem to be age related. The little beast bit her 25 times, shredding her wetsuit and leaving dozens of bites, some as deep as 2 inches. I wish I could draw something practical from this incident, like how to avoid otter attacks. But the truth is, if you can swim well enough to evade an attacking otter, you don’t need advice.

Prudhomme was given tetanus and rabies shots, and has had to continue with the rabies shots. Her wetsuit is ruined.

Prudhomme plans to race the Duluth Triathlon on August 18. It’s a half iron, with a swim in the same lake. It will be interesting to see whether the otter has the guts to face 750 (the registration limit set by the organizers) triathletes.

Thanks to Rick Christ for finding and pointing out the story.

Today’s weight: 155.4
Waking pulse: 55

Geriatrics at the races

Decorative photo

Photo “The two Kermits” by John Blyberg. Creative Commons license.

Vineman 70.3 took place in Sonoma County, California on Sunday (July 15, 2012), and it appears the geriatrics were out in force. From the results pages, I count 52 finishers at ages 60 or more — 42 men, 10 women. There were 2,068 finishers altogether (the race organizer limited registration to 2,300). Completion times ranged from 3:35:59 to 10:27:13.

The oldest male, sole occupant of the 75-79 podium, was Bill Harter, age 79, a software executive from Garden Grove, CA. His time was 8:59:17, and he finished 2,049th overall. He’s been doing triathlon for a while, and my cursory searches have found him in news stories dating back to 2004.

The photo at the right comes from the Creative Commons section of Flickr. These Kermits obviously are not triathletes, but they look geriatric.

The oldest female finisher at Vineman was Harriet Anderson, age 77, from San Carlos, CA. Like Harter, she was the sole finisher in her age group. She placed 1,955th overall with a time of 7:48:53. Very impressive, if you ask me.

Anderson has been lighting up the California triathlon scene for a while. In 2010, she was the 70-74 women’s world champion, at which point she had entered the Ford Ironman World Championship 18 times. There’s a profile of her on the World Triathlon Corporation site. She’s a hero of triathlon. The profile describes her bike crash in the 2009 Ironman race at Kona. With a broken right arm and an injured leg, she got somebody to tape the arm to her side and walked the marathon, finishing 7 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

Congratulations to all the geriatrics who toed the start line at Vineman. You inspire us.

Today’s weight: 157.3
Waking pulse: 51


Getting along with doctors

From Pumpkinman 2011

There is a joke, which is probably older than I am, that has a patient moving his arm and saying, “Doc, when I do this, it hurts.”

The doctor says, “Don’t do that.”

It’s not a very funny joke. But it suggests what used to be one of the biggest problems facing aging athletes: getting our doctors to take sports seriously.

I’ve been fortunate in this regard. I had been seeing my GP for years before I took up triathlon. So he got an opportunity to watch me drop 30 pounds and drive my HDL level from 62 to 98. I still have plenty of work to do on my fitness, but I’m pretty sure doctors, who spend a lot of time with people in their 60s, don’t often see specimens with 7% body fat and a resting pulse in the 50s.

He’s a doctor and a runner, and he didn’t need to be sold on the value of exercise. But he has often told me that he’s impressed with my commitment to triathlon. So I like to think I have trained him a little such that it would never enter his head to respond to a complaint by saying, “Don’t do that.”

He’s not a specialist in sports medicine, but when I’ve got a medical problem that interferes with my regular activities, he tries to help me find a solution that accommodates my training.

As we geriatric triathletes increase in number, more and more doctors are taking his approach, which is good. We can expect this trend to continue. An article in the Washington Post last year by Rebecca Leet said that the over-55 segment is the fastest growing demographic for fitness club membership.

So if you, like me, believe you have seen an increase in the number of geriatrics at your triathlons every year, it’s probably not your imagination. And as we grow in number, and the number of doctors inclined to say, “don’t do that” dwindles, there will inevitably be a change in healthcare and that old joke will become even less funny.

It’s expressed pretty well in what journalists called the billboard paragraph from that Washington Post article.

“How we age is 30 percent genetics and 70 percent under our direct control,” says orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, author of “Fitness Over 40” and director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes, a University of Pittsburgh program aimed at helping older sports enthusiasts exercise effectively. “Baby boomers get that, and they want control — they’ve always wanted control. But sports medicine doctors haven’t caught on that these athletes want to hear how to keep playing — not why to stop playing.”

Go ahead and read the whole article. Leet interviews about a half dozen old people, and their attitudes are heartening.

My recovery continues. Yesterday, I did a half hour on the trainer, nearly all of it in power zone 2, with no ill effects. This morning I ran 1.35 miles before the discomfort in my hip showed signs of tipping over into pain. I’m trying to walk the line between babying myself and exercising prudently. It’s not always obvious.

My always excellent coach has told me to listen to my body. But because I’ve been on a reduced training schedule, the only way to prevent serious weight gain is to stay constantly hungry. So when I listen to my body, it says, “Give me one of those glazed coffee rolls from Dunkin Donuts.” This isn’t easy, is it?

Today’s weight: 156.1
Waking pulse: 56