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