by Coach Steve
I can't go quite as fast as I used to, but the exhilaration of moving
fast under my own power is the same as ever.
As I write this I'm 47 years old. I've been competing in endurance
sports of one type or another essentially nonstop for 32 years and
can confidently say I'm fitter than ever. I'm leaner, more flexible,
and have superior upper body, core, and lower body fitness than
I ever did as a young bike racer. I'm smarter about training, and
I can deal with a greater training load. Mentally I'm calm and confident
on race days because I've 'been there' and 'done that' so many times
before (~1000 bike races, ~100 duathlons, ~100 triathlons, not to
mention running races, and even a few XC-ski races).
I'm often asked if I still get nervous before races, and I have
to say not really. The night before races I 'sleep like a baby'
except for the major events where I put a lot of pressure on myself.
I do get stressed about race day details, and tense about performing
up to my standards on the day, but that's it.
Despite my best efforts I'm not as fast as I was in my thirties.
Exercise physiologists estimate a max VO2 loss of 1% per year after
the age of thirty. My own experience is .5% speed loss over the
same period (as judged by run race pace), or maybe 1% per year starting
at 40 instead of 30. My run has taken the biggest speed hit, with
my cycling a close second. Swimming started for me at 39 and my
pace has held even due to improvements of form and upper body endurance.
Building race-ready fitness each year takes about twice as long,
so I don't let fitness slip as much during the off-season as I used
to. When I'm injured I don't heal as quickly. Even minor run injuries
like a mildly strained Achilles takes an extra day or two to heal.
The satisfaction I get from a successful race day is greater than
ever. Maybe I appreciate the ability to participate after coming
back from so many injuries. Some of my peers from early athletic
days have succumb to serious physical challenges, but I'm lucky
to still be out there.
I can think of only a few peers from my 'former athletic life'
as bike racer who still compete on the bike or beyond. One of these
peers won the age group World Championship in Duathlon and Olympic
Distance Triathlon on consecutive weekends back in the mid 90s;
we talk at events and speculate about why we still compete. He says
we never got it completely out of our system because: "We were
good [as young bike racers], but never great." Perhaps, but
I still find the process satisfying: strengthening my body through
training; rising to the occasion on race days, and most of all staying
fit, setting the 'physiological clock' back so to speak.