Triathlon In Your Later Years – 6 Ways on How I Do It

Lincoln Murdoch - first place in Age Group at the 2012 Manitou / White Bear Lake Tri!

Lincoln Murdoch – first place in Age Group at the 2012 Manitou / White Bear Lake Tri!

By Lincoln Murdoch

No hiding my age. I’m 55 years young and having more fun athletically than at any other time in my life. Granted, I wasn’t a great athlete growing up. I was cut from the 8th grade basketball team. I got in a total of five plays in only two games the whole season of 9th grade football.  Never played a varsity sport in high school.  Once, in a JV basketball game, when the ref handed me the ball as I stood out of bounds so I could throw it in and start play, I actually just took off dribbling inbounds from out of bounds. (I still have no idea why I did that.)  I once was lapped in a track meet running the two-mile race. That’s only eight laps…and the leaders came around and finished their last lap while I still had more than one to go.  Pretty embarrassing!

Fast forward 30+ years and I’m very blessed to say that I’ve completed three Ironman Triathlons including Hawaii, qualified for USAT Team USA three times, finished 20th at the ITU World Championship in ’07 in Germany and finished 8th at Worlds in Australia in ’09.  I’ve been racing triathlons for 20 years and have gotten faster and faster almost every year.  I’ve won 12 triathlons…as in first place overall.

Now, at 55 I may not set any new records but I’ve not really slowed down any. How is this possible?  Ever notice how the number of age group athletes drops off as the age groups go up?  That’s because our bodies tend to quit cooperating as we age. There’s a big difference training and racing in your 30s from your 40s.  More so from your 40s to your 50s and I can only imagine that grows exponentially each decade into one’s 60s, 70s and 80s.

Here are six ways I’ve been able to keep going and not slow down.  I’ll quickly add that I’ve had every injury one can have doing triathlons and running, and I have often had to learn the hard way.

1 – Change Your Mindset As You Age
Here’s the crazy thing…our bodies “age” much faster than our brains.  I’m 55 but think like I’m 25 most of the time. So, I can try to train like I did when I was younger and it’ll get me injured every time. My mind tells me I can, but my body just can’t.  My brain is writing checks that my body just can’t cash!  If I don’t change my mindset and approach my training and racing to a “real time” 55 yr. old perspective, I’ll break down physically over and over and pretty soon just give up.  Train your real age, not your brain age.

2 – Allow More Recovery Time
After training and racing, even at a high level, as we age, we must allow our bodies more time to bounce back.  Part of aging is the often frustrating fact that it just takes longer to recover from a hard workout or race.  I run every third day.  Period.  No exceptions. That means I get in 10 runs per month. That’s a whole lot less than when I was 30, but it works for me.  After 72 hours, my legs are fully recovered and ready to go.  Less recovery time and I risk injury. Been there done that.  Zensah compression gear helps with my recovery and so, while I’m taking a bit longer to recover than before, Zensah helps me bounce back wonderfully!

3 – Aggressive Injury Prevention and Injury Treatment
If something hurts during or after a workout…I immediately treat it.  It might mean ice and almost always does, but also the foam roller, The Stick, massage or a visit to my PT or Chiropractor.  EMS devices also work well in this regard.  I do all of the above along with gentle stretching and wearing Zensah compression gear.  For me, if it hurts even a little, I aggressively ice it as a first step and this often takes care of it. When it stops hurting, I still wait an extra couple of days to jump back into normal training and continue the treatment(s).

4 – Longer Warm-up
I need longer and longer warm up time before a race as I age. Before workouts I warm up a little but mostly just start my workout VERY slowly.  Circulation is not what it used to be in my mid-50s, but a gentle, slow warm up with gentle stretching helps to lower the risk of injury during the race or workout.  I often stop running to stretch in the middle of my runs – most often as a preventative.  Get this…I always walk 30 seconds out of every 5 minutes during my training runs.

5 – Creatively Adapt
It’s taken me a while to dial in my shoe insert / foot support issue but I have a combination of three different shoes that I run in – all in one shoe. Long story I won’t go into, but I’ve had to be innovative to figure out what works for my feet and legs so they don’t get injured.  I’ve cut a slit in the side of my running shoe with a razor blade to relieve pain I have on the side of my foot.  Who takes a blade to a new pair of $150 running shoes?  I do!  It’s part of creative adaptability that we must implement as we age.

6 – Weight
Touchy subject maybe, but as I’ve aged, I’ve worked harder and harder at keeping my weight where it should be. I once read that 5 extra pounds adds 30 seconds to your 5K finish time.  In many races that is the difference between winning and not making the podium at all.  Being at the right weight takes a great deal of pressure off our joints and as we age, our bodies really appreciate that!  Dialing in my food intake and eating “clean” is something I really have to pay attention to the older I get.

These are a few things that I have to keep in mind and practice to “stay in the game” and stay competitive as I age.  They really do work!  And, don’t forget your Zensah compression leg sleeves and clothing/gear because they help a ton…young, or not-quite-so young.