Recently while skimming my email inbox, an article titled “5 Training Tips to Help You Run Strong As You Age” caught my attention. What really caused me to read further was the first part of the tagline: “Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop running”.
Judging from the comments that followed the article, the author disappointed several readers when they realized that his definition of age differed from theirs – he is 40 years old. It is common to generalize training plans, dismissing the age effect.
Most questions I receive from visitors to Senior Triathletes are from those looking for advice on triathlon training for those of us 50 and over. Missing from websites, blogs, and books about triathlon training is age-specific training information.
Being over 50, we deal with issues that those younger seldom need to consider. For example, a short time ago, RL posted the following on the Senior Triathletes Facebook page:
“Any of you doing tris/IMs after total hip replacement? Got a THR 4 weeks ago – thought I would switch to aqua bike – been reading about people running post THR – still seems like a bit of a gamble with respect to increased risk of needing a revision compared to low impact activity. Thanks for any comments.”
I doubt that the general triathlon sites answer questions about training and racing after joint replacements. Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question with authority; I do not have the proper training.
That’s why I am writing this post.
I Need Your Experience With Triathlon Training After Age 50
We, the age 50+ triathlon community, will appreciate your comments on the following:
Have you used or are you using a triathlon training plan specific to your age group or even for those age 50 and over?
Are you aware of such training programs and, if so, what have you heard about them?
What have you learned about training as you age?
What are the main changes you have made in your training?
How has your training for swimming, biking, and running changed as you have aged?
As someone age 50 or over, how do you advise someone ages 50, 60, 70, or even age 80 to train for a longer race? For example, how does a person our age who does Olympic distance triathlons train for an Ironman?
Are you or someone you know able to answer training questions like that from RL (above)?
What can we do to achieve the goal of Senior Triathletes being a valuable resource for information, besides inspiration, for beginner and intermediate triathletes age 50 and over?
Please Share Your Comments About Triathlon Training After Age 50
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After 30, inactive people can lose 3% to 5% muscle mass per decade, according to WebMD. Exercise for seniors over 70 can help maintain good health and slow down this loss. If you’re wondering what exercises will be suitable for you as a senior over 70, here are eight workout routine-related adjustments you can consider.
1. Exercise regularly
To get the best benefits from exercise, it’s important that you do it regularly. Five days a week is a good starting point for moderate activities and three days for harder workouts.
2. Strength exercises (bodyweight vs. lifting weights)
Start with bodyweight exercises. Once, you’re able to handle your bodyweight, only then consider lifting weights, says trainer Meghan Kennihan. She uses exercises like squats, pushups, bicycle crunches, etc.
Work on all the major muscles of the body at least twice a week. Try to complete at least one set (up to 12 reps) of each strength exercise. Besides going to the gym and lifting weights, you can also build strength with yoga and doing the harder digging jobs in your yard.
3. Aerobic activity (moderate)
Choose one or more exercises that require moderate effort on your part. Some options include walking and riding a bike on flat surfaces. If you aren’t big on these activities, consider joining and ballroom or line dancing group or cutting your grass with a lawnmower. Go for a daily limit of at least 30 minutes and a weekly limit of 150 minutes. Divide your daily activity into separate sessions if that works best for you.
4. Aerobic exercises (hard)
If you can handle high-intensity workouts, substitute the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity for 75 minutes of vigorous activity. There are a few ways you can go about this. Start to jog or run or ride a bike in a hilly area. If you like racket sports, considered playing singles tennis. The more energy-intensive types of dances are another option.
5. Mix moderate with hard activity
If your preferences for the intensity of exercise change often, consider a mix of the two approaches. Remember that one minute of vigorous exercise equals two minutes of moderate activity.
6. Mobility (bike vs. treadmill)
By age 75, about 33% of men and 50% of women do no physical activity, says CDC. And, staying sedentary for long periods hurts health. But, staying mobile has its own challenges for people with balance issues and joint pain. For its increased safety, using a stationary bicycle or treadmill can be a better choice compared to biking outside.
7. Flexibility (full-body vs. muscle group)
When stretching to stay flexible, try to incorporate full-body multidirectional movements instead of isolating a muscle group, says strength and conditioning specialist Rocky Snyder.
8. Good environment
Your workout environment, both the people and the surroundings, matter when it comes to staying healthy. Ensure that your overall health remains in top condition by maintaining the health of your home environment.
Amanda Turner is a freelance writer and a recent graduate who is taking some time to build her writing portfolio and explore her passions through writing.
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At age 57, senior triathlete Laurent Labbe continues to prove both to himself and others that he is young in heart and body by competing in Ironman triathlons.
But there is more to his story than a personal enjoyment of endurance sports. Laurent has found a way to engage his family, using triathlon to build relationships with his children by training and participating in races with them. See Reason 3 of “15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons”.
It Started With Swimming and Biking In The Alps
As a child growing up in France, Laurent Labbe developed a love for the outdoors and for swimming through holidays and vacations with his family in the Alps and central mountains of his home country.
In his early 20’s, he was introduced to mountain biking. His attraction to mountain biking led to rides in many countries throughout Europe, including France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Belgium.
Then in his 30’s, Laurent began running. In addition to enjoying endurance sports, he found it easier to run than bike while traveling around the world for work. This led to him completing the Paris marathon twice.
“The best run of my life” came as part of a work-related team building exercise in the Gobi desert. One of the activities involved walking more than 30 km (18.6 mile) each day during three days. On the last day, Laurent decided to run, instead of walk, in the desert. Starting at 5 am, he completed a 22 km (13.7 mile) run with a GPS and headlight to guide him in the pre-dawn.
“Running across the dunes in the fresh air and with the sun rising was magic, so beautiful”.
Transition to Endurance Multisport
During this time, he also connected with a group at work who competed in races involving biking, running, and kayaking; one form of triathlon today.
In 2011, Laurent and a friend participated in the King of Grassland race in Inner Mongolia. This three-day endurance race was across grassy hills and fields populated with herds of sheep and horses and consisted of:
Day 1: 60 km (37.3 mile) mountain bike,
Day 2: Full running marathon (42 km/26.2 miles) in the morning and 45 km (28 mile) mountain bike in the afternoon,
Day 3: 100 km (62 mile) mountain bike.
Laurent described this race as an “exhausting but amazing experience”. In fact, they completed this race two more times in the following years. However, when King of Grassland was canceled during years of drought, Laurent and his friend decided to look for another race.
His friend finally convinced him to register for the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Taiwan half Ironman held in March. It was time for another bike – a carbon fiber road bike.
Training for the race, especially for the bike leg, was a challenge. During this period, he was living and working in Shenzhen, China, a city of 13 million. He used the commute to bike to and from the office ‘rain or shine’, somehow managing to survive the horrendous traffic, heat, and pollution.
“You cannot imagine how dangerous it can be biking 22 km per day in a city like Shenzhen.”
His training for this triathlon proved to be effective, remembering that the bike ride went well. Sadly, however, during the run he mistakenly forgot one of the three loops that made up the run. The DNF (did not finish) was frustrating, especially after the months of training.
“I was so upset that I missed the last 4 km of the run and received the DNF. I decided to run the final 4 km in the rain, just to be able to say I had completed the distance.”
“Overall, I like the challenge [of long course triathlon]. Doing Ironman is magic and it was a new experience. I’m not young anymore but I like to try to do new things.”
A Family Affair
With this experience in long course triathlon, Laurent was hooked.
It was also during this period that Laurent involved two of his sons. His then seven-year-old son competed in the IronKid event that was part of the Colombo, Sri Lanka half Ironman. Then, his oldest son, age 30 at the time, joined him in the Japan race.
To top it off, his daughter was in Japan to cheer on her father and brother. She also caught the ‘triathlon bug’ and shortly thereafter began to train for her first triathlon.
Laurent acknowledges that he is “very lucky to have a wife who supports all of this travel, cheering me on and helping wherever possible”.
Favorite Ironman Triathlons
The races involving his sons have been his favorite so far.
Of the Strongman All Japan Triathlon held on a small island called Miyako-Jima, Laurent noted “I never saw a race with so many people along the road encouraging racers. I think every inhabitant of the island – young kids, school-age kids, old people, disabled people, hospital people, everyone – was on the road from the first competitor to the last one. The course was beautiful and challenging, especially for the bike. And, the organization and volunteers were exceptional.”
Ironman 70.3 Bintan was second favorite, again because of the venue – biking around the island and a beautiful run around the lake – and his younger son taking part in the kid’s race.
Sport is good, for the body and also for the family.”
Lessons for Ironman Triathlon
Laurent has learned some valuable lessons for others in our age group who may be interested in long course triathlon.
Sign up for a race. There is nothing like it to motivate you to train.
Train seriously. Laurent trains as much as possible, using many opportunities (going to work; family outings; skipping lunch breaks) and always, ALWAYS with a heart rate monitor. Laurent says “The heart is our motor. I believe we need to listen to its rate, not staying too long in the ‘red zone’ (high rate) and train to make it stronger and more efficient in the endurance zone”. (Look for a future article on triathlon training, including with a heart rate monitor, especially for those age 50+.)
Do not force yourself or train beyond your limits.
“We need to take care of our body after age 50. I want to continue for at least another 15 years.”
Train – and race – with a friend. Friends will push and give advice to each other.
Restart training almost immediately after, even the day after, the race. “If we stop training, we go backward. It also helps to have another race in sight.”
Find the right shoes, the right ones for your body and running mechanics.
Properly fitting bike – any road bike can be used but aerobars can really help by making the ride more comfortable. Most important is to have the right bike ‘fit’ (settings of the seat, handlebars, aerobars, etc.) to avoid back or knee pain.
During the race, find a balance between pleasure, effort, and pain. Laurent recalls several times during the swim looking at the fish in the water and thinking how fortunate he is to be able to do such things. Enjoy each moment. Feel free to take time to shoot some pictures.
Race to finish. “There is no shame in stopping and walking during the run or even the bike if it becomes too hard. Remember that our goal is to finish a race, which is far more than 90% (or more) of people in our age range are able to do.
Be prepared to repair a flat tire. “Flat tires happen sometimes. On one race, it’s happened twice to me. Twice, because in the hurry, I replaced the bad one with a bad one. Fortunately, I had a good one in my pocket.”
Don’t rush the transitions (this is especially relevant to Ironman triathlons). “Keep cool during the transition. There is no need to rush. The effort on the legs during the swim and bike is so great that the legs can easily cramp. The best way I found to avoid cramps is to go slowly. Remove the wetsuit smoothly and put on the running shoes smoothly. And, be sure there is not a single stone in the socks.”
Eating and Drinking During the Triathlon
Avoid drinking or eating food you don’t know during the race. Focus on water and your own food. Laurent indicated that he has become sick from bad drink or food before and during races.
“I learned from Chinese people to avoid drinking cold or ice-cold liquids, instead taking drinks at ambient (or ‘room’) temperature. These are better assimilated than ice cold drinks. For example, during a race in Dubai it was impossible to get ambient temperature water and I had a lot of stomach pain from drinking only cold water.”
After the Race
Always spend time after the race to think about the race. Identify the good, bad, and how to improve next time.
One More Thing
A healthy lifestyle is key. Laurent does not smoke or drink alcohol. With the help of his wife, he is also careful about the food he eats. “My Chinese wife is very picky on the balance of vegetable, fish, amount of oil. And, we never eat fast food.”
Just Getting Started
This year, Laurent will compete in Ironman Vietnam and the Ironman Championship in Nice, France with his oldest son. Before his first race, Laurent will be training with a younger son (8) for a kid’s triathlon in Hong Kong. And, during this time, Laurent’s oldest daughter (28) will finish her first triathlon in France.
He is also looking for a way to better connect with other senior triathletes in Hong Kong (where he is currently living) and the surrounding region to share experiences and maybe even train together.
Watch for Laurent to be competing in triathlon for many years to come, including ones in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, also be on the lookout for his children to appear in more races as the next generation builds on their father’s passion for triathlon. In fact, Laurent is looking forward to completing a triathlon together with all five of his children.
What if you are not from a swimming background though want to be more competitive in the triathlon swim? One answer is to add more structure to your swim training.
I Want To Be A More Competitive Swimmer
There are many triathletes whose goal for the swim is to “just get through it so that I can get on the bike”.
I am not one of these.
Swimming is enjoyable to me. I have spent many hours reading books and blog posts and watching videos about swimming in order to be a faster swimmer. I have also gotten advice from my son, a former college swimmer, on how to improve my swim.
As with most sports, improvement comes by developing better technique, a more efficient form, greater full body strength, and aerobic fitness.
Increasing Stroke Rate Using the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro
According to Swim Smooth, there is an ideal relationship between swim speed (time per 100 m) and swim stroke rate (strokes per minute). A swimming stroke that is too high (RED zone) hints at too short a stroke. On the other hand, a slow stroke rate typically indicates too much glide with each stroke and a tendency to create a hand position in the latter part of the stroke that causes one to slow.
My swim currently falls in the upper left portion of the BLUE region. Using my FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro, I am training to increase my stroke rate while paying close attention to the catch phase.
About the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro
The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a waterproof metronome. The choice of one of its three modes depends on the training plan. For example, one mode allow you to set a time per lap for use with interval training.
I set the device to transmit an audible tone for each of the strokes in the targeted pace. For example, I set the Trainer to beep every 1.0 second for a stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute.
The pace is adjustable in 1/100th of a second increments giving plenty of resolution for every situation.
The small, waterproof device easily secures beneath a swim cap and transmits a clearly heard, audible beep. It floats in water to help avoid it being lost in the pool or open water.
The Tempo Trainer Pro also comes with a clip for ‘dryland’ training. For example, it is used in bike (cadence) and run (foot turnover rate) training.
The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro includes a replaceable battery. I have had the device for more than five years and replaced the battery one time by taking it to a local BatteriesPlus store.
My journey toward becoming a better swimmer continues by working to increase my stroke rate. With strength training and more structured time in the water, I am confident that I will be more competitive in the triathlon swim.