Header Image - Inspiration for Triathletes Over 50

Terry VanderWert

15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons

15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons

Triathlon is a sport for all ages. In any triathlon, you will find seniors regularly competing alongside those the ages of their children and, in my case, older grandchildren. Sometimes, seniors even compete alongside their children.

An important benefit of triathlon for seniors comes from the training. Preparing for a triathlon is a great way to develop and maintain whole body fitness, no matter your age. The three sports of a typical triathlon – swimming, biking, and running – each engage different parts of the body. Plus, cross-training involving other activities to build strength and endurance can not only be part of your triathlon training but help you age gracefully.

“There is no sport where being strong does not help our performance.”

Yet another benefit of triathlon for seniors comes from its social aspects. There is an active triathlon community across the world. As a triathlete, you will find others with whom you can compare notes about training and racing and the other, non-triathlon part of our lives. Some studies suggest that the social benefits of triathlon are greater than the physical ones.

Are You Convinced?

If you have not yet decided to get involved in triathlon, check out the 15 reasons I have found. I am sure that more than a few will help change your mind.

1. Triathlon gives a focus for several different kinds of exercise – swim, bike, run and related types such as rowing, kayaking, weight lifting, strength training, and stair climbing to name a few. Complementing these are core exercises, weightlifting, yoga, and stretching.  If you tend to become bored doing the same type of routine day after day, triathlon training is perfect for you.

2. Many races double as fundraisers for some very worthy causes. For example, my fourth triathlon, the TDD Triathlon in Douglas, Massachusetts doubled as a memorial race for triplets Tyrus, Dante, and Daniel Vescio who died the same day as their birth. The race raised funds for the UMass Memorial Newborn Intensive Care Unit in Worcester, Massachusetts to help other babies get the chance to live long, healthy lives.

logo for the TDD triathlon and fundraiser
The TDD Triathlon in Douglas, Massachusetts was a fundraiser for newborn babies.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

3. You meet inspiring people – seniors and others. Check out Our Stories on SeniorTriathletes.com.

An Excuse for New Triathlon Gear

4. Race T-shirts and other swag, typically, a bag of nutrition samples, coupons, and other useful items provided to race participants.  Every race in which I have participated (44 so far) has included a t-shirt or other clothing item. Most of these are made of high quality, performance (wicking) material. And, there are some creative designers of finisher medals and age group awards – see “5 Unique Triathlon Medals” for my favorite race medals.

5. It provides a credible excuse to buy new clothes, a new bike, or the latest GPS watch, all in the name of helping you become a more fit, competitive triathlete. The list of clothing and equipment (referred to as ‘triathlon gear’) you can justify, at least to yourself, is nearly endless.

GPS watch and new running shoes
GPS watch and running shoes.

Personal Benefits of Triathlon for Seniors

6. Completing a triathlon can give you a sense of accomplishment. And, if you need it, you earn ‘bragging rights’ with your family and friends.

7. At the same time, triathlons keep you humble. I have been soundly beaten by men and women older than me. I have also learned from them the secrets to their success and when and how to apply these. For example, the race day nutrition regimen that I now follow came at the recommendation of Mr. James Chapman following the Rocky Gap Park Triathlon in Maryland.

8. For those who have been immersed in a career up to retirement, triathlon can be a good hobby. Are you, your spouse, or your kids worried about what you are going to do in retirement? Worry no more!

Compete With or Against Family and Friends

9. Triathlon sets an excellent example for children and grandchildren who either are not active or believe that you are ‘over the hill’. Two of my grandchildren and two of my three children have completed triathlons with me. And we have more planned. What a great bonding experience. And, oh the thrill of beating them.

10. Triathlon is a co-ed sport, so you can participate with your spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends.

family celebration at the 2014  Maple Grove Triathlon
Post-triathlon celebration with family at the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

11. Since many races include team events, you can organize and participate as a team and enjoy the benefits of all of the other reasons. Imagine a team of three (one person for each leg of the triathlon) involving friends and/or family.

12. Depending upon your seriousness about the sport and your ability, there are various race distances and types to challenge and push you to a level you had never before achieved. For example, my first half marathon was done at age 62, something I would never have imagined even in my 50s.

Seeing the World Through Triathlon

13. Triathlon can take you to parts of the USA and other countries that are not typical tourist locations or areas you would have otherwise visited. For example, I am quite certain that I would have never visited Sweet Home, Oregon had it not been the venue of a triathlon. And if I did not visit Sweet Home, I would not have learned that it is the source of most of the golf course grass seed in the USA.

14. During the winter months in Minnesota when lakes are frozen and running paths are icy (and dangerous), you can also justify travel to destinations for proper training in open water swimming and outdoor running.

Diamondhead for ST website-1
Hawaii – one of our winter ‘training’ get-aways.

15. It gives you the opportunity to participate in the Senior Games held in each of the states of the USA and, if you qualify, in the National Senior Games. Senior games also take place in Canada and Mexico.

Garmin Forerunner 920XT

This post was originally published on February 25, 2016. It was last updated on May 5, 2019.

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Masters Running: What Hal Higdon Teaches About ‘Moving Young‘

Masters Running: What Hal Higdon Teaches About ‘Moving Young‘
Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40

A review of “Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40”, Hal Higdon, Rodale Press ©2005.

Staying active as we age is one way to not only live longer but with higher quality.  Of the 500 respondents to a survey of runners, 93% indicated that they ran to stay fit.

In his book “Masters Running”, Hal Higdon shares advice from his life as a runner.  Lessons from his experience will help you become a better runner and decrease the inevitable effects of aging.

 

A Little Background

Running is my weakest leg of a triathlon.

I could resign myself to the fact that, according to Dr. David L. Costill, I had simply failed to “carefully select my parents”.  However, I don’t just want to participate in triathlon.  I want to compete in the sport.  For this reason, I have read several books on running and am following a run training program from “Run Less, Run Faster” by Bill Pierce et al.

However, I found the advice from Hal Higdon particularly useful when I started running around 10 years ago.  I have also followed his ideas for the times I have restarted running after an injury or extended time away from running.

 

About the Author of “Masters Running”

Hal Higdon is a competitive runner and has been since he was in college at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.  He continued to run after college and competed internationally at Masters (over age 40) events.

However, despite his own accomplishments, he was struck by 91-year-old Duncan MacClean who he described as ‘moving young’ despite his age.    As Higdon wrote, cosmetic surgery and hair color can change our appearance, but unless we stay active, the first time we move, we will give away our age.  Celebrated USA Triathlete Tony Schiller made a similar comment during our conversation.

In the book, Higdon shares the results of academic research that, in the late 1970’s, documented what we now take for granted, that those who remain active, live longer on average.  The more strenuous the activity the greater the effect.  Swimming, biking, and running are among the activities that have the most impact on longevity.

near-the-finish-line-at-the-Georgia-triathlon

Sprint to the finish line at the Lake Lanier Islands Triathlon 2018. The picture was taken by Tim Nettleton for TrueSpeedPhoto.com and provided compliments of Georgia Multisports.

Starting to Run

Starting from the proof provided from studies by researchers Ralph S. Paffenberger, Jr., M.D.; Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.; Michael L. Pollock, Ph.D.; Jack H. Wilmore, Ph.D.; and David L. Costill, Ph.D., Higdon shares ideas on how to become a runner and continue running well into the senior years.

There is no argument that our abilities and needs relative to running and other types of physical exercise change as we age.  Nevertheless, those who commit to running can be successful by:

  • starting to train,
  • training more once started,
  • training smarter, and
  • learning when to rest.

While it is best if we never get out of shape, this news may be too late for some.  We must work with what we have and start from where we are.

If you want to start running, Higdon provides a simple plan that he calls the ’30/30 Plan’.  This approach involves a mix of walking and running for 30 minutes per day for 30 days.

 

Improving the Run

Having started running, we can adopt Higdon’s ideas for improving our running ability by:

  • gradually, but consistently, increasing the intensity (speed and distance) of running
  • strength training.

Higdon makes a major case for strength training indicating that the number one goal for the book is to convince the reader to include regular strength training in our routines.  The book includes an entire chapter on how to create a personalized strength training program.

Training smarter includes cross training.  This fits the plans of a triathlete who must train in three sports.  Higdon also identifies sports that support running, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as complementary activities such as stretching.

“Masters Running” includes information about rest and recovery.  Proper rest and recovery helps to prevent injury while maintaining the benefits of previous smart training.

 

Order “Masters Running”

Through examples and anecdotes from his nearly lifelong experience with running, Higdon not only makes points important to becoming a better runner but also illustrates why these are important, something our inquiring minds appreciate.

 

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How Do I Start Running for My First Triathlon?

by Terry VanderWert
How Do I Start Running for My First Triathlon?

Starting to Run for Triathlon Training

No matter if you are new to running or it has been some time since you ran, start slowly.  Follow this advice from Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, for those in her 70+ year age group.

“You don’t have to completely change your clothes and get into special gear. Get the shoes on and go out in what you have on. Just move.”

Before you know it, your fitness will improve and you will be capable of completing your first triathlon.

Follow this simple advice for training for the triathlon run.

Many people who participate in triathlon, independent of their age, come from a background of running. That was clearly not my case. I ran my first 5-k at the age of 50. The training that I had done in preparation for this race could be best described as intuition – no reading or advice from a trainer. In any case, I easily survived.

If you have been a runner for much of your life, then you can skip through this article since it is dedicated to those who have never been runners or have not been running for a number of years.   However, please check back for information in the future where lessons from experienced masters runners will be shared.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are not currently running or if your doctor has not given you permission to start running, speak with your primary care physician before doing so. My wife, who has had both knees replaced, has been told by her orthopedic surgeon that she cannot run on her new knees. She can, however, still participate in triathlon as part of a relay team.

If after consulting your doctor, you continue with your plan to start running, the following program, called the 30/30 Plan, has been defined by Hal Higdon, author of ‘Masters Running: a guide to running and staying fit after 40’ – click here for a review of this book:

“1. Walk out the door and go 15 minutes in one direction, turn around, return 15 minutes to where you started: 30 minutes total.

2. For the first 10 minutes of your workout, it is obligatory that you walk: No running!

3. For the last 5 minutes of your workout, it is obligatory that you walk; Again, no running!

4. During the middle 15 minutes of the workout, you are free to jog or run – as long as you do so easily and do not push yourself.

5. Here’s how to run during those middle 15 minutes: Jog for 30 seconds, walk until you are recovered, jog 30 seconds again. Jog, walk, Jog. Walk. Jog. Walk.

6. Once comfortable jogging and walking, adopt a 30/30 pattern. Jogging 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, etc.

Follow this 30/30 pattern for 30 days. If you train continuously every day you can complete this is one month. If you train only every other day, it will take you 2 months. Do what your body tells you. Everyone is different in their ability to adapt to exercise. When you are beginning, it is better to do too little than too much.”

After 30 days you should be able to cover 1 to 2 miles by walking and jogging.

In preparing for her first triathlon at age 63, Sue Faulkner recalls “My first run was with my granddaughter alongside the canal, which was nice and flat. I could only manage 20 paces at a time before walking a short way, then running another 20 paces. It was a start.”  Eight weeks later she was able to run the 2.5 km distance of the triathlon.  Source: http://www.bbc.com/sport/get-inspired/28806570

It is important to not increase mileage or intensity (speed) by more than 5% per week. I have tried to do more and realized this to be true. On the other hand, in preparation for my first half marathon (13. 1 miles) last year, I learned that one can increase by small amounts each week without injury.

Before starting running, I recommend that you visit one of your local running stores (not a general purpose sports store) to review the options for shoes with people knowledgeable of the needs of runners. Most of the people working in these stores are runners. Find the correct fit (for example, I found that I needed a wide (2E) shoe width.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS15, size 13 2E

Brooks Adrenaline GTS15, size 13 2E

Also, note that you need to spend some time ‘breaking in’ these shoes, which can occur by walking or short runs. My experience is that with new shoes, the first few times that I wear them, I find an extra amount of friction between my foot and the inner sole of the shoe. This usually stops after a few miles of use.

Remember to be patient – progress consistently but modestly.

A future post will describe the importance of stretching after running and biking and a routine that I have found important for preventing injury.

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