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5 Ideas for Staying Young – A Conversation with Tony Schiller

5 Ideas for Staying Young – A Conversation with Tony Schiller
Tony Schiller exiting the Olympic distance swim at the 2019 USAT National Championship.

“People give up their youth too quickly”.

Tony Schiller’s words resonated, to the point of making me feel guilty. That is precisely what I was doing – giving up my youth with only a little resistance.

So, how do we avoid becoming old too quickly? By staying active. Day-in, day-out activity reduces, and sometimes reverses, aging. Science supports this.

Related post: Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

I hope that this post will give you some ideas to remain active and compete in triathlon events even when the drive to do so wanes.

But, first, a bit about Tony. You will see why his perspective is worth listening to.

Meet Tony Schiller, Fitness Champion on Many Levels

I am embarrassed to say that I was not acquainted with Tony Schiller until I skimmed the Fall 2019 issue of USA Triathlon magazine. Tony was listed as the winner of the 60-64 age group in both the Sprint and Olympic distances at the 2019 USA Triathlon National Championships.

Since the article listed Tony’s home as Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb a few miles from my home, I contacted him. He graciously agreed to speak to me.

Why the embarrassment? I learned during our conversation that Tony has been involved in the sport of triathlon since its earliest days, even racing professionally. Running and later triathlon turned out to be his sports.

During a career that is far from being over, Tony has achieved seven world championships. He is also one of only two men to be named USA Triathlon’s Male Amateur Triathlete of the Year (1995) and Masters Triathlete of the Year (2002 and 2015).

A Disturbing Trend

In speaking with children of all ages about the benefits of endurance sports, Tony observed that each year, the children appeared to be less fit than the previous year.

Deciding to do more than just speak about fitness, Tony introduced the MiracleKids Triathlon. The mission of the triathlon was “to build a world-class race to motivate kids and inspire fundraising for families of kids fighting cancer.” Over the next ten years, 12,500 kids, including two of my grandchildren, raced in the event. They also raised $4.5 million to help kids with cancer. 

In 2014, Tony co-founded CycleHealth as a Minnesota 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to kid wellness. CycleHealth merged with the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities in 2017. Today, they work together to sponsor endurance events around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Tony Schiller with four-time finisher of the CycleHealth Resilinator.  This time, the young man finished the 2.4 mile course using crutches,
Tony Schiller with a four-time finisher of the CycleHealthTM ResilinatorTM. This time, the young man finished the 2.4 mile course using crutches, Talk about inspiring! (Picture courtesy of Tony Schiller.)

Another small-world-story was born when Tony told me of one of their events, a race at Fish Lake Park in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Ironically, I have watched this event twice, once from our living room window. The second time, I was so curious about what was happening at the park that I walked over to check it out from the ground.

Besides problems with youth fitness, Tony also recognized that adults became less active with age, often out of lack of interest or motivation. This has not been Tony’s experience, however. He has maintained an enjoyment for swimming, biking, and running making him an ideal champion for triathlon and other fitness activities.

Five Ways to Keep the Passion for Fitness Alive

The challenge of keeping the passion to train alive is real. 2019 was the first season within the decade of the 2010s in which I did not complete a triathlon. Why? No excuses; just a matter of priority. I did not train as I needed to race competitively so took the year off.

But I cannot quit. I have nine more states in which to complete triathlons after which Joy and I will have been in every USA state for a triathlon. This is what we call the ‘Triathlon Across the USA’ adventure.

“You aren’t old until age becomes your excuse.”

Joe Friel

During our conversation, Tony shared the importance of staying active. He also described ways he has seen work, some he has applied, and some he is planning to use. I added a couple to round out the list.

I am sure you have other ideas or experiences so please share your comments below.

#1 Set goals

My goal of completing a triathlon is each state will run-out, Lord willing, within the next two or three years. Then what do I do?

Set a new goal.

Tony’s advice: “It’s best to set goals that don’t run out”. However, if you do, think ahead for goals that will not run-out.

One of Tony’s ideas is to set a goal of “Eight triathlons in my 80s, nine triathlons in my 90s, etc.”. Or, if you are like Tony, you set a goal of winning a world championship in your age group in each decade.

#2 Sign up for a race

Over the last few years, my wife and I sit down around the first of a new year to decide on a road trip/triathlon schedule for the coming year. What area would we like to explore? Who would we like to visit?

We are grateful that we have used travel to triathlons to visit many friends and family members. Some of these are no longer with us.

Tired of racing alone? What about racing with a friend, spouse, child, or even a grandchild? My oldest grandson and I are planning to complete the California triathlon in the 50-state goal together.

for Tony Schiller post - family celebration at the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon
Completing a triathlon with family members can be a great motivator.

Related post: The Road to Ironman Triathlon – Laurent Labbe’s Story

Wow, I just realized that I have another goal, to beat my grandson in the triathlon we do together. The challenge is that he is both a competitive swimmer and distance runner in high school. And he has access to a great road bike. Better get serious!

“Age is a matter of mind over matter—if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Jack Benny

#3 Work at moving younger

What does it mean to move younger? Tony Schiller describes it like this.

“When I first see someone running along a road on which I am driving or running, I guess their age based on how they are moving – their posture, stride, foot bounce, etc. As I get closer, I adjust the guess. Finally, when I am beside them, I look at their face. Are they moving younger or older than their age? If their form makes them look younger than I guessed, they are moving younger.”

Today, Tony’s training includes a focus on moving younger. For example, “If I am swimming, I will focus on proper form, such as extending my reach”.

#4 Get ‘really’ good at swimming, biking, and running

In his latest book Master of One1, Jordan Raynor concludes “It is only when we get insanely good at what we do that we don’t just fall in love with our work but stay in love with it over a long period of time”. Having read the book, I am sure that Jordan would agree that this applies to non-work activities to which we have committed ourselves.

#5 Join a triathlon club

I follow the Facebook page of The Villages Triathlon Club. This triathlon club provides encouragement and training opportunities for newbie sprint triathletes; accomplished iron-men and -women in their 60s, 70s, and beyond; and everyone in between. The Club is there for everyone interested in getting and staying fit.

Check the related posts that include interviews with two of the members of the club.

Related post: “My First Sprint Triathlon was in 19 Days” – Pat Johnson’s Story

Related post: ‘Gotta Tri’ – Triathlon in The Villages, Florida

How Do You Keep the Passion Alive?

The five ideas presented here are not the only ones. If you have found other ways to stay active despite the challenges of age, please share them with the Senior Triathletes community.

  1. Jordan Raynor, “Master of One – Find and Focus on the Work You Were Created to Do”, p. 192, Penguin Random House LLC.
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Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

Triathlon training must change as we age to reflect the changes in our bodies. The consequences of improper training can be career-ending. Following an approach that recognizes six principles of triathlon training for seniors age 50 and over will ensure strong performance.

Meanwhile, many of the questions I receive indicate that most triathlon training programs do not consider the changes that occur with aging. This post is the beginning of an effort to address age-related needs for the senior triathlete.

Introduction

Academic research has shown that decreased performance with age is not a given. Often, decreases have more to do with reduced energy, lower intensity in training, and less time spent training.

In one report, VO2 max, an indicator of the size of one’s athletic engine, was measured for elite athletes of various ages.  The study showed a linear decline with age for athletes from age 18 to 103. No ‘cliff ‘ in performance was observed.

On the flip-side, triathlon training following the six principles outlined here will help senior triathletes continue strong and with minimal injury.

How Should Triathlon Training Change for Seniors?

Consistent exercise can slow aging. However, being consistent can be easier said than done. For some, lower energy with age makes it difficult to find the motivation for regular exercise. For others, jam-packed schedules make consistent exercise a challenge.

Also, the physiological changes that occur with age are the ingredients for more injuries. Never in our lives has the adage “working smarter, not harder” been more appropriate.

Physiological Changes with Age

King David understood what researchers today confirm – the human body is awesome. David wrote in Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. “

Included in this wonderful design of the human body is the capability for self-repair of many types of tissue, including those of the muscles, tendons, and bones. Through repair, muscles become stronger during strength and endurance training. This same process promotes recovery from injuries.

However, in the typical aging process, our bodies become less efficient in making these repairs. Recovery from normal exercise and especially from injury takes longer. Tissues become stiffer. Taken together, these ultimately affect our athletic performance.

We need not give up, however. Recent research cited in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging has shown that our ‘old’ cells can be re-programmed through physical exercise to behave like younger cells.

According to a report published in Preventive Medicine, people who did the equivalent of 30-40 minutes of jogging per day, five days a week showed biological markers of a person seven years younger.

The Aging Musculoskeletal System

Beginning at around age 50, our skeletal muscles lose cells and become smaller and stiffer according to Dr.Vonda Wright in Masters Athletes: A Model for Healthy Aging. Accompanying this decrease in muscle mass is a reduction in strength and the power they are able to generate.

More frequent muscle strains and joint pain also result from reduced muscle mass and strength and increased stiffness. For example, knee pain, sometimes incorrectly attributed to osteoarthritis, often highlights weak quadriceps. Also, shoulder pain in swimming is often a consequence of ignoring the smaller muscles responsible for joint stability. Finally, hip injuries are often rooted in stiffness and weakness of the core and gluteal muscles.

Tendons stiffen with age, in part, because of decreases in water content, hormonal changes, and thickening of elastin fibril tissue. On top of this, overuse which produces micro tears in the tissue leads to further stiffening of connective tissues .

Overuse injuries, those caused by continuing to exercise fatigued and/or tight muscles, are the most common among senior athletes. So here’s the dilemma: We need to keep moving to be strong and flexible, but moving more can lead to injury. Hint: strength training and stretching are two of the six pillars of triathlon training for seniors.

Nothing good happens in running, or in most sports, when you get tight. Tight muscles never outperform loose muscles simply because their range of motion is restricted, meaning they can’t move the full length for optimal power. 

Ryan Hall from Run the Mile You’re In 

Our Cardiovascular System and Aging

The lower mass and stiffening of tissue observed in older muscles and tendons is also seen in the cardiovascular system. According to Dr. Wright, “a 70-year old heart has 30% fewer cells than the heart of a 20 year-old.”

With the stiffening comes less efficient delivery of much-needed oxygen to cells. With less oxygen, performance, metabolism, and energy levels suffer.

The good news is that through endurance training, oxygen consumption increases. Dr. Wright reports that “Through endurance conditioning, one is capable of modifying maximum oxygen consumption, diastolic filling, relaxation, and arterial stiffness.”

Aging and Nutrition

How do the changes in our bodies affect our needs for fueling before, during, and after training?

As reported in “What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition“, the physiological changes that take place with age mean that we need “fewer (net of exercise) calories, higher amounts of protein, and greater amounts of key nutrients”. We also need to pay close attention to staying hydrated which can be accomplished through choices of food and drink.

Principles of Training for Senior Triathletes

  • More stretching
  • Proper strength training
  • Leveraging high-intensity interval training
  • Getting enough rest
  • Staying hydrated
  • Nutrition – eating enough of the right food

More Stretching

Proper warm-up and stretching before vigorous exercise with additional stretching during cool down prevents the gradual shortening of tendons and cartilage. From my experience, I can say the same for muscles.

stretching before and after workout prevents injuries - one of the principles of triathlon training for seniors
Pre- and post-workout stretching is a fundamental of triathlon training for seniors.
Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Stretching the entire body prevents imbalances. For example, in my early days of running, I was religious about stretching my hamstrings after running. However, I was not as diligent about stretching my quadriceps.

A chiropractor who diagnosed my knee pain pointed to the imbalance in flexibility in these two muscles. After a short time of consistent stretching of my quadriceps, the knee pain disappeared.

Related post: Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Proper Strength Training

Comments earlier in this post highlighted the connection between injury and muscle strength. Weak muscles are more prone to injury and provide less support for joints during activity.

It is important to strengthen the right muscles. While many athletes focus on strengthening cosmetic muscles (biceps, triceps, calves), these may not be the best ones on which to focus.

There are also plenty of personal stories in favor of strength training. One example is from ultrarunner Judy Cole (age 73). Judy ran every day during her early 30s. However, early on, she reported having problems with her knees.  Strengthening her quads and hamstrings eliminated the pain allowing her to continue running.  

Related post: Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Related post: ‘At the Core’ – Strength Training to Help Seniors Perform Better and Avoid Injury

Leveraging High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, is an approach to training characterized by short periods, or intervals, of high-intensity exercise alternated with periods of recovery.

HIIT first gained notoriety in 1996 through a report published by the Japanese speed-skating coach and professor Izumi Tabata. Tabata’s paper documented the value of HIIT for elite athletes. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology documented the benefits of HIIT over medium-intensity training for increasing VO2 max, an indicator of aerobic fitness. HIIT continues to be used for athletes of all levels, including cyclists and distance runners, for both endurance and strength training.

I have included HIIT here because it’s used for training in swimming, biking, and running. It also supports strength and fitness while simultaneously reducing the risk of overuse injury compared to long periods of lower intensity training. It also promotes variety and exercising of the entire body.

For more information about HIIT training and its benefits, look at Dr. Joseph Tieri’s book Staying Young with Interval Training. After an introduction to HIIT and its benefits, most of the book shows various HIIT exercises.

Related post: Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Getting Enough Rest

Rest and recovery apply to all ages. As suggested in an earlier post, we ought to make consistent, high-quality sleep a priority.

However, one liability of age can be the ‘ability’ to persevere through pain. If you only take one lesson from this post, it is that we must train smarter, not just harder, with age.

Tired muscles are more prone to injury. Abused cartilage and muscle will get their revenge. It is best to rest or change your training plan to avoid aggravating sore areas.

Staying Hydrated

As we age, our sensation for thirst becomes weaker. At the same time, lower water content of body tissue is one contributor to injury. The message? Stay hydrated.

Nutrition – Eating Enough of the Right Food

Consuming additional protein to ensure that we are producing muscle from strength training is the most significant takeaway. Eating anti-inflammatory foods and a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables is good advice for all ages. See the related post below for more detailed advice.

Related post: What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

What Is Your Experience?

Please share your questions and comments below.

We would love to hear what you have learned from your experiences? Your reading? From your coaches or training partners?

How have you adjusted your training with age?

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1

You May Be Interested in Reading . . .

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How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?

How Does Choosing Running Shoes Change As We Age?
Heading out of transition for the run at the Eagle River Triathlon near Anchorage, Alaska.

After beginning to train for my first triathlon, I purchased a pair of running shoes from a specialty running store. I was happy with the shoes and the experience. I was also pleased to have learned through this fitting that a wider shoe (2E) is a better fit for me than is a standard width.

However, after that first purchase, I started shopping for shoes online, partly for convenience. I was working full-time and did not relish shopping during the precious hours outside of work.

Online shopping allowed me to take advantage of sale prices which I was sure could not be matched by brick & mortar businesses that sold shoes. (I am now convinced that this was wrong.)

For these purchases, I used internet resources, such as the shoe finder apps and calculators on the websites of some manufacturers, to select specific brands and models of shoes.

Questioning My Process for Selecting Running Shoes

Recently, I came upon a Silver Sneakers post titled 5 Steps to Find the Right Workout Shoes. The article included some new – at least for me – suggestions for lacing and tying running shoes based on foot shape, selecting socks, and breaking in new shoes.

The author’s information was useful. However, comments from the post’s readers were even more enlightening. The author stressed the point that shoes should be comfortable. Meanwhile, the readers highlighted how often shoes did not fit properly or were uncomfortable.

I had to stop and think about how I would go about selecting my next pair of running shoes. What was the most effective way to find them? And, did my needs in a shoe change with age?

Does Age Matter? Yes & No!

I asked Kurt Decker, an avid runner and General Manager of TC Running Company, if he has observed an effect of age on shoe selection.

While, in his experience, the age of the runner is not a specific factor in choosing a running shoe, he has seen some tweaks that runners tend to make with age. The two major changes are:

  1. Increasing the amount of cushioning in the shoe and
  2. Increasing the width of the shoe; feet tend to become wider, or splay, with age and more miles of running.

“Aging is like so much in life – it’s different for each of us.”

Terry VanderWert

The Running Store Approach to Choosing Shoes

Even before reading the SilverSneakers article, I had started to question the online tools I had used for selecting shoes.

Every time I used a particular calculator, a different model of shoe would be recommended even though I had given the same answers to the questions. Besides, how could static tests of balance and bending account for dynamic movements during running?

I decided to visit the local TC Running store to experience their fitting process. When we first met, I told the salesperson, Travis, that I was doing research for a Senior Triathletes post. As a result, he was kind enough to explain the process and shoes in detail.

Step 1: Evaluating a Current Pair of Slightly Worn Running Shoes

I have read that the wear pattern on a current pair of running shoes paints a picture of the owner’s running form. Therefore, I brought along a pair of shoes that were the most worn yet still being used for running.

Travis asked if the shoes had been used exclusively or nearly always for running (which they had been) or for other non-running activities such as walking around my home or office. Running creates a unique set of movements and stresses and, therefore, wear pattern.

He pointed out that while conventional wisdom involves inspecting the heel for its wear pattern, the more important area to inspect is across the width of the shoe under the ball of the foot. The uniform wear on my shoes pointed out that I have a fairly neutral gait and foot strike. He was also able to see a small but minimal effect of asymmetry in my ankles.

A moderately worn pair of running shoes. We used these as part of the process for choosing new running shoes.

Step 2: Checking My Gait Without Shoes

Before choosing a single pair of shoes, Travis had me walk with socks but no shoes across a hard surface. He observed my movement as I walked about 10 yards away from and then back to him.

From this, he selected three pairs of shoes based on the level of support he judged that I needed.

Step 3: Observing My Running Gait

Next, I tried on shoes from two manufacturers. The shoes represented two different technologies for support of the foot during running.

I did not try the third pair; I was not planning to purchase shoes that day and did not want to keep Travis from ‘paying customers’.

The first pair I tried were light gray Brooks Adrenaline 19 with GuideRail technology. GuideRails, new with this year’s models, provide support through, as the name implies, rails (rods) molded into the shoe on each side of its heel.

The second shoes, an olive green pair from New Balance, provide support through stiff foam along the edges of the shoe from the heel to middle of the arch.

I jogged about 10 yards away from and then back toward Travis in each of the pairs while he observed me. His conclusion was that both pairs appeared to provide the required support.

Both shoes were extremely comfortable and nice looking. They surely made me want to buy a pair, though I resisted the temptation since I didn’t need them yet.

Brick & Mortar or Online?

I am much more likely to purchase from a brick & mortar store, like TC Running Company, that specializes in running shoes than from an online store.

As near as I could tell from the discussions, the prices from TC Running are comparable to those from online sources. For the price-conscious shopper, TC Running also offers ‘last year’s’ models at discounted prices, just like the online stores.

Even if the prices were slightly higher, I would be much more confident in the selection of shoe based on a dynamic evaluation of my running form than from a static-only (at best) assessment with the online stores.

If the Shoe Fits, You Will Wear It

Most runner’s shoes are selected after trying on several pairs of shoes to find a pair that provides the balance of support, fit, and comfort. The same process for determining the right shoes is used for all ages, even if the outcome in terms of the specific shoes that are selected changes with time.

Remember: Shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable when running are much more likely to get used.

Leave Your Comments and Questions Below

Where do you buy your running shoes?

How, if at all, have you found your shoes to change with age?

Please share your thoughts below.

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How Has Your Training Changed After Age 50?

How Has Your Training Changed After Age 50?
How does training for a triathlon swim change as I age?
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

Please add your comments and questions in the Comment section below or email us at seniortriathletes@gmail.com.. Also, please take a look at the questions and comments from your other Senior Triathletes.
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