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Terry VanderWert

Balance in Training Intensity for Senior Triathletes

Balance in Training Intensity for Senior Triathletes

Finding the right balance in the intensity of your triathlon training will make training more enjoyable, lead to greater consistency, and produce better results.

Training Intensity for the Over-50 Triathlete

A few months ago, I listened to separate podcasts with Phil Maffetone and with Coach Parry. Both made the point that senior endurance athletes are more likely overtraining than undertraining or training too easy.

Had you watched me as I listened to these, you would have seen my head nodding in agreement.

Their comments were in line with the results of our 2021 survey of senior triathletes. Respondents to the survey indicated that ‘injury or illness’ is the second greatest challenge for triathlon. Certainly, overtraining is a major contributor to injury and illness.

So, training at the right intensity is something many of us think about. But, how do we get it right?

I hope to answer this question – and hear from you on this subject – through this post.

“Training in its simplest form is a balancing act. [T]he goal is to simultaneously build and develop seemingly opposing forces. In the world of distance running, we need to balance speed versus endurance, strength versus efficiency, and flexibility versus stiffness, to name a few.”

Steve Magness in “The Science of Running“, p. 160 (2014).

What Is Meant By Overtraining?

In the two years before adopting the MAF-180 training method, I found myself in a vicious cycle. One day, I would train hard, trying to make up for the last session which I had skipped or shortened. This was typically followed by two or more days of no training to recover from soreness or injury and from excessive fatigue.

Overtraining is caused by training at too high an intensity, one involving more stress than our body can handle given its level of fitness, strength, recovery, and other ‘stuff’ happening during this time. Early symptoms of overtraining include prolonged muscle soreness, laboring to complete routines that would typically be possible, and/or several days of sub-par performance.

Generally, the problem is solved by a few days to a week of low intensity training (walking, slow jogging or biking) and extra rest. However, continued pain or sluggishness with other symptoms, such as insomnia, loss of interest in training, and headaches, is cause for seeing a physician.

Is It Possible To Undertrain?

Yes, it is possible to undertrain, though it is not common.

As a reference, I define ‘undertraining’ as training at a volume and/or intensity that is not sufficient for completing the distances of a multisport event in a reasonable time. For example, if you are competing in an Ironman 140.6 triathlon, you must train for completing the 2.4 mile swim in the allotted time. And, you must have enough energy left to complete the bike and run legs.

Looking at it another way, you will undertrain for an Ironman triathlon if you only train at sprint triathlon distances.

What Is The Right Balance?

This question reminded me of an email discussion I had with Laurent Labbe, a Senior Triathlete who lives halfway around the world from me in Asia.

Laurent told me about a meeting he had with a supplier whose manager was formerly a professional cyclist. During lunch, the two of them, both over the age of 50, discussed the difficulties in finding a group or club with which to train. Both found young people to be too fast and people their age to generally be too slow.

In the end, these two guys agreed that the right balance was to train at a pace that represented a “reasonable effort”.  

At the most basic level, the top two keys to achieving the right balance, or “reasonable effort”, in training are:

  1. Progressing modestly when increasing training stress. In this context, distance, speed, and weight being lifted are all measures of training stress. Here is where the 10% rule of thumb should come into play. The ‘10% rule’ tells us to never increase the level of stress by more than 10% from one session to the next.
  2. Recovering properly between sessions. Recovery is probably the most under-utilized training tool in our arsenal. It involves rest as well as hydration and nutrition, everything needed to allow our bodies to adapt to and strengthen from the stress applied during the previous training session.

Don’t Ignore Other Sources of Stress That Affect Training Balance

The above two keys to balanced training assume that the major stress during training comes from the intensity of the activity. However, as Steve Magness points out in “The Science of Running“, there are a host of other factors that contribute to total stress.

These additional sources of stress include environmental (ambient temperature, humidity, altitude) and physical (hydration, type and availability of energy sources, sleep quality) factors. Life events such as travel, family and work related issues, and other commitments also add stress.

Put into a mathematical format, balance is:

   St = Sr + Se = Rt, where   

St = Total stress during training
Sr = Stress from training routine
Se = Stress from external sources
Rt = Recovery from total stress after training

How I Have Found The Right Balance

I mentioned earlier about the vicious cycle of overtraining and long recovery that my training had become. Over the past two years, I have found that training with a heart rate monitor in a range defined by the MAF-180 method for the bike and run has forced me to train at a lower intensity. It also corrects for additional stressors during a particular workout.

This more “reasonable effort” has made training more fun. As a result, I train more frequently and have avoided injury caused by overtraining. As the post titled “Training to Train – Building Aerobic Fitness for Senior Triathletes” documents, I have also seen steady improvements in fitness.

Before leaving this question, I have two more suggestions for the 50+ triathlete from my experiences.

First, avoid setting too aggressive a schedule for training for your next race. A related suggestion is to not try making up for lost time should you be forced to temporarily suspend your training for whatever reason.

The Right Balance In Training Is Not Static

The ‘just right’ amount of training will also vary day to day.

Think about these questions:

  • How hard did you train yesterday? What amount of muscle damage resulted from this session?
  • How well did you rehydrate and refuel after this workout?
  • What was the quality of sleep last night?
  • What is the weather (temperature, humidity) where you will be training today?
  • Did you hear any alarming news this morning?
  • How are you feeling today?

The answers to these will help determine how hard you should train on a given day.

The definition of “reasonable effort” also changes over time as you become more fit.

I recall a conversation with Paul Zellner while I was discussing his experience with triathlon. Paul mentioned that he has found it necessary to push himself with age. He said that he felt that he was often training at too easy a level.

Paul is a multiple marathon and Ironman triathlon finisher. He is also currently active in these sports. Therefore, it is not surprising that his definition of “reasonable effort” has changed as his fitness increases.

How To Know If You Are Training ‘Just Right’

There are various ways to monitor your training stress and degree of recovery between sessions. These range from the simple and free to complicated and expensive.

TrainingPeaks, for example, provides users a way to rank their session using feeling (from frowning to smiling face) and a 1 to 10 ranking of perceived exertion. While I am not a fan of these qualitative rankings, they are accessible to everyone. They can also highlight trouble, especially when feeling or perceived exertion suddenly changes.

Resting heart rate is a more quantitative, yet still accessible, measurement. One member of The Villages Triathlon Club told me that he measures his heart rate upon waking each morning. If the measured rate on a particular day is more than 10% above the typical value, he will reduce the intensity of his training for that day.

This approach has support from the author of a post on the ANT+ website titled “By The Numbers – What Your Heart Rate Monitor Is Telling You“. The author writes “If you see a rise of 10 percent or more in your resting heart rate it may indicate that you are fatigued, emotionally stressed or your immune system has been weakened.”

Other Metrics For Training Recovery

If you wish to dig deeper into this subject, you can look at other tests and measurements for assessing the level of recovery. These include:

  • Measuring heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Measuring ground contact time – uses a foot pod power meter such as one produced by Stryd
  • Blood tests for creatine kinase and cortisol levels (generally used for elite and professional athletes)

The first two are available with additional equipment or sensors. However, the latter (blood tests) are most likely beyond the need of amateur athletes.

How Do You Know When You Are Training At The Right Intensity?

What metric or approach do you use to judge if you are training too hard or too easy? Leave your comments below.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #43 – Virginia

Triathlon Across the USA: State #43 – Virginia
Spotsylvania County Courthouse

Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia; May 9, 2021 – Lake Anna State Park, Kinetic Lake Anne Triathlon

Our Route To The Virginia Triathlon

The Virginia triathlon was part of a six-week road trip that included stops in Omaha, Nebraska; The Villages, Florida; and parts of Virginia and Delaware for triathlons in these two states.

Before traveling to Virginia for the Lake Anna Triathlon, Joy and I had spent most of April in The Villages, Florida. During this visit, we joined The Villages Triathlon Club for their April meeting. I also took part in one of the club’s swim sessions.

Lake Anna State Park

Late Saturday afternoon, Joy and I headed toward Lake Anna State Park for packet pickup. The route included a detour into the village of Spotsylvania Courthouse to visit the historic courthouse pictured at the beginning of this post.

We soon arrived at the area in the park next to Lake Anna. At 13,000 acres, Lake Anna is one of the largest freshwater reservoirs in Virginia. The lake is formed by the North Anna Dam on the North Anna River. (I love the name Anna, in part because it belongs to our youngest granddaughter.)

After collecting my race packet, which included a t-shirt, a pair of socks, and race numbers for the bike, bike helmet, and run, we drove the bike course. I do this to check the condition of the roads, looking for potholes or other obstacles that could present a hazard during the race. This is also an opportunity to review the hills and turns along the course.

Lake Anna State Park was the location for the Kinetic triathlon, my Virginia triathlon in the Triathlon Across the USA quest.
Lake Anna State Park, about 80 miles south of Washington, DC,, was the location of the Kinetic Lake Anna triathlon.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Virginia Triathlon

Most of us know that navigation apps can be fickle. I am quite sure all have experienced at least one occasion of being led astray by them.

On race morning, I left the hotel by myself while it was still dark. Thanks to COVID-19, spectators were discouraged from attending the race.

I was sure I would have no difficulty getting to the park when the transition area opened at 6 AM. After all, I had driven to Lake Anna State Park only hours earlier.

While it was still very dark, the route seemed familiar, at least parts of it.

So, when the Waze app I was using told me to take a left at Partlow Road, I blindly obeyed. Yes, I made the turn even though I saw a sign for Lake Anna State Park a little beyond the intersection.

I thought “Wonderful. A shortcut. I’ll be there early.”

After about ten minutes on winding roads typical of the area, I passed a small lumber mill that I had passed only minutes earlier. I realized that my ‘shortcut’ was not one at all when I found myself back at the intersection at Partlow Road.

This time, I ignored Waze, followed the Lake Anna State Park sign, and arrived at the park in another 20 minutes. I was a few minutes later than planned. However, I still had plenty of time to get a great position in the transition area for my bike.

16th Annual Kinetic Lake Anna Triathlon

The Lake Anna Triathlon is one of over twenty multisport events managed by Kinetic Multisports (Durham, North Carolina). This triathlon has been held every year, except 2020, since 2005.

The advertised distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:

  • Swim: 750 m (820 yards) – Actual: 787 m (861 yards)
  • Bike: 15.5 miles (25 km) – Actual: 15.4 miles (24.8 km)
  • Run: 3.1 miles (5 km) – Actual: 3.1 miles (5 km)

Actual distances shown above are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.

Would It Rain?

I woke to check the temperature on my phone app. It showed 39°F. While I was born and raised in Minnesota, I had just come from an unseasonably warm month in Florida with daily highs in the 80s and 90s.

Then, in the minutes before the start of the race, I heard a young woman, a friend of one triathlete, read from her phone that rain was likely to begin around 8 AM, the start time for the race.

It remained cloudy for most of the race which meant we did not fight with looking into the sun. However, it never rained.

Last Minute Activities – National Anthem and Quick Practice Swim

Just before the transition area was officially closed, race announcer Jill Blankenburg led us in an outstanding rendition of the National Anthem.

The race director then asked swimmers to gather on the beach for the swim start. Before the start, however, organizers gave those of us who wished to get into the water time to do so.

I always take advantage of this quick warm-up for two reasons. First, I like to know the condition of the beach. Will I be running into water with sharp rocks, weeds, muck, or a solid but irregular bottom?

With this short swim, I learned that Lake Anna is hands-down one of the nicest lakes in which I have done a triathlon swim. As the picture below attempts to show, the beach and lake bottom are of sugar sand consistency. Not as white as sugar, but clearly as soft. Besides, I did not see a single weed during the swim.

The ‘out, across, and in’ swim course was marked by orange and yellow buoys. About every five seconds, a racer would begin their swim by passing through the blue arch and crossing a timing mat.

More Reasons for a Practice Swim

A second reason for taking advantage of the practice swim is to get my heart rate up a bit. Doing so at this point makes it much less likely that my heart rate will spike during the first minutes of the race when excitement can drive me to swim faster than normal.

There is a third reason for doing the practice swim. I like to get the shock of cold water entering my wetsuit out of the way. When, shortly thereafter, I start the swim, my wetsuit is filled with water warmed by my body heat.

Today, this was especially relevant. The official water temperature was 68°F, making me glad to have a full wetsuit. Still, there were many with sleeveless wetsuits. There were even some more hearty souls who braved the water in just a triathlon suit. There were even a couple of guys, one who had to be close to my age, in only a swimming suit and no shirt.

Swim

After the time allotted for the practice swim, racers gathered behind the ‘Swim Start’ arch. Once the air horn sounded and the first competitor crossed the timing mat and entered the water, another swimmer entered the water about every five seconds.

This ‘time trial’ start is one positive effect of COVID-19. It reduces the density of swimmers in the water and, therefore, reduces, though not eliminates, contact between swimmers.

After swimming in a straight line out to the furthest buoy on the left side of the course, across those at the end, and straight back into shore, always keeping to the left of the buoys, then finally crossing a timing mat on the shore, the swim leg was complete.

Bike

The temperature at the start of the bike leg was 46°F. Because of this, I put on a light, long sleeved shirt for the ride.

The bike course reminded me a lot of the course for the Ohio triathlon – hilly with enough variety in the scenery to make the ride interesting.

The course followed the road out of the park, then turned left, heading northwest on the smooth, tree-lined Lawyer’s Road.

At mile 5, the course began an equilateral triangle-shaped loop covering another 5 miles of hills and turns. It was during this portion of the course that we passed farming areas with horses and cattle. There were even two Christmas tree farms – Belmont and Ralph’s – on the stretch furthest away from the park.

We soon rejoined Lawyer’s Road and returned to the transition area on the side opposite the one on which we had ridden a few minutes earlier.

A big thanks goes to the race crew and volunteers who did a tremendous job of directing bikers and controlling car and truck traffic with whom we shared the road.

Beyond the hills and turns on the roads, the bike course provided interesting scenery, from gorgeous stands of trees to pastureland, some occupied by horses and cattle.

Run

By the time I was ready for the run, the air had warmed to 50 °F and the sun was peeking through the clouds. I shed the long sleeve shirt for a pleasantly cool run, all within the park.

As advertised, the run course included “a good uphill coming out of transition”. This hill continued for most of the first mile.

For the next roughly mile and a half, the course covered gradually rolling hills. The last half mile followed a paved walking trail that traveled nearly completely downhill as it guided us toward the lake.

The end of this trail broke out near the beach. From here, we ran the last few hundred feet on grass to the finish line.

The bike and run courses for the Lake Anna Triathlon shared the road into the park for most of the first mile.

COVID-Style Awards Ceremony

Remember when triathletes gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of fellow racers? When high fives and hand shakes were prolific? Hopefully, we will get these back. I miss the celebrations.

Virtual awards ceremonies miss the point. Was it ever really about the actual award?

For this event, the Kinetic Multisports team creatively took advantage of a natural amphitheater in front of the Lake Anna beach. Rather than dismiss attendees after the race, organizers made use of the hill to reintroduce an award’s ceremony where attendees could both share in the results and stay distanced.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon using my triathlon bike with running shoes and flat pedals having a toe cage, rather than biking shoes and clip-in pedals. I saw this at the Arkansas triathlon, shortly before I fell on my bike because I couldn’t get my bike shoes unclipped quickly enough.
  • First race in which I forgot to bring glasses as protection from bugs or other airborne material. Turned out just fine.

Your Favorite Lake For A Triathlon Swim?

What is the nicest lake in which you done a triathlon swim?

Have you done the Lake Anna triathlon or another triathlon in Virginia?

Tell us about these in the Comments below.

Triathlon’s Greatest Challenges for Seniors

Triathlon’s Greatest Challenges for Seniors

During the first four months of 2021, I published a one-question survey on SeniorTriathletes.com. The survey asked about triathlon’s greatest challenges for seniors, both beginner and experienced triathletes.

If you have not already completed the survey, please do so here.

Meanwhile, here is a summary of the responses.

What Are the Greatest Challenges with Triathlon for Senior Triathletes?

The bar chart below summarizes results of the 2021 survey. For readability, I have included the description of each of the challenges below the chart.

One of the challenges included in the survey was ‘Not having the right bike’. Since this category did not receive any responses, I have not shown it in the graph.

Results of a 2021 survey of senior triathletes about their greatest challenges with triathlon.

Legend of triathlon challenges for the bar chart above:

A – Not having a training plan that works for me
B – Injury or illness
C – Concern about the swim
D – No races in my area that fit my schedule
E – Not enough time to train
F – Recovery too long to complete all training
G – Lack of training facilities
H – Other

The Survey Says: “Triathlon’s Greatest Challenges for Seniors”

I reviewed the responses in light of questions and comments from other triathletes age 50 and over during the past five years of writing for the SeniorTriathletes.com.

Here are my takeaways.

#1 – Not having a training plan that works for me

I am not surprised that this challenge is the one most frequently mentioned.

I started SeniorTriathletes.com intending to write about Joy’s and my adventures in Triathlon Across the USA and stories of other triathletes age 50 and over. Early on, however, I started getting questions about training plans for those in the 50+ age groups.  The common message was ‘other training plans are for younger people’. 

From the conversations I have had with many seniors who do triathlon, sprint to Ironman distances, there is consensus that our needs in training change, in some areas dramatically, around age 50. For example, changes in our musculoskeletal system with age is one reason that weight training becomes even more important.

Would you purchase an age-specific triathlon training plan? Press ‘x’ to Skip..

#2 – Injury or illness

Following is a comment from a Team USA qualifier at the 2016 USAT Age Group National Championship:

“One of the hardest things to learn while training for this sport is knowing when to rest. I was self coached for many years and often found myself going two or more weeks without a day off and then I would collapse. [My coach] has been adamant in making me take more rest days. It is not uncommon for me to take two rest days in a week now.”

Any training plan that does not recognize the unique needs of older athletes, including rest, proper stretching, and appropriate levels of stress, will likely lead to injury.

#3 – Concern about the swim

I am also not surprised that this was ranked as one of triathlon’s greatest challenges for seniors. My perception is that the majority of triathletes come from a running background. They either never learned to swim or have not swam for many years other than to splash around in a backyard pool or lake.

The ‘icing on the cake’ is the contact that often occurs during a triathlon. Anything that causes anxious breathing can also be mentally challenging.

congestion in the water during a triathlon swim
Congestion in the triathlon swim can create anxiety in some triathletes.

#4 – No races in my area that fit my schedule (tie)

In any year, there are not as many triathlons as other endurance events, such as 5k. Nevertheless, most regions have races within driving distance. As we saw, many endurance races, including triathlons, were canceled in 2020.

I will be surprised if this challenge is ranked as high in a survey repeated in 2022 or beyond.

#4 – Not enough time to train (tie)

Time can be a challenge for everyone, especially those who have families and are working full-time. This challenge would likely be ranked higher were it not for the portion of the senior triathlete community who are retired.

#4 – Recovery too long to complete all training (tie)

This challenge relates to training. From my conversation with experienced triathletes, this is not a significant factor because rather than not completing all training, they will simply modify a day’s planning if they have not fully recovered, rather than skip a session.

#7 – Lack of training facilities

Over the past year, fitness centers have been closed in many regions of the world. Triathletes have invented creative ways to continue their training, even if it is at or around their homes.

For example, there are strength training routines based on body weight or homemade weights (e.g. plastic milk jugs filled with water). Tri Swim Coach provides land-based training for the swim using resistance bands. Many triathletes also have trainers for their bikes.

Furthermore, ice skating and cross country skiing are great forms of cross training for biking and running for those who are unable to run outside during the winter.

Let me know in the Comments section below if you are looking for guidance on training without using a fitness center.

Other

I included this checkbox in case I had failed to include one of triathlon’s greatest challenges for seniors. There were some ‘Other’ responses to which respondents added a few words to describe these.

The responses were more or less split between (1) COVID-19 related issues and (2) lack of confidence in their ability to finish a triathlon.

What’s Next?

It is interesting to learn other’s thoughts about triathlon, especially when they are of a similar age. However, knowing them begs the question “So what are you going to do with this information?”.

The survey’s results has motivated me to create even more content that will provide useful information for the community of senior triathletes.

Many of you have dreamed of being part of a group that trains together using a plan customized for the age and training goals (for example, distance of the next triathlon) of those in the group.

Interested in joining a training group? Let me know in the Comments section below.

What Do You Think Are Triathlon’s Greatest Challenges for Seniors?

Let us know using the Comments section below how you interpret the results. Are there any surprises?

Do you have suggestions on how the Senior Triathletes community can be more connected? How about suggestions for training together, virtually if not in person?

Christmas in October – Paul Zellner’s Story

Christmas in October – Paul Zellner’s Story

One way to picture Paul Zellner’s triathlon story is of a dad who became a runner, then followed his daughter into becoming a triathlete. This is an impressive story when you consider his accomplishments in endurance sports over the past 30 years.

However, his triathlon journey is much more than about the sport. As you will see, his fondest memories of running and triathlon are from the family connections he has enjoyed.

From the Desk to the Track

I’ll jump into Paul Zellner’s triathlon story a few years ago, when he was in his mid-30s.

Walking into his home office one afternoon, Paul received a wake-up call compliments of his then 7-year-old daughter, Maggie. She had drawn a picture of a cigarette with the word ‘No’ written across it. Determined to make certain her father got the message, Maggie put the picture on his desk.

Even though Paul was a self-described “passive smoker of mostly cigars”, he realized that his smoking was setting a bad example. This was certainly not what he wanted to teach his daughter.

He committed to stopping smoking. However, realizing that to be successful, he needed to replace his bad habit with a good one.

Paul never considered himself to be athletic. He had never participated in team sports. However, he had been gifted a tall, lean frame. In other words, a runner’s body.

So, Paul decided to build his new, healthier habit around fitness.

He bought a pair of running shoes and joined a small fitness center located in a basement near where he worked as an executive recruiter in Chicago. Eighteen times around the small track was one mile.

Realizing that he could easily add one or two laps, he gradually increased his mileage. Soon, he began running outside.

In September, at age 38, Paul ran his first 5k in Downers Grove, a western Chicago suburb near his home.

From 5k to Marathon

One month later, still filled with the sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm that followed completing this race, Paul packed up the entire family – his wife, three sons, and daughter – into their wood grain-sided station wagon.

Their destination? Downtown to cheer on participants of the Chicago Marathon.

From their Mile 2 position, Paul and family saw the happy, smiling, and hopeful faces of the roughly 4,000 racers. This was enough for Paul to catch ‘the bug’. Shortly thereafter, he signed up for next year’s Chicago Marathon.

He admitted that, in hindsight, he is not sure how things would have turned out had they parked at mile 24. In any case, Paul Zellner was among the finishers of the 1993 Chicago Marathon, his first of around 30 of these events he has now completed.

Paul was officially hooked on endurance sports.

To Runner and Triathlete

By now, Paul’s daughter, Maggie – the one who as a seven-year old led to Paul starting to run – was a Doctor of Physical Therapy and multiple Ironman finisher. She started trying to convince her father to do a triathlon.

Paul’s first triathlon was a sprint distance race in Naperville, Illinois. Paul doesn’t remember many details from this race. However, he remembers the swim held in a public reservoir. He described the swim as “a challenge”.

Like so many triathletes, Paul had come to the sport with a competence in one of the legs. In this case, the sport was running. On the other hand, he had never learned to swim.

“I remember stopping to hang onto something about halfway through swim. After that experience, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another.”

Maggie convinced Paul to do a second triathlon. This one, a half Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan, included a swim in the icy cold water of Lake Michigan.

“I knew I needed a wetsuit because of the water temperature. However, that day, I learned how good a friend a wetsuit is. The wetsuit adds a remarkable amount of buoyancy.”

Paul Zellner and daughter Maggie in runner and triathlete
Paul Zellner and his daughter Maggie after his first half Ironman triathlon.

That swim was better. He completed the race and would from here on be a much more confident triathlete.

In fact, since then he has completed two more half Ironman triathlons and is registered for two more. Of course, he is also planning to complete the Chicago Marathon again this October.

Triathlon Training for a Senior Triathlete

Coming to the sport as a runner, Paul thought that training would simply mean “adding a few more miles”.

However, this changed when he saw triathletes exiting the swim to learn that they had missed the cut-off time.

“There is nothing sadder than seeing people coming out of the water after the swim only to be told they are finished for the day.”

Paul calls missing a cut-off ‘my boogey man’. It is a primary reason he follows a training plan that addresses all three legs of the sport.

The training plan he has settled on is “one simple enough to be able to stick with”.

Paul said “After looking over all the training programs, I found that many are focused on younger people and are very complex. My current program builds time and distance over 16 weeks.”

A typical week of training while preparing for an Ironman distance race involves workouts on six days. The routine, the results of which are recorded in a notebook, include:

  • Two days of biking followed by a run, typically 50 minutes each.
  • Two days of swimming.
  • One day of a long run.
  • One day a long bike ride.    

Paul added, “I also try to fit in one weight workout with my wife. By the way, she can curl as much as I do. So much for my male ego.”

While on the treadmill or stationary bike during the winter months, he often watches videos about other triathletes, such as ‘The Last Mile’, to keep him motivated and on task. “Sometimes I pretend that I look like the guys in their 30’s.”

Paul has noticed that as he has aged, he needs to push harder, not just complete the time or cover the distance.

A Family of Runners and Triathletes and Their Supporters

Paul has enjoyed the support of his wife Carol throughout his running and triathlon journey. He also credits his daughter Maggie and, more recently, her husband for encouraging him to pursue new goals in triathlon.

He has done many of his over 30 marathons and triathlons with family, including his daughter as well as nieces and nephews. The Chicago Marathon has become a family tradition, an annual event. For the Zellner family, gathering together for fun and festivity each October is like getting together around Christmas.

His love for endurance sports and for a granddaughter with spina bifada has moved him to fundraise for Great Lakes Adaptive Sports (GLASA) as well as serve on their board.

Paul’s family has made his journey in running and triathlon special. The pictures below are those who have contributed.

family supporters of Paul Zellner's triathlon journey
From left to right: Paul’s wife, Carol; (left) Paul’s granddaughter (center); and Paul’s nephew, daughter-in-law, Paul, son-in-law and daughter at the Ohio half Ironman (right).

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

Lessons from a Senior Runner and Triathlete

What has Paul Zellner learned from his 30-plus years of competing in endurance sports? Here are his top four.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

“It is funny to see how putting a wetsuit and swim cap on people our age can accentuate the wrinkles.” Enjoy the journey wherever you are in it.

2. Don’t overthink your training or punish yourself when your plans change.

“Get your workout clothes out, put them on, and do something. Even if it’s only part of the planned workout.”

3. Give yourself time to heal. Balance rest and keeping up with your training plan.

Paul is thankful for his ‘in-house counsel’, in this case a daughter who is a professional in physical therapy as well as a triathlete. “She is a tremendous resource for healing.”

4. Maintain gratitude.

We ought to be thankful for an upbringing and life that has given us courage to try something new, like triathlon. And, we should be grateful for the health to compete in triathlons.

On a lighter note, Paul also admits being grateful for – and having a bit of gleeful pleasure when – being able to represent the “wrinkly face club” in passing a younger guy during a race.

What Does Triathlon Mean to You?

How did you get started in triathlon? What are the lessons you have learned?

Leave your comments below.

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