Header Image - Information for Triathletes Over 50

Terry VanderWert

A Healthy Retirement Plan – Mark Bartolomeo’s Story

A Healthy Retirement Plan – Mark Bartolomeo’s Story
Mark Bartolomeo's training partners at the Gulf Coast 70.3 Triathlon. From left to right Simon Burden, Daniel Lavoie and Mark Bartolomeo of The Villages Triathlon Club. (Picture courtesy of Mark Bartolomeo.)

Imagine being retired or near retirement and at the start of your first triathlon. Or, the triathlon could be the first of a longer distance. Are you feeling prepared? Or are you worried if you have trained enough?

According to Mark Bartolomeo, you can not only feel, but be, mentally and physically prepared for the triathlon using the same disciplines that got you to this place in life. Goal setting and planning followed by executing the plan are just as important for triathlon as they are for other parts of our lives, including work.

That has been Mark’s approach. And, it surely seems to work as he continues to become more fit and go longer triathlon distances in retirement.

Mark Bartolomeo’s Path to Triathlon

When I first met him in April 2021, Mark Bartolomeo was in the final stages of preparing for Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast, his first in-person half Ironman. Within the next month, he completed this race.

Five months later, when we spoke to gather information for this post, Mark was training for Ironman Florida. Just before finishing this post, Mark completed Ironman Florida, his first full distance triathlon.

How did Mark arrive at a place where he is achieving more in triathlon with age?

Mark tracks the beginning of this path involving triathlon to around age 55. He realized it was time to take off some of the extra weight he had put on. It was also time to change what he called an “unhealthy lifestyle”.

Mark started running, sometimes on a treadmill and sometimes outside. His running shoes became a regular part of luggage when traveling for work. He also started eating better, prioritizing high quality whole foods.

Over three years, Mark shed 65 lbs.

What To Do With Extra Time in Retirement?

After retiring from full-time work as an executive in the wireless communications industry, Mark found he had “a lot of extra time”.

He told me “I asked myself ‘what am I going to do with this time?'”.

Besides running, Mark had, in his earlier years, enjoyed biking. Growing up on Chesapeake Bay, he had also spent a lot of time in and on the water. He had even taught watersports in his teenage years. Retirement gave him time to continue running while resuming biking and swimming.

He saw the unique benefits of mixing swimming, biking, and running for “a full-body workout”. Soon, Mark put the three sports together, completing his first triathlon, a sprint distance race at Fort Island Gulf Beach near Crystal River, Florida.

The experience was enjoyable. Part of this came from the accomplishment, but some of it came from the venue. Mark calls this triathlon “beginner-friendly”, with its “calm swim and flat roads for biking and running.”

Mark followed his first triathlon with several more sprint triathlons, including more at Crystal River and others in Clermont, Florida. He eventually also did a couple of Olympic distance races.

Distances for each of the legs of an Olympic distance triathlon are roughly twice those for the sprint distance. For Mark, this was a reasonable step toward a longer term goal to do Ironman races.

Taking On New Challenges

Over the next two years, Mark trained for a half Ironman triathlon. With most in-person triathlons being canceled in 2020, Mark completed his first half Ironman virtually during the pandemic.

While there were many negatives associated with COVID-19, Mark found at least one positive.

Auto traffic in The Villages, Florida, where Mark had moved when he retired, was almost non-existent. Now, he could ride safely on the roads within The Villages for both training and the virtual race.

Related post: Bright Spots in Triathlon From COVID Restrictions

As racing in the USA began to re-open in 2021, Mark put this training to the test with the Gulf Coast Ironman 70.3.

Not stopping there, he continued to train for and complete Ironman Florida in early November.

Mark Bartolomeo crossing the finish line of the 2021 Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast in Panama City, Florida. (Picture courtesy of Mark Bartolomeo.)

Triathlon Training With Coaches and Friends

Retirement has given Mark more flexibility in training. This has made it easier to train with a group of like-minded, similarly motivated individuals. The extra time has also allowed him to train longer and with greater intention and to recover properly.

Relearning to Swim

Early in his triathlon journey, Mark realized he needed help with swimming. For this, he involved a swim coach who helped him develop a proper stroke and breathing technique.

“Biking and running performance are mostly about physical endurance and mental toughness. In contrast, swimming is the one leg of triathlon for which speed is most affected by technique. You can tell those who were Olympic contenders and college swimmers.”

Building Endurance for Triathlon Performance

Besides involving a human coach for swimming, Mark has found virtual coaching through TrainingPeaks to be effective in both cost and results.

With TrainingPeaks, the athlete (that’s you if you are preparing for a triathlon) completes a questionnaire showing the time available for training. You also indicate the distance (e.g. sprint, Olympic, etc.) and date of the race for which you are training.

With this information, the virtual coach produces an initial training plan. The virtual coach sends workouts to a linked smart watch and bike computer. Results from the workout (heart rate, pace, etc.) are then uploaded to the TrainingPeaks website. Here, they are analyzed and used to track progress and adjust future workouts, all with an eye to the athlete having their best performance on race day.

The cost for this training is reasonable (tens of dollars for the entire plan), based on the number of weeks in the training plan.

Training With a Group

Mark trains with a group within The Villages Triathlon Club who are all preparing for longer distance triathlons. The weekly TrainingPeaks-generated workout plan is flexible so he can adapt it to the schedule of others in this group.

However, a typical training week for Mark and the core group who are training for Ironman distant triathlons looks like this.

  • Sunday – long run of 13 or more miles followed by a 2,500 yard swim.
  • Monday – short (1-1/2 hour) bike ride.
    • NOTE: Mark does some of these bike rides on a smart trainer linked to his bike computer.
  • Tuesday – speed run comprising a 10k run at a fast pace.
  • Wednesday – short (1-1/2 hour) bike ride.
  • Thursday – hill run comprising a 10k run in an area with moderately steep hills.
  • Friday – 80 to 100 mile bike ride followed by a 6 to 10-mile run.
  • Saturday – long (2,500 yard) open water swim.

Training with a group that includes life long Ironman triathletes near his age has unique benefits. Experienced senior triathletes with whom Mark trains have helped him with the technical aspects of training. They have also helped him develop mental toughness needed to perform in stressful conditions that can arise in both training and racing.

swim to bike transition
Heading to the swim to bike transition at Ironman Florida 2021. (Picture courtesy of Mark Bartolomeo.)

Mark’s Advice – ‘Start Short’

According to Mark, triathlon is a sport in which nearly everyone can take part. Along the way, you too will benefit from the all-around exercise accompanying swimming, biking, and running.

One of the wonderful features of the sport of triathlon is that there are distances for every level of experience, fitness, ability, and desire. Many accomplished sprint and Olympic triathletes will not consider doing an Ironman distance race. And, I have met senior triathletes who do Ironman triathlons but have no interest in sprint distance race because of the overall faster pace.

If you are still not sure, start with a “beginner-friendly” super sprint or sprint triathlon. Let us know in the Comments below if you would like help with a training plan.

It’s Not All About Triathlon

Triathlon training must include time for rest and recovery. Mark has found other activities to fill these times, including taking classes at The Villages Enrichment Academy. Occasionally, you can also find him hitting the golf ball around the many courses within The Villages.

Your Turn

I hope Mark’s story, one of starting triathlon later in life and continuing to push his personal limits in retirement, encourages you.

Share your questions and comments about Mark’s triathlon story below.

Also, let us know in the Comment section below if you are interested in sharing your triathlon journey with our community.

How to Improve Triathlon Training Results

How to Improve Triathlon Training Results
Adaptation process

You have followed your triathlon training plan to the last detail. Still, you wonder if there are other things you can do to improve the results of your training and, therefore, help you be more competitive or at least better prepared for your first or next triathlon.?

The quick answer is ‘Yes’. There are factors outside training that can help you improve your triathlon training results. There are others that can negate some improvements in training. And, there are others whose effect simply ‘depends’.

Background

In Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors, we identified the need to consider the unique needs of seniors, especially those involved in endurance sports like triathlon. That post specifically highlighted the need to consider the physiological changes that come with aging and how we rest, eat, hydrate, and stretch after training.

The goal of this post is to help you identify other changes in your triathlon training that can make you a higher performing senior triathlete.

Natural Processes

The human body becomes stronger by repeating a process involving overload, followed by rest and recovery. Adaptation is another name for this process.

For adaptation to produce the results we want, we must manage both the overload and the rest and recovery portions. Too much or too rapid of an increase in overload can cause injury and an extended time away from the activity (e.g. swimming, biking, running). On the other hand, incomplete recovery prevents the complete benefit of the overload from being realized.

To balance progressive overload while avoiding injury, the ideal training plan will involve sessions in which the total stress increases in a controlled manner. Each session is followed by a period of recovery that allows for healing from the effects of this stress (e.g. micro tears of muscle fibers). It is during the recovery period when gains from training become cast into our body.

With time at the same level of stress, progress will slow and even stop. This explains why repeating a routine may initially result in muscle soreness but later produce no soreness and actually feel too easy.

It also explains the need to increase the stress over time or vary it regularly (called periodization) for strength and endurance to increase.

Ways To Boost Training Results

According to Steve Magness in The Science of Running [Affiliate disclosure], there are actions we can take to increase the benefits of our training.

“Amplifiers of adaptation are anything that may boost our subsequent adaptation either by acting early and increasing the stimulus or by increasing the conversion of that stimulus to an adaption by bolstering recovery from the workout.”

Given the overload-recovery process mentioned above, we can look at two areas for improvement. The first is increasing the efficiency of the workout. The second is to recover more completely using the body’s God-given processes.

Increasing Efficiency

One strategy for increasing the benefit of workouts is to train our body to be more efficient. We can implement this by pushing it to use muscle fibers not normally used in a particular training session. One approach is to repeat a training session within the same day. The second routine will be done with the body in a fatigued condition.

A second way to make our training more efficient is by creating situations that require our body to use fuel sources not normally called upon. For this, we can use longer bike rides and runs. However, if your training involves relatively short distances, as those of sprint triathlon, then another way to approach this is by training in a fasted condition.

Faster, More Complete Recovery

During recovery, the body repairs itself. For example, while we rest after intense exercise, micro-tears in muscle fibers heal. With the correct amount of overload followed by complete recovery, which includes sleep, the result is a stronger muscle than before the exercise.

Post exercise nutrition, especially involving protein, and hydration also contribute to faster, more complete healing and recovery of our body.

In addition, the masters athlete should consume an additional 40 grams of protein after hard exercise for muscle repair and recovery as soon as possible after finishing the session.

What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

There is also news my wife, Joy will whole-heartedly embrace. Research has shown that post exercise massage can also improve recovery.

According to research led by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), massage after hard exercise increased mitochondria formation. Additional mitochondria produced faster healing of the muscle. In one study, massage after hard exercise also reduced indicators of cellular stress and inflammation.

Actions That Limit Training Results

The inflammatory cycle arising from exercise involves repair of micro tears and strengthening of the previous damaged tissue. Interfering with this natural cycle of overload and recovery reduces the benefits that come from training.

Speeding Up Recovery

One of the most common mistakes in executing a training plan is to accelerate recovery. Artificially speeding up recovery dampens the response to training and, therefore, reduces the benefits of the hard work.

The adage ‘No pain, no gain’ takes on new meaning when we take anti-inflammatory drugs to dampen pain after exercise. Doing so actually interrupts the natural recovery process. The result is to reduce the gains that would have been realized had nature been allowed to take its course.

We can say the same about taking synthetic anti-oxidants after hard exercise.

Oxidation that comes from exercise is one of the main triggers for mitochondria production. This is good in that mitochondria convert the energy we take from food into energy required for operation of our trillions of cells.

Synthetic anti-oxidants trick the body into minimizing the negative effects of oxidation. The result is a blunting of what would have been the production of good mitochondria.

Interestingly, research has also shown that these negative effects do not accompany naturally occurring antioxidants, such as those coming from tart cherries and berries. Apparently, our bodies know what to do with real food so incorporate it into the recovery process.

Interfering With Recovery

Sleep is arguably the most important part of recovery. Therefore, environmental factors (temperature, light level, noise) and behaviors that interfere with sleep will hinder recovery.

However, as noted in Rest and Recovery: Why It’s Important for Senior Triathletes, “rest doesn’t have to mean retiring to the sofa”. Cross training is an excellent way to train during recovery while deriving the benefits of exercise.

Approaches With Mixed Triathlon Training Results

Other factors to consider in training include:

  • Caffeine consumption
  • Mental and emotional stress
  • Carbohydrate intake before and during training
  • Strength training in combination with endurance training
  • Heat and humidity
  • Altitude

Several of these have mixed results based on their contribution to total stress. If the additional stress from one or more of these takes the total stress of a routine into an unhealthy zone, results can be negative. Caffeine consumption, mental and emotional stress, heat and humidity, and altitude contribute to the total stress of a workout.

Results of others, such as strength training, depend on the timing of the exercise within a routine. For example, strength gains from weight training will be greater when running before the strength workout than in the reverse order.

Strength training along with endurance training can improve triathlon training results.
Strength training before a run will have different results than when done after a run.

Caution: Be Careful When Trying to Improve Your Triathlon Training

Training is most consistent when training stimulus or stress increases gradually. The commonly held rule of thumb is to avoid increasing stress over 10% per session. This rule of thumb has plenty of critics. However, it has proven effective for me.

This means, for example, that the weight included in an exercise not increase over 10% from one session to the next. Or, it means not increasing the distance run by over 10% from one run to the next.

Share Your Questions and Experience in the Comments Below

What is your experience related to the comments in this post?

Affiliate disclosure

An Unlikely Triathlete – Craig Cross’s Story

An Unlikely Triathlete – Craig Cross’s Story

Is there certain experience you must have as a senior before competing in your first triathlon?

According to Craig Cross, his Scottish ancestry makes him much more likely to be weightlifting than running. Furthermore, before his first triathlon, Craig had only biked – a little. That’s it.

The one-two punch of genealogy and inexperience made Craig an unlikely triathlete. However, through persistence, a knowledgeable coach, and the support of new friends, he is now an Ironman triathlete.

Craig Cross Before Triathlon

While his peers were playing sports in high school and college, Craig Cross was in Alaska fishing commercially. This experience launched him into a lifelong career in fishery management which he continues today as an advisor to fisheries.

However, after pouring himself into work for more than four decades, Craig realized at age 60 that he needed to lose some weight. On top of this, he was finding everyday tasks, like getting dressed and tying his shoes, to be uncomfortably difficult.

“I joined a Crossfit gym near my home in Seattle, Washington. I began to work on improving my balance and building core strength” Craig told me. “And, boy, was it difficult. So difficult that for the first six months, I literally crawled off the gym floor and pulled myself onto a couch at the end of each workout.”

But he stuck with it. Over the next three years, Craig saw his balance improve, core become stronger, and overall fitness grow.

First Triathlon At Age 61

After about a year of Crossfit, Craig, then 61, decided to do the Whidbey Island Triathlon near his home west of Seattle.

Craig signed up for the triathlon despite having never learned to swim. He told me “I put on a wetsuit for the first time for this race. About midway through the swim, I felt so constricted by the wetsuit, that I stopped and pulled it halfway down. I dog-paddled and side-stroked my way to the end.”

Since he had biked a bit in his 40s, Craig was able to complete the bike leg without any problem. He finished his first triathlon by walking the run leg of the triathlon. Even though he crossed the finish line “dead last”, Craig Cross was officially a triathlete, a senior triathlete at that.

Learning to Swim

For the next three years, Craig continued to exercise. He did two or three sprint triathlons per year. However, he wasn’t making the kind of progress he had expected.

Craig said “I still couldn’t swim. I was still walking the run. I was finishing last or near last in all of the triathlons”.

“So, I joined a triathlon team. I joined a Masters Swimming class. And, I continued to lift weights.”

Reflecting on learning to swim in the Masters swim class, Craig said “I started out in the kiddie pool. The instructor, Kainoa Pauole, taught me how to side breathe and breathe under water. She also taught me a proper swim stroke.”

“I quickly realized that Kainoa understood my needs as an older athlete.”

Taking It To The Next Level

After competing in triathlon for about five years, Craig decided that he wanted to do a half Ironman triathlon.

The first step was to hire Kainoa as his triathlon coach. According to Craig, “Since Kainoa understood my unique needs, she brought me along slowly, over a year and a half, to avoid injury.”

Coming to coaching with a masters degree in kinesiology and exercise science; experience as a college swimmer, triathlete, and marathon runner; and specific training in triathlon coaching, Kainoa made all the difference for Craig.

“The key for my training, and I believe it applies to older people in general, especially those new to the sport, was to start by getting my body ready for triathlon. I started by strengthening my core. I also built up the muscles around my knees and hips. After awhile, I started to swim consistently with the Masters team. Then, finally, I began to run.”

Craig’s Advice On Training For Senior Triathletes

Craig has now completed over 20 triathlons, including 17 sprints and four Olympic distance triathlons. In April, 2021, Craig completed his first Ironman 70.3 in Des Moines, Iowa. Not stopping there, Craig is scheduled to compete in the Victoria, British Columbia, Canada Ironman 70.3 on May 29, 2022.

Given where he started from, Craig Cross is worth listening to for advice on training, especially if you are not sure you can complete a triathlon.

“If you are serious about keeping going with triathlon as a senior, join a club and hire a coach, especially if you are doing longer distance races.”

Craig Cross, Ironman triathlete

Use Other Senior’s Experience With Triathlon

During most of the year, when preparing for a sprint or Olympic triathlon, Craig trains six days and rests one day each week. Some of the time he trains with the triathlon club or Masters swim team and other times he is on his own.

A typical training week includes two open water swims, two bike rides of 20 to 30 miles each, a 5 km run on one or two days, and one 10 km run. Craig also lifts weights two days per week.

Being part of a triathlon club and Masters swim team has been invaluable.

“It may sound strange for someone in their 60s, nearly 70, to say they are being mentored. But that is precisely what one of the guys on the triathlon team is doing. This man, who is in his 70s and doing full Ironman triathlons, has helped me understand the importance of recovery.

“Recovery is important for triathletes in general. However, for seniors, recovery is a HUGE deal. Recovery takes longer with age.

“This gentleman also holds me a little bit accountable. For example, if I miss an open water swim, the next time I show up he will ask ‘Where were you last time?’

“Being part of a team is one key to progressing and continuing in triathlon.”

Craig Cross exiting the swim at Whidbey Island Triathlon in July 2021.
Craig Cross exiting the swim at Whidbey Island Triathlon in July 2021.

Hire a Coach With the Right Experience for Longer Distance Triathlons

The second key to competing in triathlon as a senior is to hire the right coach, especially for longer distance (half and full Ironman) races. Craig emphasizes the need to have a coach, like Kainoa, who understands the unique needs of the older athlete.

Craig now hires Kainoa as his coach for the six months before a longer distance race. During other times, Craig trains using the schedule of the typical training week described above and competes in sprint or Olympic distance events.

“Kainoa develops a schedule in TrainingPeaks that helps me build endurance. While I am not fast, I am ‘forever’.

“Kainoa’s plan gives me a range of heart rate to stay within during the bike and the run. She monitors my heart rate, my cadence on the bike, and how I am feeling during each workout. With this information, she will adjust the schedule, sometimes adding another rest day and sometimes ramping up my training.

“About six months before the Des Moines triathlon, she also had me train my body to take food and electrolytes during workouts, something I would need to do during a race.

“Kainoa’s monitoring continues until I start tapering a couple of weeks before the race. It holds me accountable. Besides, her involvement also protects me from overtraining.”

How Triathlon Has Benefited Craig Cross and His Family

Craig has found triathlon to offer benefits beyond the physical ones. Some of these are included in our “15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons“.

Here are the top additional benefits for Craig:

  1. Challenges him mentally by pushing him to learn new skills. There are technical aspects of each of the three sports that are interesting to study.
  2. The variety in swimming, biking, and running as well as weightlifting keeps training fresh.
  3. Motivates family members. Seeing their father and grandfather push himself physically and mentally, even in his late 60s, has inspired family members to stay active and take on new challenges. Craig recently did a triathlon with his son, grandson, and daughter.

From An Unlikely Triathlete to Ironman

During our conversation, Craig repeatedly told me “I am not an athlete”. Of course, his story says otherwise.

What has been the secret to Craig’s achievements in triathlon? According to his coach, Kainoa Pauole, it is dedication, discipline, and consistency in training.

“Craig is a dedicated and disciplined athlete.  I know he is a busy guy with work and his family responsibilities but he still remains so consistent with his training.  All of his hard work has paid off as he has found great success in our sport.”

Notice that there is nothing Kainoa said about having experience or exceptional skill in one or more of the sports of triathlon. If that doesn’t encourage you to take up the sport – so long as your doctor concurs – I’m not sure what will.

Craig Cross celebrating a third place age group finish at the 2019 Lake Meridian Triathlon.
Craig Cross celebrating a third place age group finish at the 2019 Lake Meridian Triathlon.

It’s Your Turn

Many who get involved in triathlon come with experience in one or more of the three disciplines of swimming, biking, and running. However, as Craig Cross proves, this is not required. You can become a triathlete after age 60 even with limited experience in the three sports.

A significant number of readers of SeniorTriathletes.com are in a situation similar to Craig’s when he first thought about doing a triathlon. You are not sure how to, or even if you should, jump in and give the proverbial ‘tri’.

Craig Cross and scores of others age 50 and over have proven that you can do a triathlon later in life. You can also learn to swim and run after age 60.

And, with consistency, it is even possible to “become faster and go farther” with age. This, despite the common wisdom that we only decline with age.

What’s keeping you from tri-ing? Share your questions and comments for Craig below.

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.

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