What Masters Athletes Need To Know About Nutrition

During a Stryd “For the Love of Running” webinar, registered dietitian Sakiko Minagawa presented nutrition guidelines for endurance athletes. She identified the day-in, day-out nutrition needed for athletes, including masters triathletes, to perform at their highest levels.

What was almost comical, however, was the number of questions focused on race day nutrition.

I thought about this scene after the webinar. Most of us recognize the importance of daily nutrition. However, in truth, we spend more time investigating the latest dieting fad or fueling strategy while grabbing whatever is convenient for a meal.

“Eating well and being active” is a ‘one-two-punch’ for healthy living of older adults, according to the website Eat Right. In fact, what we eat before, during, and after training can be part of our competitive strategy as an athlete.

Nutrition is a key component to health and sports performance.

Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN, LD

For the masters endurance athlete, paying attention to nutrition is even more important than for the younger person. Changes to our bodies that occur with age make what we eat increasingly important.

How Our Bodies Changes With Age

As we age, we must change what we eat and drink, how we rest, and how we spend our leisure time and train for endurance sports like triathlon.

“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.”

From a report cited in “Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors

How are we to change the way we eat, sleep, and play? By considering the most important changes to our bodies that occur with age.

Loss in lean body mass and bone mass

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. Without intervention, the reduced muscle mass and increased stiffness results in lower strength, reduced power, and more frequent muscle strains and joint pain.

Decrease in total calorie needs

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the energy (measured in calories) necessary for normal body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Lean body mass (muscle) has a higher RMR than fat. Therefore, any loss of lean body mass, including that related to age, will reduce the calories required to maintain a given weight.

Decrease in nutrient absorption

For a significant portion of the senior population, age means reduced production of stomach acid. This may seem like a good thing given the barrage of advertising for medications to treat heartburn and acid reflux. However, less stomach acid can affect absorption of nutrients from food sources.

Decreasing absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and magnesium, affects bone health, blood pressure, and other metabolic processes.

How Age-Related Changes Affect Nutrition Needs of Masters Endurance Athletes

The changes with age explain why proper nutrition is one of six keys to triathlon training for seniors and even more critical to get right than for younger athletes.

The physiological changes mean that we need fewer (net of exercise) calories, higher amounts of protein, and greater amounts of key nutrients.

Sakiko Minagawa challenges us to do this by eating smarter and more efficiently. We must minimize so-called empty calories while consuming more nutrient-dense foods in the proper proportion.

Following are guidelines for older adults from government and private sources.

Nutrition for the General Population of Older Adults

In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture update dietary guidelines every five years based on the current nutrition science.

The greater number of people living longer has led to specific guidelines for older adults. MyPlate for Older Adults published by Tufts University is based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans but targeted to those age 65 and over. Check out their short, informative video with these recommendations and the following guidelines from nutrition professionals.

United States Department of Agriculture publishes nutrition guidelines.

Greater amounts of protein

It is important to pay attention to protein intake, avoiding skimping. Muscles of older adults require greater amounts of amino acids to achieve the same muscle-building effect that occurs in younger athletes.

The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (1.3 ounces per 100 pounds) of body weight per day for adults over 18, or about 65 grams (2.3 ounces) of protein for a 180-pound adult. Research suggests that adults over age 65 require greater amounts.

More anti-inflammatory foods

Fish oil (through fish, like salmon and sardines, and supplements) and certain plant (e.g. flaxseed) and nut-based oils (e.g. olive, avocado, and walnut) are recognized for their anti-inflammatory properties. According to sports nutritionist Dr. Nancy Clark, “healthy plant and fish oils provide a health-protective anti-inflammatory effect. Given that diseases of aging such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis are triggered by inflammation, consuming canola, olive, avocado, walnut, and fish oils that reduce inflammation is a wise choice.”

Vitamins and minerals

The reduced ability with age to absorb nutrients from food means that we need to eat foods higher in certain nutrients. Prioritize fruits and vegetables high in vitamin D (e.g. salmon, eggs, orange juice) and calcium (e.g. green leafy vegetables, broccoli), though balance is also important.


Water is necessary for regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients throughout our bodies, lubricating joints, and other bodily processes. However, as we age, thirst becomes less reliable as an indicator of hydration level. With the less sensitive thirst response, we are more likely to become dehydrated and, therefore, need to pay more attention to staying hydrated.

It is helpful to remember that water can come in many forms. These include the obvious ones, including coffee, tea, milk, and soup. Water can also be consumed in fruits and vegetables. Registered nutritionist and chef Ian Harris points out that “vegetables such as celery, cucumber, iceberg lettuce, tomato and zucchini contain over ninety percent water”. In addition, “melons such as cantaloupe and watermelon have some of the highest water content, at more than 90 percent.” Many other commonly available fruits contain over 80 percent water.

Watch your salt intake

According to registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak, those over age 50 are more likely to be “salt sensitive”. We need to pay even greater attention to salt intake. However, you don’t have to forego taste. Herbs and spices make effective salt alternatives.


Consuming a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods such as whole grain, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy should be our first choice for nutrient needs, according to Sakiko Minagawa. However, given the importance of avoiding bone mass loss, active seniors may benefit from supplements such as protein powder, vitamin D, calcium, and/or a multivitamin to meet the nutrient needs not provided by food. Prior to taking supplements, review any plans with a dietitian and/or physician to avoid any potential negative consequences from overdosing or interactions between supplements and medications.

Choose Organic for These Fruits and Vegetables

The fruits and vegetables in the table below quickly absorb herbicides and pesticides. Therefore, it is best to choose organically farmed forms of these whenever possible.

StrawberriesSpinachKale, collard & mustard greens
Bell & hot peppersCherriesPeaches

Source: Dr. Livingood.com

More Nutrition Guidance for Masters Endurance Athletes

Active seniors, including triathletes, need even greater amounts of amino acids to achieve the same muscle-building effect that occurs in younger athletes. Dr. Nancy Clark recommends that the masters athlete consume 1.4 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (0.6 to 0.7 gram per pound of body weight per day) spread throughout the day. This effectively means doubling the amount of protein recommended for the general population.

For a masters athlete who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg), this means 95 to 110 grams of protein per day. Distribute your protein intake throughout the day. Consuming 25 grams four times per day is a good goal.

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. Think whey protein smoothie since whey protein is high in the amino acid leucine, which triggers muscle growth.

Some research also suggests potential benefits of protein consumption before sleep for overnight muscle protein synthesis. Sakiko Minagawa recommends foods such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk which are great sources of protein as a pre-bedtime snack. These help with recovery and adapting to exercise training.

Stay hydrated

The active senior triathlete, especially one who sweats a lot during endurance training, needs to pay special attention to staying hydrated. Follow the guidelines for drinking healthy water-based beverages and eating fruits and vegetables high in water content. Pay attention to the color of your urine and consume enough water in whatever form so it is consistently light-colored.

While we need to avoid excessive salt intake, the endurance athlete needs to make sure he/she does not become electrolyte deficient during training, especially in high temperatures.

Meal Guidelines for Active Seniors

MyPlate for Older Adults provides the following guidelines:

  • 50% of the plate should contain several servings of various colored fruits and vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen, or canned but look for low sodium and low added sugar varieties.
  • 25% of the plate (at least three ounces) should contain whole-grain pasta, breads, cereals, or rice. These are important sources of nutrients and fiber.
  • A serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, yogurt or cheese) fortified with vitamin D to provide protein and much needed nutrients.
  • Vary protein choices with more fish, beans and peas (see the chart below), and milk. Many of these protein sources also contain significant amounts of important nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium.
  • Consume plenty of fluid from sources such as water, coffee, tea, soups, and high water content fruits and vegetables.
  • Oils used for salads or food preparation should be liquid oils.
Beans and peas are a source of protein to support nutrition for masters endurance athletes
Grams of protein per cup of commonly available beans and legumes. Source: healthline

Endurance athletes in training should adjust these guidelines to accommodate their special needs for higher protein intake, more water consumption, and additional vitamin D and calcium. “Kill two birds with one stone” by eating more fish such as swordfish, salmon, tuna; milk; yogurt; eggs; and cheese since these are good sources of both protein and vitamin D.

A Healthy and Surprisingly Good Tasting Recipe High in Protein and Fiber

Besides hummus, I had not found recipes with chickpeas that both my wife and I enjoyed. That changed with the following recipe from Bon Appétit.

Quite Possibly the Best Chickpeas

  • 1 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, drained
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 – 3 x 1 inch strips lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Recipe Preparation

Combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, lemon zest, oil, and a couple big pinches of salt in a large pot. Add 2 quarts of water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally and replacing any water that evaporates, until chickpeas are tender, about 2 hours. Taste and season to taste. Let cool.

If you make this recipe, share your thoughts in the Comment below.

Involving an Expert

Older athletes should avoid extreme or fad diets. However, you may be impatient to lose weight or increase athletic performance. Eating whole, unprocessed foods following the balanced, healthy eating patterns described in the USDA guidelines is best.

Consult a dietician for additional nutrition recommendations for your specific health and sports performance goals.


Thank you to Sakiko Minagawa, MS, RDN, LD for contributing to this post.

Share Your Questions and Comments

As an endurance athlete, what is the most important lesson about nutrition you have learned?

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

This post. originally published on April 7, 2020, was updated on September 19, 2023.

Restarting To Bike After A Crash

A bike crash, whether it involves another vehicle or not, can be traumatizing, It can end one’s triathlon career even if the physical wounds heal.

This post is meant to answer a question from a member of the Senior Triathletes community about restarting to bike after an accident with injury.

Restarting to Bike After a Crash Can Be Physical and Emotional

One of Our Community members, Marty Hunter, knows too well how devastating a bike crash can be. She wrote the following when I asked our readers to share topics about which they would like to learn:

“[I am e]xperiencing difficulties recovering from a bike accident. Wondering what other athletes did to cope.”

Here is the background.

Training for Ironman Arizona in 2021, Marty fell on her bike while clipped into the pedals. A femur was broken in the fall, After surgery to repair it, she went through a period of walking with a cane and through many physical therapy appointments.

Even after healing physically, Marty has not recovered emotionally. She has ridden on a trainer but struggled to ride her bike outdoors on roads or trails. She told me “mentally, I’m mush”.

I am rooting for Marty to realize her dream of completing Ironman Arizona. So, I tapped into the experiences of others in our community who have been through this process of recovering from a bike crash. I am hoping their advice will help Marty return to training and racing.

Advice from Coach Jenn Reinhart

The first one to offer help was Senior Triathletes coach Jenn Reinhart. She is familiar with recovering from a bike crash having experienced a few, including being hit by a car, during her triathlon career.

Jenn and Marty spoke, after which Marty shared what she had learned from Jenn.

“Jenn found the right words to cut through my anxiety, especially my fear of being too old [to pursue my Ironman goal]. I tend to look way-way too far ahead instead of celebrating smaller but no less significant triumphs. 140.6 miles [of the Ironman] is huge. However, an 800 yard swim, 25 mile ride, and three to six mile run are totally doable. Each of these is great on it’s own. Being able to thread them together will be a mental podium finish for me.

“The basics are what I need to return to. Just get on the bike without any pressure for distance or pace at this time. Get confidence back for clipping [biking shoes] in and out. Eventually get the legs ready for power drills on the trainer.”

Advice from Other Senior Triathletes

I also spoke with two senior triathletes, Donna Maquire and Gene Peters. Both are Ironman finishers and have been injured in a bike crash.

Donna Maquire

During a triathlon in 2022, an impatient driver decided to turn when he should have waited. Because the bike course made a left turn, Donna was slowing down. These two factors – the car moving at a still low speed while accelerating from a stop and bikers slowing down for the turn – led to Donna ‘bouncing off’ the car’s side.

While her bike was undamaged, her back was fractured in three places. This was the beginning of nearly a year of back-pain as the back bones mended and aggravated discs were treated.

Within a couple of weeks of the accident, Donna was able to ride inside on the trainer. Four months after the crash, she did her first ride outside. This ride was not long and in her neighborhood where traffic is light and slow. She has continued to ride longer as time went by.

Given her experience following the crash, she does most of her training rides on a relatively flat trail near her home. She still struggles with pain when riding on hills.

Donna’s advice for Marty is to get back on a bike or trainer. When outside, never ride alone and always stay alert for cars. She uses a rear view mirror mounted on her glasses and a Garmin Varia radar that detects traffic from behind her.

She added, “Go slow. Increase the distance you ride a little at a time. And, be patient. As you ride more, you can expect your fitness and confidence to improve.”

Gene Peters

Gene Peters (look for his story here soon) told me of his experience while on his first ride after moving to Park City, Utah. During this ride, he collided with a car. In the accident, his back was broken in two places.

How did he get back to riding after healing?

The first time out after recovering, Gene rode less than six miles, enough to get comfortable riding.

Gene says that he is always concerned about cars, but realizes that there are some times when you can’t avoid riding with them around. This is another reason he does a lot of this bike training on the Computrainer his wife bought for him.

My Experience With Clip-In Shoes

I have not been in a serious accident with my bike. However, I have fallen twice during races, once because I was clipped in the pedals and unable to unclip quickly enough.

My first fall, at my Rhode Island triathlon, occurred because of a flat front tire.

I fell a second time, at a triathlon in Arkansas. This time, the fall was because I was not able to unclip my shoes quickly enough after the chain came off and jammed between the wheel and sprocket.

Interestingly, upon returning to the transition area after the bike leg of this triathlon, I saw another racer use traditional pedals with a toe cage (not clip-in) with his triathlon bike. I followed this example for the next several triathlons.

Besides making it easier to get in and out of the pedals, this configuration eliminates time in T2 to put on running shoes.

One qualifier: I am not sure this is valid for longer distance races. However, it can be helpful for restarting to bike after a crash.


A bike crash, especially one with an injury, can produce a major setback in one’s triathlon training. However, in most cases, it need not be career ending.

The concensus among other senior triathletes for restarting biking after a crash is to begin by getting on the bike for short rides. Ride in a safe area. And, if appropriate, use equipment that makes you feel safe, such as pedals and normal running shoes instead of clip-in shoes and pedals.

While you are regaining confidence riding outdoors, build your biking endurance using a bike trainer or stationary bike. Eventually, you will be able to put the bike handling and bike fitness pieces together.


What advice do you have for restarting to bike after a crash? Share your comment below.

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Product Review: Bob and Brad C2 Massage Gun

While we were talking about how seniors can adapt general training plans, Coach Kurt Madden reached around and grabbed a massage gun. He told me that a massage gun can help prevent injury by loosening connective tissue.

In this post, I share Joy’s and my experience with the C2 Massage Gun sent to me by Bob and Brad. I have also included an unboxing video to show the C2 and what you get with it.


As older athletes, we know that recovery can be slower than when we were younger. Yet we want to train consistently. Tools and techniques that help us prevent injury and recover faster are especially important as we age.

Even though the days of ‘No Pain, No Gain’ are behind us, we may still occasionally experience pain, stiffness, or sore muscles after a workout. Massage guns have become a popular and effective tool for relieving pain and tight muscles. However, as I will show in this post, massage guns have other uses for the multi-sport endurance athlete.

What Do You Get With the C2 Massage Gun?

Bob and Brad is a brand built around two “physical therapists trusted by millions of followers.”

The first thing I noticed when I learned about Bob and Brad was the many free resources on their website.

We had purchased another massage gun a couple of months earlier; there were no instructions with it. More recently, our daughter purchased a massage gun. It came with a miniature instruction manual, but little information on how to use the gun.

It impressed me to see the dozens of free programs on the Bob and Brad website. These include instructions for treating various types of pain, including hip, back, knee, and neck pain. One program is focused on treating sciatica.

The Bob and Brad website includes instruction on the Meeks Method for treating osteoporosis. I also found free stretch and strength training videos. And, I haven’t gotten through the entire site.

Unboxing Video

The YouTube video shows the unboxing of the C2 Massage Gun that Bob and Brad sent me to use. You can also click on the picture below to see what’s inside the box.


The table below shows the main specifications for the C2 Massage Gun.

SpecificationWhy It’s ImportantValue for Bob and Brad C2 Massage Gun
SpeedAlong with amplitude, speed determines the power of the massage gun. Lower speed is for a lighter duty massage, while higher speed is for a faster or more aggressive one.2000 – 3200 rpm over 5 speeds
AmplitudeDetermines the depth of the penetration of the head. The higher this value, the deeper the massaging tool can press into the muscle.8 mm
Stall ForceThis measures the amount of force that can be applied before the gun stops vibrating. Stalling is a way the unit protects itself.35 pounds
WeightThe weight of the gun affects how easy it is to hold during use.1.5 pounds
Noise levelThe sound produced by the gun during operation determines if you can use it while talking or listening to others or while listening to TV or other audio or video recordings. The value for this gun is within the normal range of human conversation.55 dB

With these values of amplitude and stall force, the C2 is a light to medium duty gun. Yet, in our experience, it has plenty of power to work tense muscles.

What Are Uses For The C2 Massage Gun

The User Manual included with the C2 Massage Gun shows several of its uses. These range from activating muscles before a workout to recovering after exercise and managing chronic pain from injury.

Picture from a page of the C2 Massage Gun manual showing uses of the product.

Our Experience

In addition to looking at the company behind the product and its specifications, we put the C2 Massage Gun to use on some issues we were having. Following is our initial experience with the product.

Treating Shoulder Joint Pain

My wife, Joy, had been receiving physical therapy (PT) for a sore shoulder. Since we were traveling, she had put the PT on hold.

Upon receiving the C2 massage gun, Joy used it with the round, ball head in the muscles around and underneath her shoulder.

By moving the gun around her arm, she found a tight muscle near her armpit. This muscle had not been addressed in PT.

After lightly massaging this area for a couple of minutes with the gun, her pain was reduced. The pain from the tight muscle was still gone after several days.

Treating a Tingling Shoulder Muscle with Neck Pain

I used the gun to massage the area of my neck that was sore and shoulder that would occasionally become ‘tingly’. The neck pain disappeared after the first two applications. However, my shoulder would still ‘tingle’ from time to time

I found more relief for the shoulder after spending time on the Bob and Brad website and doing a neck stretch they recommend.

Finally, I convinced Joy to massage the stiff muscle area in this shoulder because I was having difficulty applying the needed pressure. She started massaging it using the flat head at speed setting 3, After a while, she replaced the flat head with the bullet (more pointed) head. This allowed her to apply more pressure on the small area that was most tight.

After several applications, the tingling ceased.

Activating Muscles Before a Workout

Doing some hip and core strengthening exercises before going for a run prevents pain during the initial part of a run. For this review, I decided to substitute a session using the C2 Massage Gun for these exercises.

I followed the protocol for ‘Warm Up/Activation’ shown in the picture above. Then, I completed the hip and leg up warmup routine described in this Bob and Brad post.

Following this with a short run convinced me that the warm-up was effective, similar to other pre-run hip, quad, and hamstring stretches I have used,

Our Assessment

While considered light to medium duty, the C2 Massage Gun has plenty of power to work our tight muscles. With the bullet head, we are able to provide more pressure than I have found necessary.

If all Bob and Brad were trying to do was sell products, it is unlikely they would provide so many free resources that require no product. I appreciate their commitment to pain relief.

I am confident in their products because I trust these guys.

Want to Order the C2 Massage Gun?

If you want to buy the Bob and Brad C2 Massage Gun on Amazon, please use this link: https://amzn.to/42q9yaG.

Use Discount Code: BOBBRADG10 for 10% OFF the purchase price,

If you purchase the C2 using this link, I earn a small commission which helps to cover the cost of maintaining this website.

Affiliate Disclosure

How Do You Use a Massage Gun?

For what do you mostly use a massage gun?

What massage gun do you use? How did you choose it? Was there a particular specification you looked for?

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Feeling Young In My 70s – Gary Vicari’s Story

Most people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond who continue to compete in triathlon feel younger physically and mentally compared to their peers. Gary Vicari’s goal is to keep pushing himself to higher levels, balancing his needs as an older athlete with the belief that “you’re only as old as you feel”,

Who is Gary Vicari?

Gary describes himself as “a stubborn, gracefully aging warrior, fighting all the challenges of a family man trying to maintain his health while managing his large, family-owned business.”

His family includes Amy, his wife of 35 years, three children, and a five-month-old grandchild. The family business is Arlington Toyota in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

“At 70 years old, I am gratified and blessed to be able to fully participate in all areas which I spend my time – family, business, and training for and competing in age group races. Owning a successful business that runs smoothly affords me the ability to devote some of my energies toward activities that promote a lifestyle I hope will allow me to perform and enjoy well in to the future.”

Riding with sons helps Gary to feel young through triathlon and other endurance sports
Gary Vicari (center) with his two sons, Alex and Jason, at the Evanston 25 mile Bike Race.

Active in Sports as a Youth and in College

During his high school years, Gary competed on the football, swimming (in diving) and track (in pole vaulting) teams. A diving accident during his sophomore year, and a physically abusive track coach that “sucker-punched me in the solar plexus at an invitational track meet” caused him to leave both teams and these sports.

A fractured neck from a spear tackle during Gary’s junior year in high school ended his participation in football.

“l tried to walk-on for the University of Colorado track and field team. However, I was outclassed by those with scholarships, the best recruits from high school. I left the team, content to continue with intermural athletic activities, which included the quirky fraternity broomball league.

“During my senior year, I had my first experience related to triathlon. In 1976, the University of Colorado hosted SUPERSTAR II. The contest involved athletes choosing to compete in eight of ten events. Choices included a 60 yard dash, field goal kicking, softball throw, a half mile run, a 50 yard swim, basketball free throw, bench press, ice skating an obstacle course, and bowling.

“I entered the ‘decathlon’ on a lark, and won the Open Division. My first place finish in swimming was combined with second and third places in the other seven of my events. When all points were totaled, I was happy to learn that being good at many events was better than being outstanding in one event but mediocre or weak in others.

“Ironically, that characteristic of multi-sport competition sparked my interest in multi-sport endurance events.”

Gary Vicari exiting the swim at the 2021 Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon. Gary’s strength as a swimmer drew him to triathlon.

Gary Vicari’s Early Triathlon Career

“My first foray into triathlon was on a three-man team comprised of business associates. The event, a triathlon with a one mile swim, 50 mile bike, and 12 mile run, was held in Baja California (Mexico) on October 16, 1982. This was the first time they held this race, which was riding the upstart popularity of triathlons in Hawaii and San Diego.

“I took the one mile swim leg. This turned out to be the longest open water swim for me to date. The swim seemed even longer, in part because of a pre-race joke about there being sharks in the water made by at least one swimmer. Our team finished 9th. I was just satisfied we all made it home alive.”

First Solo Triathlon

“Then, on June 26, 1983, I did my first solo triathlon. This involved a one mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 8 mile run on Coronado Island in San Diego, California.

“Mark Allen and Mark Montgomery, two of the world’s top triathletes, battled it out for first and second place in a grossly mismanaged race. The Running News headline for coverage of this race read ‘They Were Running With No End In Sight!’

“I missed the turnaround, as did many athletes, and hit the wall at around mile seven. The next three unexpected miles were pure torture, as running was my weakest event. Runners over twice my age passed me as I walked back to the finish line, with only a dozen stragglers behind me. This was quite the humbling and embarrassing experience. It would haunt me for many years, as I quite consistently finished triathlons in the bottom half of the field.”

Except for the New York City biathlons in 1986 and 1987, Gary finished in the middle of the pack, unacceptable for him.

Between his late 20s until his 60s, Gary chose to focus on his family and career. Competitive athletics were a low priority. He put his triathlon career on hold, temporarily.

Resuming Triathlon

Gary did not pursue triathlons again until 2008, even though the sport was always in the back of his mind.

“Triathlons allowed me to resume my interest in swimming, not diving, and track that had been cut short in high school.”

In August, 2008, Gary entered the Bangs Lake aquabike race. The event consisted of a 1.5 km (0.93 mile) swim followed by a 23.5 mile (37,8 km) bike ride. Much to his displeasure, he placed 18th out of 20.

Four years later, at age 55, he entered a mini-sprint triathlon. “From that race, I realized my aerobic conditioning was terrible.”

Despite the disappointing results, he stuck with it. Gary entered one or two triathlons a year. With consistent training, his performance gradually improved to place around the middle of the pack.

“Although my performance wasn’t award winning, the excitement of triathlons, the competition, and the hope that I would improve motivated me to continue.”

In 2012, Gary earned an invitation from USA Triathlon to the National Age Group Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Although I placed 44th of 51 in my age category (M60-64), the enormity and grandeur of the event was inspiring. It prompted me to sign on with a coach to help me improve beyond the middle or back of the pack.

“I entered the Lifetime Tri Sprint held in Chicago on August 25, 2013. With the help of my first coach, I finished 624th of 2286 overall and 10th out of 49 in the M60-64 age group. Wow! Never knew I had it in me!”

“The Triathlon I Will Always Remember”

“The triathlons in which I have won or made it to the podium in my age group bring fond memories. However, the one that I will never forget was the TriRock in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on September 13, 2014. Though physically prepared, I didn’t properly assess the weather conditions, an air temperature of 40 degrees with rain.

“I was out of the water 3rd in my age group. I went racing off with only my tri suit on. Other, smarter racers donned long sleeves, cycling leggings and other protective clothing. I naively thought that by going fast, my body would warm up and take me to T2 and on to the run. Nope!

“While on the bike, I slowly approached hypothermia. Upon entering transition, I went into full hypothermic freeze. A coveted spot in the medical tent where I was encased in a thermal body bag with heaters blowing hot air through hoses to raise my body temperature became the third event in my triathlon. About 15 minutes later, I recovered, and they discharged me from the medical tent.

“The valuable lesson I learned from ‘the triathlon I will always remember’ is that triathlon has many, constantly changing variables. Ignoring or dismissing any of the warning signs during a race or training can have disastrous consequences.

“From that race to today, whether I am training or on a race course, I remind myself to assess the risks and adjust accordingly.”

Related Post: In 101 Triathlons – John Dean’s Story, John described his experience with hypothermia during a triathlon.

Experience of Training With and Without a Coach

From 1983 until 2013, Gary said “I was either untrained or self-trained and not very competitive. Finishing in the middle of the pack was my aspiration. I thought others who took the time to get serious about competing or were just plain genetically superior took all the glory and medals.”

In 2013, Chris Wiatr, a 20 year old college student and accomplished triathlete, came to work at Gary’s business.

“I learned that Chris was very successful at local triathlons, his father was a respected European cyclist, and he was interested in coaching me. For two years, he wrote workout plans and gave me tips for improvement. He got me on the right track.

“Though Chris was not a certified or trained coach, he opened up a new way for me to look at my triathlon performance. Coaching definitely helped.

“When I returned to self-training using local triathlon (YMCA Y-Tri), swimming, cycling, and running clubs, the results were, in hindsight, predictable. I went back to a middle of the pack finisher or worse.”

A New Coach

“My goal was to feel the exhilaration that came with winning or at least getting on the podium in races with others in my age group. So, I signed up with coach Jennifer Harrison to regain some above average performance.

“Within months, I saw improvements from her structure, accountability, encouragement, and the verbal and video assessments of my form. For two years, Jennifer coached me. I was able to win, place, or show in my age group at local races some of the time.

“After being invited to the USA Triathlon Nationals, I was hooked on competitive amateur triathlons.

“Thinking that I could achieve results for less money than with an in-person coach, I signed up for a remote triathlon coach through Training Peaks. I had some success, but it was less than I had had with Jennifer’s in-person coaching.

“Injuries and surgeries sidelined me in late 2016 through 2017. I returned to amateur competition in pretty questionable shape.

“This year, I began coaching with Matt Peterson at The Fitness Pursuit in Grayslake, Illinois. Matt is a certified coach with a degree in sports physiology. He is also an accomplished, ranked USA Triathlon competitor.

“As before, the structure, accountability, and accessibility of a personal coach is producing results. The only hindrance to steady progress is the occasional injury.

“What I have learned is that a coach brings out the best in me. I must often train by myself because of my schedule. My coach acts as the little birdie on my shoulder, constantly reminding me what I need to do.”

running for triathlon
Gary Vicari crossing the finish line at the 2021 Crystal Lake Aquathon. This event includes swimming and running.

Training Throughout the Year

For Gary, each calendar year begins with building a base of fitness. This continues until sometime in May, after which the intensity of workouts increases.

Once the racing season in Illinois and Wisconsin begins, his training schedule depends on the date of his next race.

On weekdays before a Sprint or Olympic distance race, Gary reduces the intensity of his training. For a Sunday race, training on Thursday and Friday involves progressively lower stress. Training on Saturday is “very easy with either a short swim at the race venue to get acclimated to the course, or rest”.

“As a senior athlete, I require more time to recover from workouts. Hammering it the entire week before an event would likely deplete my reserves, causing a sub-par performance on race day.”

Typical Week’s Schedule

Gary’s coach provides the detailed training plan from information from his Garmin watch and his qualitative feedback. However, in general, training during a typical week is:

  • Monday – Rest
  • Tuesday: Swim and Run; full body strength workout and stretching
  • Wednesday: Cycle
  • Thursday: Swim and Run
  • Friday: Cycle and Weights
  • Saturday: Long Run
  • Sunday: Long Cycle


Gary supplements the activities listed above with strength training using stretch bands and TRX, an occasional yoga class, and “plenty of walking to keep moving and calm the soul”.

Other forms of cross-training are unnecessary. Alternating swimming, cycling, and running is enough to give relief when one muscle area needs more rest.

Lessons From One Who Uses Triathlon To Feel Young

What are the most important lessons Gary has learned while training for and competing in triathlon?

About Training

Gary says “A formal, progressively more intense seasonal training regime has produced the best results for me. However, this must include flexibility to substitute planned workouts with others when ‘life happens’. Some flexibility is key to maintaining a positive mental attitude and avoiding getting discouraged or feeling guilty about missing a workout.

“Triathlon is an endurance sport. To persevere and enjoy the journey is just as important to me now as are the results. Avoiding setbacks, such as injuries, is another reason that I give myself some leeway from a strict regime, though I do my best to adhere to the training plans set forth by my coach.

Gary has also learned that working to improve a skill or ability can change one’s perspective on it.

“For decades, I dreaded the run and favored the swim. Now cycling is my favorite leg of the triathlon. Since concentrating on improving my run, it’s no longer my least favorite leg. Ironically, while I enjoy swimming immensely outside of competition, the swim during a triathlon is my least favorite leg. Swimming in a competition can quickly aggravate old injuries.”

Training with a group or club is a low cost way to get support and create accountability during training.

About Nutrition

“My current coach is urging me to improve my choices in nutrition, minimizing breakfast cereals and other simple carbohydrates, sugar and other empty calories. He wants me to replace these with more vegetables and protein, including 30 or more grams of protein at each meal.”

About Rest & Recovery

“Rest and recovery are a necessary part of training. As much as I dislike a pause in training or competing, trying to ‘tough through’ has prolonged the agony and done way more harm than good. Rest and the resulting recovery of this senior athlete is just as important as training.”

About Racing

“I consider racing an extension of my training regime. By entering races, I set self-imposed timelines and deadlines for accomplishing levels of conditioning and readiness. Races are as much a means to an end as they are a destination. Racing confirms my efforts in a comparative way, against the same in my age group. It also brings me back to fond memories of high school swim or track and field meets.”

Even before the 2023 season began, Gary had already identified twelve (12) races in which he would compete. These included a mix of Olympic and sprint triathlons, running, and bike races. He has left open the possibility for an Ironman 70.3, as well.

Advice for Those Thinking About Their First Triathlon

“When I first started in the sport, triathlon gave me a chance to resume the interests in swimming and track that were cut short in high school. As I have continued, the greatest benefits of triathlon are in a two-way tie. There is the feeling of living a healthy lifestyle. Right along with this is the feeling I get when I see quantifiable improvements in my physical and mental well being.

Approached correctly, triathlon can benefit many others who are considering doing their first triathlon.

“Triathlon is a very inviting and forgiving sport to enter at any age, given the person goes at it in a sensible, progressively more intense way. Charging full speed ahead can lead to hitting the wall, getting discouraged, and dropping out due to injury or mental fatigue.

“A person over 50 who just wants to enjoy the triathlon experience without preparing for serious competition can enter super sprints or sprints to ‘dip his or her feet in the water’. It may lead to more, or not.

“Athletes with prior competitive experience will find that triathlon can test their upper limits at all distances. And I know plenty of wannabes who caught the triathlon fever. Even with little prior experience in any of the three disciplines, they could train to a level at which they became comfortable and confident with their performance.”

The Future of Training and Racing for Gary Vicari

At present, Gary’s top goal is to make it through the 2023 season injury free. A second, slightly longer term goal is to complete a half Ironman triathlon (IM70.3). As we saw earlier, this is a possibility for 2023.

Once he has reached these goals, he is considering ‘raising the bar’ to a full Ironman.

Why? “Because I want to keep challenging myself to reach for my limits, without pushing myself to the breaking point.”

What are the Main Challenges?

Gary has obviously thought about what it will take to reach these new goals.

First, is time for training. “To go for the longer endurance event distances requires training times that are tough for me to balance while operating a large business and sustaining a happy family life.”

Second, Gary has developed plans for treating health issues if and when they arise.

“I’ve assembled a good network of coaches, doctors, a sports performance chiropractor, and a massage therapist. I believe I can rely on them to be there as needed to restore me to competitive condition.

“As I age, there are more issues that surprise me. The challenge is to address them and then continue.”

Finally, Gary recognizes that most of his peers, friends and relatives have already abandoned active, competitive sports.

“As a 70+ multisport athlete, it can be lonely at get togethers. I have different interests than most others my age. To combat the tendency to go with the flow, I concentrate on being active in groups that are active. That usually means being with younger, sometimes much younger, amateur athletes. I like to rely on my experience and judgement to integrate with the youngsters.”

“Being with various ages of people reminds me that “you’re only as old as you feel.”

Does Triathlon Help You Feel Young?

What are triathlon’s greatest benefit for you? Or, if not yet involved, what would you like to get from triathlon or other multi-sport endurance training and racing?

Please share your thoughts and any questions for Gary in the Comments section below.

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