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.
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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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?