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Ageing and recovery

Updated: Jan 6

trisutto recovery ageing Rob Pickard

As more and more people stay longer in the sport of Triathlon or decide to try the sport for the first time at an advanced age, then recovery can become an important consideration. In some ways, age may or may not be the number of birthdays you have had, but the number of training years you have behind you. The more training years you have can have a positive effect on the age of the athlete.

Less than 40 years ago it was commonly thought that being over 30 was 'too old' and athletes should retire. Not only in contact sports but also endurance events. Swimmers rarely reached the age of 20 and continued competitively in the sport. Runners would sometimes hang around a bit longer, but then a Portuguese runner named Carlos Lopes broke the Olympic record to take the Gold Medal in 1984 at 37 years of age. A record that stood 30 years later!

In the sport of triathlon, we don’t have to look far for excellent age-group performances. Dave Scott finishing 2nd behind Greg Welch at Hawaii when over 40 years-old being one stand out. Craig Alexander, 3 times Hawaii Ironman winner and record holder in his late 30s now at age 46 is still racing competitively with multiple wins and podiums in the last year. The list can go on, but the point is I don’t consider 40 as being 'old or 'non-competitive'. The two guys I mention had been around triathlon for over 20 years and other related sports for another 10.

While the amount of time that Craig Alexander puts into his training now is probably 50% of what he did in his Ironman glory days, he is still a super competitive athlete. He can do this because he has put the miles in previously; his arms and legs have a memory bank of thousands of kilometres. While he still carries out slower rides and runs, he does not do as much. When completing higher intensity efforts he tries to ensure he stays injury-free. I remember reading an article back in the 90s where Dave Scott mentioned much of the same.

So I find it highly amusing that some triathlon magazines or coaches will give an example of a triathlon legend's training program to a "newbie” athlete and intimate that if you follow this workout you will somehow be as good as the legend. Unfortunately, it does not work this way.

Training, intensity and recovery is not dependent on age, but time in sport and more specifically, time in triathlon. If a coach is not aware of that factor then how can they plan a suitable program? Here at Trisutto we as coaches set daily programs so that “triathletes can train today so that they can train tomorrow”. It is self-defeating if the program on one day is so brutal that the triathlete can’t face up to training the next day. Sure we have recovery days of lighter activity or just a session of a swim, but frequent consistency and effort are two important principles of our training.

So, how much intensity and how much recovery is enough? Well, that depends on the individual in question. Age is just one factor in many that have to be considered. What I can tell you is that from my own personal experience as someone in their 60’s, I find that the higher the intensity of the training sessions or the race, the longer it takes me to recover. If I race (Standard Distance) on a Sunday and when I front up for interval training on a Tuesday evening, my legs are still tired and lacking what speed they may have had. I still do the session but I do it slower! If I race a 70.3, the following 10 days I am still recovering, but I keep training albeit lower intensity, less running and more swimming.

The swim session is used extensively at Trisutto for a number of reasons, but one being recovery. You can still get a medium to high-intensity cardiovascular workout when you are tired without any more stress on your already tired legs (use a pull buoy) and the legs usually feel improved and less fatigued after.

Two other things I have found with ageing are the longer time it takes to get over an injury and how little use stretching is. Two topics I will leave for another time as I know people’s opinion can vary.

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