Monday, March 9, 2009

Role Models for My Next 30 Years

[For those of you who think training for a 100 mile mountain bike race is just a bit crazy, here is an article written by one of very few people who is trying to become a Leadville Trail “Leadman” – completing 282.4 miles of running and mountain bike events this summer: 50 mile mountain bike race, marathon, 100 mile mountain bike race, 10K run and 100 mile run. I can’t even imagine . . .]

The headline caught my attention – “Aging Competitors Defy Conventional Wisdom.”

Consider that the world best marathon time for men 70 or older (2:54:05) was set by a 74-year-old. That is more than four minutes faster than the winning marathon time at the first modern Olympics, the 1896 Games in Athens.

The gist of the article is that in the past few decades more graying athletes are competing, ignoring conventional wisdom that aging ends your playing days.

Now, at age 45, I don’t consider myself to be as inspiring as Henry Sypniewski, who shattered the national half-marathon record for 85-year-olds by nearly 15 minutes this past summer (2:11:57).

But I do take pride in knowing I’m at least as fit now as I was in my 20s; frankly, I’m probably in much better shape now than I was then.

A recent study found that while you will slow down as you age, you may be able to stave off more of the deterioration than you thought.

Researchers say that you should be able to maintain your muscles as you age, including the muscle enzymes needed for good athletic performance, and you should be able to maintain your ability to exercise for long periods near your lactic threshold, meaning you are near maximum effort.

But you have to know how to train, doing the right sort of exercise, and you must keep it up.

That means doing things like regular interval training, repeatedly going all out, easing up, then going all out again. These workouts train your body to increase its oxygen consumption by allowing you to maintain an intense effort.

When you have to choose between hard and often, choose hard. High performance is really determined more by intensity than volume. When you’re older, something has to give. You can’t have intensity and volume so you have to cut back on the volume and give yourself more rest days.

With proper training, I may have several more years of personal bests to look forward to. How cool is that?

[On a somewhat related note, here is a great article about women’s participation and performance improvements in athletics over the last 30 years.

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