This blog post was written for us by TriSports Team member Karin Bivins.
I got into triathlons when I was nearly 57 years of age. The good thing was that our kids were grown and, although at that time I was still working, I would be retiring in the near future, so would have even more time to train (a real advantage). If you are considering triathlons, it helps if you already do one or more of the activities. I had been running and racing for a little over 10 years when I got into triathlons. I had been swimming since I was a kid, but never really competed in swimming; I was just a leisure swimmer. I was not fast, and still am not fast, but I can swim for a long time (which helps since I tend to focus on longer distance triathlons). As far as biking went, I had an old Schwinn Suburban that still had the baby-seat on the back (and the kid who rode in it was now 17 yrs. old, but that baby-seat could hold a bag of groceries or library books and was my errand bike). My friends told me, “Okay, it’s great that you are interested in getting into triathlons, but if you are going to use that bike, please take off the baby-seat!” I got a new bike, but just a road bike as I wasn’t ready for a fancy tri bike.
If you are considering triathlons, it helps to join a triathlon club, or sign up with a triathlon group (I signed up with Team-in-Training raising funds/awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which provided mentors, coaches, and team-mates) or at least find some other triathletes that you can tap for advice and hopefully train with. A club can be especially helpful and supportive if you find the right club. Look for one that has people of varying abilities/varying ages, is welcoming to beginners, and offers training possibilities and education/information. Some clubs are highly competitive and could be intimidating and discouraging, especially for an older adult. Consider volunteering at races to see how things work. If you haven’t mastered all three components, consider doing just one segment as a relay.
Another possibility is to hire a coach; however, as an older adult, you really have to check around to find a coach who works well with older adults. Although most coaches will tell you they can work with older adults, some are much better and more experienced at it than others. Some just give the same workout as to a younger person and then say to, “Do what you can of it,” or they make slight modifications. Sometimes the best coach may be an older adult themselves, especially one who is still racing, for they may be dealing with some of the same issues that you are or can better relate.
As an older athlete, I have found that although I can do a certain volume of training, I need to spread it out for a longer amount of time to allow for adjustment to increased workouts and for rest and recovery time. Younger athletes seem to be little “Gumbys” and can bounce right back. I don’t “bounce” back so quickly and need adequate time to recover, or I increase my risk of becoming over-tired, ill or injured.
If you want to get faster, you need to train fast! While that makes perfect sense, as an older adult, you have to be more cautious doing speedwork. Some of the muscles and connective tissues aren’t quite as flexible as those of a fit, younger person, so you need to tune into your body and how it is feeling, that way you don’t pull something in the process. Consider doing flexibility training, such as stretching and yoga, to increase flexibility and minimize risk of high-intensity training and again, exert caution, gradually building up to increased workloads/intensities.
For me, personally, I have found that I can do a lot of swimming and push the bike, but I cannot push the run as much as I used to. The run pushes back too hard sometimes and I’ve had strained muscles, tendonitis and even a stress fracture. Then the time off from running is a set back, but luckily with triathlons, there are two other components, so even when injured, I can usually do one or both of the other activities and consider it an “opportunity” to improve on the ones I can do.
Triathlon is a great sport for all ages, but you have to train wisely, especially when you are older. Just figure that you will need more time to build up gradually and enjoy that fact that you can be out there participating!