Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Older and wiser
I am often asked how my training has changed now that I am an older athlete. Of course, I like to think that I am Peter Pan, and I will never grow up. I am not oblivious though. I do realize that as the years go by, times will get slower, recovery harder, and training will have to change. I get riled up when people blame age for just about everything.
Many of the issues that occur in older athletes do not stem from age but from lack of common sense or unwillingness to change. Age is often used as an excuse. If you run through shin splints, it will become a stress fracture whether you are 20 or 60. Yes, ignoring the warning sign of injury or over-training will wreak havoc on anyone. I will stipulate that the process is probably hastened at 60.
Truly, there are many benefits to being an older athlete; the wisdom and experience that comes from past mistakes can be applied to the present and future. This knowledge, if applied correctly, can delay the decline in performance that one would expect with age.
Upon careful consideration of the question, “how has your training changed over the years?” I have come up with answers.
1. I train less. I have a reputation of being an over-trainer. I won’t deny that I love logging long hours. But, I train fewer hours that are more targeted. In the past, much of my training was aimless. Now, every workout has a purpose.
2. Mother Nature wins. I have lived in a lot of cold climates. In my younger, more stubborn days, I would run and often ride in just about any condition. My water bottles would freeze, my hands and feet would turn purple, and my workouts would be terrible. All for the sake of being outside. These days, I take it inside and use the treadmill and trainer. Even if the workout is shorter and less exciting, at least I work up a sweat. And, my lungs cannot handle the extreme cold anyway.
3. Rest, the fourth discipline. I hate days off as much as anyone, but I now incorporate them regularly into my schedule. A day off is rejuvenating. I never understand how people have streaks of 700 days of training in a row or 100 days of running without a day off. Training relentlessly is not a key to success and will age you quickly.
4. Missing workouts. Even worse than a rest day is missing a planned workout. It causes me angst and I often wrestle with the idea for a long while before concluding that I should just skip it. In the past, I would forge ahead with a workout despite illness, extreme fatigue, or deep muscle soreness. I would drag my body out the door, plod through a given session, and then drag my body back home. The workouts would be unsuccessful and lead to more fruitless workouts for many days. Now, I will skip a workout if I am certain the outcome will be unsuccessful (that being said, it still sends me into a guilt spiral).
5. I never take anything for granted. A string of excellent workouts can be followed up by a bout of the flu. A series of stellar races can end with a long term injury. When things are going well, I relish it. I appreciate the good workouts, good health, and good weather more now than I ever have.
Aging can be difficult as an athlete. But, if you use your past experiences advantageously, you can use your maturity to continue to train well and race fast.