Living Well – Winning comes with age and experience

Wayne Little's monthly column on sports training and motivation.

Last summer I ran a half marathon in Kamloops. Although I did not train to run the race very fast, I definitely had no problem to run it at a decent pace.

With about 1 km to go, I caught up to and passed a man that was much older than me. I thought a couple things to myself. One, “How did this guy get ahead of me?” And two, “I hope I can run like that when I’m his age!”

When I got home I went on the internet to check out the times and results. I was amazed, I finished in 1hr 32min, and he finished 30 seconds after me. The website didn’t show his exact age, but it did show he was in the 60-69 age group. So basically in 20 years, if I did what he did, I would basically be running killer times at races and showing up a whole bunch of “Young-uns”.

I noticed something else about the results though – in the top 10 fastest males, all but two were 40 years old or older.

This is prevalent in not only Marathons, but also in Ironman, 100 mile ultra marathons and other endurance events. Diana Nyad at a ripe old age of 64 swam from Cuba to Florida. That’s 110 miles for those who don’t know their geography.  Even more amazing is she completed this on her fifth attempt.  As she got older she was better and stronger.

Of course, I’m constantly reading and researching why this is. Is it discipline in training? Is it mental toughness that makes you attain your goal? Maturity? Experience? The answer is all of the above, and more, much more.

You see and hear of more and more people registering for gruelling Charity events, Masters Games, and the Seniors games. I went to watch Frank Mierau last year at a Time Trial Bicycle race at the Seniors games last year. He looked so strong and vibrant. He raced a good race and BAM, he wins. Merv McKauge does his personal best time running a 10km race, in his 70s. Once again, I look at them  and think, “I want to be him in 40 years.”

I’ve been to many awards ceremonies at triathlons, and the age group winners are called up to receive their prizes. The winner will come out of the crowd and people look and say, “there’s no way that guy is 50”, or “no way she’s 45”. It’s amazing how fit people can look so much younger than their unfit peers of the same age.

So what do we have to do to make this happen? What do you have to do to get off the couch and into the new “fit” you? What does an older person have to do different than a young person? There are some differences.

First we have to get a check up with your doctor, if you just quit smoking, or have had a lot of recent health issues, you’re going to have to take it slow at first. We have to train smarter, by not overtraining and getting quality workout. Our bodies take longer to recover from hard workouts so stretching and yoga help out with recovery and to keep those muscles limber and loose. We have to strengthen our muscles using weights and body weight exercises. As we get older our muscles break down faster than when we were young. We have to strengthen our minds by proving to ourselves through events and training that we are capable of competing. Most importantly we have to fuel the machine properly, eating the proper diet will fuel your workout better, and help those muscles recover quicker.

The desire to compete doesn’t diminish as we get older. To get that feeling like we did doing the track and field events in Elementary school when we got a ribbon. I love standing on the podium and see at the young people thinking, “How did that old dude beat me?” Take the time to find your sport that you love doing, train for it and sign up for an event. What do you have to lose?

Wayne Little