Aging Gracefully (In Sport)

This past February I did a 3/20 test on the bike.  For those non-QT2 folks reading this, that’s our version of an FTP test.  In other words, ride really hard and see what kind of average power and heart rate you can produce.

While doing said 3/20 test, my average power was making me question my power meter.  As in “how could I possibly be riding this hard and only producing this little power” type of thing.  As in “this used to be the bottom of my Z2/tempo power range and now it’s my all out power” type of thing.  As in “this power meter is likely VERY, VERY broken” type of thing.

But let me back up a little with a brief history, for some background.  I started the sport of triathlon in 2006.  I had come from a running background – ran cross country and track both in high school and for Penn State University.  I took to swimming and biking relatively well, qualified for Kona twice as an AGer and then in 2012 turned pro.  I raced as a pro for 5 years, qualifying for Kona once and placing atop several podiums.  In 2017 I raced Ironman Louisville as my last pro race and walked away (or so I thought) from the sport happy that I had squeezed every last drop of ability I had out of myself.  I was lucky through the later part of my pro career to focus almost solely on training and racing and putting my all into getting fast.  

In 2018, my first year NOT racing triathlon, I dabbled in all sorts of things – some mountain bike racing, some hiking, and I did run the NYC Marathon with one of my closest friends.

Now fast forward to 2019 and I was feeling like I wanted to perhaps be a bit more serious about training (for what, I wasn’t quite sure).  I missed the swim/bike/run routine.  I wasn’t necessarily returning to triathlon but I was at least returning to triathlon training.  Hence the 3/20 test to get a handle on where I was at.

And where I was at was…not pretty.

Sure, I needed some fitness and yes, the results of that 3/20 test would improve some over the next couple months.  But really, on that Feb morning, I think I realized for the first time that at some point, the very pinnacle of my athletic career had been reached and I was most definitely on the downside.  If I was one to easily get discouraged, that might have been mighty, well, discouraging.  And a tiny bit sad.  Okay, I was sad for a few days after this realization.  

BUT, this made me think and question a bit.  Is sport still worth it if you know that you will never be faster than you once were?  If years of chasing PRs and podium spots and trying to be the very fastest, best version of myself were my COMPLETE motivation, what now, that the best version of myself had already been achieved?

Lots to mull over, for sure.

Now some 10-11 months later from that February morning, I can say, I am starting to find my way in my post PR era.  What motivates me now?  Do I still get discouraged by slowing times and how do I deal?  Some insights, below… 

  1. First, let me clarify, age actually has nothing to do with the pinnacle of your career.  Age IN SPORT, is probably a more important factor.  I turned 40 years old this year.  For some, that might just be the START of their athletic career and they have many PRs ahead!  I’ve seen 65 year olds go faster than they ever have!  But I’ve been at this for a long time (think close to 30 years of racing).  My age in sport is actually, quite ancient.  Just wanted to point out that, just because you are X years doesn’t mean you won’t get any faster in sport.  
  1. Second, what are some things that I’ve found to keep me going in racing and training, but not getting discouraged about getting slower?  Well for one, I just went ahead and found a new sport!  HA!  Mountain biking was calling my name and indeed, it has been a very good addition to my life.  It allowed me to be competitive and still PR, still set goals and go after them with fervor!  Putting yourself in a somewhat similar (it’s still riding a bike!) but at the same time REALLY different sport can be a whole new challenge.  And bring boat loads of improvement!  Basically every time I got on a mountain bike, I improved!  This lead to doing some longer races which lead to wanting to qualify for the Leadville 100.  A new Kona!  Yes, yes…this was a very good sport indeed.  Point being, there are many opportunities in endurance sport – long distance open water swimming, mountain bike, cyclocross racing!, going after a PR in a marathon (if you didn’t come from these particular backgrounds), etc…. Find a new focus and go get better at it!  Guaranteed, you’ll have a lot of fun in the meantime.  And the good news about QT2 is, we have cycling coaching (for all disciplines of cycling), run coaching, etc… so we have you covered no matter what new endurance endeavor you choose.   
  1. But what if you don’t want to change sports?  You want to stick with triathlon?  You want to stick with Ironman?  I’ve found myself with this same problem.  After a few years away from swim/bike/run, I’m starting to feel the pull again.  And so I did it – I signed up for an Ironman in 2020 (GASP!).  When I did my last Ironman, I swore I wouldn’t come back to the sport as an age grouper.  But you know what?  I was wrong.  Because over this last year I realized, sure, my fast days are behind me, but that really wasn’t my only motivation in sport after all.  I realized that I love the process of training and seeing improvement from week to week, month to month EVEN if that improvement is no where near what it used to be.  Plus I simply just love swimming, biking and running.  Now I just need to look at it from a different angle, set new standards.  If I used to race Ironman at 200W on the bike, well maybe 150W is the new standard.  But that 50W difference shouldn’t keep me from enjoying a sport I love, right?  At least that’s what I reasoned.  I think it’s that “reframing” of our mindset that can help us continue to enjoy something, even past our prime.

I had a friend text me the other day “retirement looks good on you”.  Yes, indeed, I think “retirement” can look good on us all.  Whether it’s trying on a new version of endurance sport, or sticking with the same sport and accepting gracefully, that we aren’t what we once were, we can still keep enjoying what we love!  It may take a bit of time to find your way but with a bit of patience, I think we can find a balance!  Happy racing!

This post was written by QT2 Level 2 Coach, Beth Peterson.

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