25 June 2008

Lifelong Athletics


The picture above is from 2004 -- that is Tom Evans without the shirt. Tom had a great race that day and, an even better day, last weekend when he won (with style) in Idaho. Now that Peter is flying float planes, Tom has to be the fastest Canadian Ironman. Outstanding for a married guy with a full-time job. When I have a tough day, or start to doubt myself, I think about Tom. He is a big inspiration to me.

++

A book recommendation for you that I have been enjoying is Seeking Wisdom, From Darwin to Munger. When I have read Charlie Munger's writing, he often talks about his checklists -- trouble is, I couldn't find them anywhere. Until I bought this book -- they are a great appendix that the author assembled.

This week I am going to share ideas on a reader question.

++
If you have a moment can you address training as a way to maintain a lifetime of fitness and how to manage your training with a long term view? I ask because for myself partly but mostly for my father who is 63 and a fit runner. After watching me at the Eagleman 70.3 he has decided to switch from marathons/ casual cycling to triathlon (I am supportive and think the focused cross training is likely more sustainable as he gets older). Do you have any recommendations for older athletes? Are younger athletes able to maintain their fitness as they age or does the volume over the years result in overuse injuries that surface later in life?

I wrote a blog on The Aging Athlete last November. That is a good starting point.

Long time readers will notice that my advice appears consistent across sex, age, experience and and goals. That is a conscious decision -- my experience is that consistent application of the Four Pillars applies very well across populations. For training protocol, I think that we should all research the lessons of Arthur Lydiard and translate to our sport, ability level and athletic age.

NOTE -- Lydiard is well known for his 100-mile per week base phase, I like to translate that into time for triathletes -- in Lydiard's population a 100-mile run week was about 11-12 hours of training. For sustainable results, keep those hours in your head, sticking with a hard distance target can be counterproductive.

Every athlete, that seeks long term success, should remember the essential nature of non-training factors. Put another way, new athletes can appear to "get away"with poor nutrition, never stretching, muscle imbalances, and weak recovery strategies. If you want to perform across ten, twenty, fifty years then these risk factors become key personal limiters.

A phased approach can work well. Phases within each week, month, year, four year cycle and decade. Consider the weak points in your current athletic inventory. What can derail you? Greatly improve these "consistency risk factors" in your transition period and early season. Then... maintain across your season. It takes far less energy to maintain a level of strength/flexibility/nutrition/immune function than it does to improve, or heal, when it goes off track.

As an example, even today, I feel that I continue to benefit from strength training done over a decade ago, yoga done eight years ago and two years of aerobic overload (2003/2004).

There are only a few (usually Olympic level) coaches that have the vision to nurture talent across a 6-12 year time horizon. Most people go-for-broke in 6-18 months and only the biomechanically gifted freaks survive.

Our reader closes with a great point -- lifetime volume and wearing out. Hardly anyone (other than former elite marathoners and ironman champions) discusses this with me. I suppose it is human nature to avoid focusing on the fact that we wear-out and die.

Listen to my interview with Dr. John Hellemans.

John is very good at respecting an individual's 'right' to make their own mistakes. However, he has been telling me for YEARS that the high level pursuit of ultradistance sports is unhealthy because of the training load IMers place on our bodies. I never had a real position on his point until this year (he's right). It's a lot like death -- it simply doesn't make sense until someone young, close to us, dies. Even then, our brains aren't wired to focus on our own mortality.

My buddy, Jeff (Dr. J) Shilt explains it this way... think of yourself as a car. You can use the best fuel, have a perfect service record and drive carefully. Still, no matter what you do, things will wear out eventually. 1200 hour training years don't exactly fit with "careful driving"!

Coming back to Hellemans, he is one of the best 50-somethings in the world at standard distance triathlon (8 world AG titles, I think). He's been in triathlon since it was founded and is still ripping today. He shoots for 12-15 hours per week of training load and that enables him to be a highly competitive and happy guy.

Tom Evans is my role-model for Ironman and John Hellemans is my role-model for life.

So in terms of life long athletics -- thinking through my own experience as well as my training partners left in the sport and long gone...

You can likely hit it pretty solid through to 25 years old. Athletically young athletes can also be very aggressive for 1, or 2, years when they are under 40. I have seen many athletes jumpstart their endurance by taking a sabbatical from work to focus on their cycling. However, hitting-it-hard for more than 18 months tends to fry athletes at all levels and compromises long-term consistency.

Remember that long term consistency is the best indicator of being able to approach our ultimate athletic performance. Far more than protocol, consistency is the universal characteristic that appears at the top.

High performing endurance athletes that come from non-impact sports (swimming, cycling) need to be VERY VERY careful when they start running. If you strap an elite swimming engine to a novice runner body then you nearly always ruin the athlete -- don't fall into the trap of fooling yourself with exceptions. There is a TON of silent evidence.

So my advice... if you have potential for triathlon then you will know within two years from starting the sport. Folks with high athletic potential improve very rapidly. With that rapid improvement comes the temptation for more, and more, and more... a good coach is valuable to protect you from the natural enthusiasm that comes from success. Know your coach's limiters and remember that we tend to be attracted to people that share our biases.

For whatever reason, we seem to think that there is more merit in ruining our bodies if we happen to be be "good" -- my rapid, and continuous, improvement hindered my capacity for an objective review of my athletic path. It wasn't until I approached my athletic peak, for a second time, that I was able to consider what the heck I was doing. Like so many things, most of us keep rolling until something breaks. Even then, how often do we chase the illusive "high" of past experience.

Once you have been doing endurance sport seriously for five years, and certainly by ten, you will have a clear idea of your potential, what you enjoy and (if you pause to think) should be able to figure out the "why" behind your participation. At that stage, it is worth considering how you are going to maximize your "athletic why" across the rest of your lifetime. If you read this blog weekly then you'll know that I've been mulling my "why" for a few years... ...and I am still training!

Off to the Rockies with Molina. Back online after the 4th of July.

Chose wisely,
gordo

Labels: , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home