Following my Endurance Corner article last week, Alan wrote a blog with ideas about what’s required to stay young. Alan excels at capturing the psychological reality of being an athlete.
Specifically… What’s truly driving my compulsion for excessive exercise and performance?
What rang true to me was Alan’s observation about “staying young.” When I think about my fears, and choices, that desire explains a lot.
Past 40, my athletic errors have started to stand out. Some of these errors make me feel “old.”
Would it surprise you to find out that big training screws up my sex drive. I could supplement around the issue but I’ve made a choice to experience things more naturally. This is a seriously adverse side effect from athletic greatness! When I was crushing it, and living alone, it was a weird sort of blessing.
Take home point: if virility is a consideration then high training load will impair off-the-field performance.
Strength training, particularly anabolic phases where I lift heavy on my legs, boost my recovery response, and sex drive.
When it comes to performance, if you’re focusing on age then you’re missing the point.
For highly active populations, aging isn’t the real concern. I have coached world-class athletes into their 70s, the key thing that screws up fitness is injury, specifically the loss of strength that results from taking a forced break. Injury is mostly caused by bike crashes.
Cycling is the most dangerous thing I do and the statistics greatly under report the injuries that cyclists sustain. I denied the reality of cycling danger because I knew that I had to maintain high cycling volume to achieve my reason for living (AKA my athletic goals).
Tip the balance in your favor by:
- Becoming a more polite, more cautious, cycling version of your current self.
- Protecting the capacity to run daily. Daily running is more important than great run workouts. A daily easy run, when combined with twice weekly strength work, captures everything you need from long term sport.
- Stay strong – the difference between a soft tissue injury and orthopedic surgery is often the amount of lean body mass you have (on impact).
I’ve gone further by shifting most of my cycling volume to a full-suspension 29er (disc brakes and fat tires are safer) and avoiding most highways.
I also had to face that my ambitious race goals were encouraging me to make poor decisions.
However, I can still remember when ambitious race goals were my top priority.
How to balance?
If performance matters then know that you are playing a game of attrition. To stand out, you must become crafty at managing your total stress load. Injuries, divorce and lack of motivation are, at their root, a product of excessive stress.
Every great athlete that I have worked with has been caught by the season-ending trap of:
- Totally Blown
You must get crafty!
Specifically, change your focus from chronic load to acute load. If you can keep your life in reasonable balance, and your body ticking along then you’ll be able to “act like you’re 25 again” for 2-3 days a month with your pals. With the realities of our busy lives, that’s going to yield nearly all of the benefits and have minimal costs.
Every few years, the stars will align with your family, job and connective tissue… when that happens you’ll be able to hit-the-gas for a month and get yourself into great shape.
The best case study that I know is Molina’s race report from Ironman New Zealand.
My buddy, Scott Molina, just went 10:10 at Ironman New Zealand, on his 54th birthday. That blows my mind! I know he wrote the race report so he can remember that day for a long time.
When Scott was my age, he used to smile and tell me, “I’d rather look fast than be fast.” More and more, I understand Scott’s decisions.
At the end of my elite career, I felt sore, blown and kinda old. A few years on, I’m grateful to be feeling much better. I can’t dominate my pals but, like Molina, I can sneak in a KOM when they are distracted.
Whatever your current path, remember that it’s OK to change. The tenacity that serves us well as young athletes can cause us to make choices that hurt ourselves.
I didn’t expect to have this much fun from doing this little training.