One of my athletes, Ashton, will be racing his first half-marathon after many years this weekend. He recently emailed me expressing some anxiety about the race. His email conveyed a broader concern that many of us face, the effects of ageing as we continue to pursue a life in sport.
With his permission, I’ve included an excerpt from his email, as well as my reply below. He wrote:
‘I want to let you know how I feel about the race this weekend and where I am at overall. I had a “wake-up” moment this morning in the pool. A moment where I looked at my current reality. When I read your note about going under 1:30 for a half marathon reality hit me in the face, and it is a bit depressing. I talk about qualifying for Hawaii, but I think when I talk about it, I’m thinking about the younger me.
I’ll be ok with all of this, even though this is a hard pill to swallow. I need to face this reality, without losing my confidence as a racer.’
Like all athletes, we all want to get better and faster, often mentally holding ourselves back because we think age is a limiter to our performance. Below is the email that I sent in response.
‘Thanks for confiding all of this in me.
For starters, remind me of your age?
Regardless of your age, none of us are getting any younger. It’s not just the ageing body, but also the family and professional commitments that place more demands on our time. That being said, there is hope.
Racing long, especially off the bike, is about strength and endurance, not flat-out speed. Strength-endurance does not decline nearly as soon, or as quickly, as we age. Furthermore, racing long is about patience, experience, and wise choices – all of which come with age. Strength and endurance are best developed through consistency in training. This cannot be overstated, just look at the Kona course record, Crowie set it at age 38!
“One of the most important things that I say to all of my athletes is that consistency is the most important variable in training, not speed or volume.”
Taking all of this into consideration, your feelings about ageing and slowing down are understandable. It is a hard thing for many people to come to terms with, particularly those who’ve been high-performing athletes. I hope that I can help you deal with those feelings, and to give some perspective regarding the bigger picture – about your training and your ability to continue to perform, particularly at longer races.
Recently we set some goal times and racing paces, based on your 10km performance, these might differ from what you could achieve in your 20s and early 30s. After the race you mentioned that you felt you’d be able to go faster with continued training. I agreed with the assessment. You have been training with me for two months at that point, which was enough time to get you to a good baseline. That race gave us a sense of where you were at, providing us with a good indication of your performance level.
You will gain more confidence as you gain successful efforts under your belt. For now, look back on your training, recognize the quality and consistency that you’ve put in, and draw confidence from that. Then, get on that start line with a plan. Your plan is drawn from what I know you can do and what you’ve proven in your training and racing. Have confidence in the plan and then go out and execute it.
Train hard and train consistently. Have a race plan and execute your race plan. These are the steps to take that will build your confidence.’
Often age is considered a limiting factor in our performance, but mostly it is lack of consistency and race planning that inhibits great results. The beauty of endurance sports is that age actually works in your favour, as I mentioned it brings patience, experience and wise choices, things only gained from age.
As we continue with endurance training later in life, it is often other external factors that can inhibit performance, such as family and work commitments. These can effect our ability to train consistently, but they are defiantly not bad things! These external factors force mature athletes to train smarter, due to time restrictions, encourage balance, and give them a stronger desire to performance better, often lacking in younger athletes.
** Post Race update – Congratulations to Ashton who completed the Mansfield Half Marathon in 1:33 finishing 2nd in his category.
Mateo Mercur is a US based Trisutto.com coach available to help improve your performance.