Rich Allen ponders whether he is too old to continue racing as a pro.
I quite frequently complain about my age as, let’s be honest, it’s the only good excuse I can come up with. Athletes like the Brownlee brothers haven’t started shaving and I am 39 and growing greyer by the day. Until I get to the summer I am particularly bitter as I battle with my inner self as to whether racing at my age is a good idea. My body aches daily, like I have been beaten up with a baseball bat and I think to myself, why race pro at my age? Today, while surfing the internet, I have my answer.
I am just reading the results of Ironman 70.3 Panama while having my morning coffee and to my delight I see that the winner of this highly competitive championship race was Oscar Galindez at the age of 41. It’s not just Oscar though. Look at the dominant long-distance triathletes and many are pushing 40. Prime examples are Ironman Hawaii champions Crowie and Macca, both aged 39. Following close behind are the likes of Chris Lieto, Bryan Rhodes, and Paul Amey and on the women’s side the incredible Natasha Badmann who finished top six in Kona aged 46. This all gives me great hope. If it is possible for the old guys to beat the young guns I must not give up on my pursuit of excellence. The positives still outweigh the negatives, even at my age.
There are more athletes around the 40 mark than you might think and that’s pretty incredible. The odds are considerably stacked against us, as I certainly can’t think of too many negatives holding me back when I was 25. Firstly there is the injury status. The older I get, the harder it is for me to recover and training on tight, tired legs quite frequently leads to injury. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t carry a minor injury and I am constantly stretching and getting massage to alleviate the pain. I can’t really remember a time when my legs didn’t ache.
The older I get the less hours there seem to be in the day. Athletes like Crowie, Macca, have kids; I’ve recently joined them and it certainly changes that daily schedule. It’s no longer a case of train, eat, sleep and repeat. Now it’s train, change a nappy, eat, clean food off the floor that child has thrown while having a strop, sleep a little bit, try to train again but have to cut it short because baby is crying.
There is of course the mental burnout. When you have been swimming, biking and running in all weather conditions for 20-plus years it does sometimes become a bit tedious. Lying by the fire watching a movie does seem more appealing I have to admit. Then there is the hunger; the will to win. I remember as a young triathlete I was so hungry to win and that passion fuelled me every day. The world was my oyster and I wanted to dominate. At my age the world means a 20-hour plane journey that I certainly cannot be bothered with and if you are the likes of Crowie with four world championship titles then it’s difficult to get hungry when you are already full.
While it is certainly a struggle when you are nearly 40, there are some advantages to being old. There is the aerobic conditioning from years of those winter miles. I simply don’t have to go the distance I used to, as I seem to maintain the base fitness even if I stop for a month or so. Experience is a huge factor when it comes to maximising your performance and knowing how to get the best out of your body.
The flip-side of having a busy family life is that it adds life balance, which makes you happy and in turn helps performance. Personally, I also run a business and this balances out the monotony of training day in, day out.
I certainly appreciate my health and the physique triathlon gives me at my age. I am thankful I can still see my feet and fit in my jeans from 15 years ago. I also know people who have had serious health complications and I would like to think that triathlon helps to fight against some of these issues.
Some cynics might say that we go on so long because we simply can’t do anything else. This may be true of one or two athletes but the simple reason I believe that there are more of us oldies on the pro circuit is because we can. If you can swim, bike and run with the best and show those young kids who’s boss every now and again then why the heck not?
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