What Older Athletes Need
For over 13 years, I have been preaching that older athletes need speed work. I know, it sounds crazy as most older athletes wrap themselves in bubble wrap and just try to stay injury free, but speed work is exactly what they need to perform to their potential (which means minimizing injury). The trend as athletes age is to slow down and race longer. While I am perfectly fine with older athletes racing longer distances, it should not come at the expense of speed work or racing short periodically.
In 2015, my pulpit was supported by one of the forefathers of triathlon training himself, Joe Friel, when he released a book entitled, Fast After 50. In this book, he stated that three things lead to a decline in performance with age: Decreased VO2 max, decreased muscle mass, and increased body fat. He then made a case for combatting each of these with intervals, hills, and weight training. I cannot agree more.
Out of fear, we get softer as we age and then wonder why we are slower. To get faster, you must go fast – it really is that simple. We must keep training our VO2 Max by working at higher intensities to reverse the effects of aging. We might not develop it to the level it once was, but we certainly must try.
What about injuries? Let me start addressing this by stating that the number one cause of injuries is not speed work or high training volume but rather inconsistency. The body thrives on consistency and adapts to consistent, progressive loads placed upon it. Most older athletes can handle a consistent dose of intensity if it is consistent, so the body can learn to expect it. Additionally, older athlete’s training must be well thought out with ample recovery built in. Whereas young athletes can get away with being more reckless with their training, jumping into random workouts at a whim, older athletes need to carefully plan out their training to ensure consistent load and consistent recovery (the key word being consistent).
So, if you find yourself plateauing, it is time to systematically add speed back into your training. If you have not done speed work in a long time, start small and build slowly. Aim for consistent increases week after week with plenty of recovery built in. I will close with a quote from Outside Magazine after interviewing Joe Friel on his book, “Age is not a limiting factor. The desire to perform at a high-level and make the necessary sacrifices to do so is.”