Dispatch: Longevity In Iron-Distance Racing

Hillary Biscay, Petr Vabrousek and Belinda Granger.

250. That’s the sum total of iron-distance race finishes logged by three of triathlon’s most prolific racers: Petr Vabrousek (138), Hillary Biscay (63) and Belinda Granger (49).

All three of these endurance phenoms are gearing up to increase their tallies with Saturday’s Challenge Taiwan, and I jumped at the opportunity to learn the tips and tools they employ for longevity in the sport.

Petr Vabrousek: Draw boundaries, prioritize family time and don’t overtrain.

“My kids are my recovery [Vabrousek has a 14-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter]. Whenever I’m not racing or at a race, I’m completely disconnected from triathlon. I do my two to three hours of training a day, and other than those two or three hours nobody’s discussing triathlon with me. Nobody in my family is interested whether I had a good session or a bad session or whether I had a puncture on the bike or whatever, including what happens at the races. So for me, to disconnect from triathlon is a very quick thing. I even have trouble when I do have a small mechanical thing on the bike–by the end of my training session I come home and I immediately forget about it, and I only remember when I go for another session in two days and find out I didn’t repair it! Ninety per cent of the day I live a normal life with my family. Just a little part of it is training. I get refreshed pretty quick.”

“I’ve been doing sport since I was 10 when I started rowing, and I’m 41 this year, so it’s 30 years of uninterrupted training. I feel like my body has accumulated enough training over the years and it’s not all that exciting anymore just to train. My last training camp was before my son, who is now 14, started school. The thing is, I did my first triathlon in 1989, which was 25 years ago, and I’ve never ever had anything like overtraining or a stress injury or motivational problems. I’m just completely undertrained! All my career I’ve been completely undertrained. I’ve never ever felt like: OK, that’s enough. I need to take a day off. I’ve never had a feeling that I did too much or that my body hurts. I always feel that I should be training and doing more, but with the kids I just don’t have time to do it. I’ve spoiled my family by being home all day. Whenever I say something like, ‘I’m going for a two-hour bike ride,’ I see long faces. They are like: Two hours? Are you kidding? So these things prevent me from doing too much, and that’s probably the major key for me for longevity in the sport. I see what some of my competitors do in training and I think: That would kill me in a week, more than racing a couple of Ironman races in a week.

“Coming back from an Ironman distance, I’ll have several days completely off. Then before the real training should start I’ll have another race. So especially in the summer season, training never really starts. From May to the end of September usually there’s a major race every weekend for me, either a half or a full Ironman distance. The last two or three years I did eight Ironman races in nine weeks in the summer. And it’s a dream scenario for me. I know that when I do an Ironman on the weekend I need to recover for four days and taper for two, which makes the whole complete week!”

“I also do a lot of strength training–probably two times a week, even in between races. I think that has something to do with it for me, helping to keep my body together.”

“If I would have a desire to stop, I would stop. There’s no desire. I’m always saying I will continue as long as it makes me fun and money. That is talking about professional sport of course–whenever it starts being a matter of money and not being able to support my family with sport, I will have to get another job. But I would still hope to do triathlon and long runs.”

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