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Who says age slows you down? Here, some of the country’s top age-groupers over 40 explain how triathlon keeps them young, plus their tips on how you can stay competitive—and quick—regardless of that number written on your calf.
Fit at 48: Gail Matherly
Name: Gail Matherly
Resides: Niwot, Colo.
Recent Highlights: 1st (Women 45-49), 2011 and 2010 Rohto Ironman 70.3 Boulder; 3rd (Women 45-49), 2011 Subaru Ironman Canada; 11th (Women 45-49), 2011 Ironman World Championships.
Old flames never die, at least when it comes to the fiery passion so many athletes have for their love of sport. Case in point: Gail Matherly, who raced as a pro duathlete and cyclist in the early 90s, only to press pause on multisport to focus on family and her career as a business systems analyst for a marketing firm. Entering a local sprint back in 2009 stoked her competitive embers, and soon Matherly found herself a coach—and a reputation as one of the nation’s toughest triathletes in her age-group.
On Staying Motivated: “It took me three years to get to Kona. I expected quick results and [Ironman] training doesn’t always deliver like that. The experience taught me that you have to be persistent and learn from your mistakes. I will forever be learning about myself as a triathlete… the longer you are in the sport, the more you are going to learn.”
On Staying Competitive: “When I was younger, my whole mental demeanor and self-esteem were tied into whether or not I had a good race. If it didn’t work out, it would ruin my entire day. Now, although I do hope to win my age-group, I try not to stress if I don’t have a good day. I’m not doing this for a living, it’s a healthy activity that helps me keep my sanity.”
On Staying Healthy: “As you age, it becomes more and more important to listen to your body. Everything, from work stress to kid stress, has an impact on the amount of energy I have to devote to training that day. I take into account everything that is going on in my life and make adjustments as needed. Otherwise, it’s very easy to overdo it and wind up with an injury or illness. I’m not afraid to back off.”
Biggest Challenge at 48: “It was hard to get back into things in my 40s. It wasn’t the same body that I used to race at 28, and the things I did back then didn’t work anymore. I felt like I was going through a time warp. It took me two seasons to realize that my [original] PRs are long behind me in running and cycling.”
Top Tip: “Get a coach or join a training group. For someone who is in mid-life, accountability is so important because we have all of these things going on with family and our jobs. It makes it hard to keep training a priority.”
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Fast at 51: Marty Stiegmann
Name: Marty Stiegmann
Resides: Glen Allen, Va.
Recent Highlights: 1st (Men 50-54), 2011 ITU Duathlon World Championships; 1st (overall), XTERRA Eastcoast Triathlon Championship 2011; two-time USAT National Duathlon Champion (Men 50-54).
If there’s a fountain of youth out there, it may very well be spouting somewhere near Richmond, Va. And if that’s the case, Marty Stiegmann is certainly sipping from it. The multisport veteran—he completed his first tri over a quarter-century ago—remains extremely competitive not only against men his own age, but those decades younger than him. “If someone asks me if I hope to win my age-group at a race, I say sure, but hope to win it outright, too,” says Stiegmann. “I have never let age get in my way.”
On Staying Motivated: “I have a regimen for everything, but at the same time, I am always looking for what’s out there that can make me faster. As experienced as I might be, I am not against trying something new. I want to keep doing this for a long time. At races, you see these 70-year-olds running up to get their awards—that will be me one day.”
On Staying Competitive: “I am extremely competitive. I don’t train through races—I go in fresh and looking for the age-group win and top ten over all. I may not be getting any faster, but I am running times close to what I ran ten years ago. And I still run my 5Ks in sub-six-minute pace.”
On Staying Healthy: “I pay attention to my body and rest. I recently did a 50-mile mountain bike race. It was really hard, so I took a couple days off. Another big thing I’ve learned more about lately is nutrition. I ran my first marathon on water alone. But these days, If I go for a 50-mile ride on a Tuesday evening, I think about it at lunch time. I bring Gu, Gatorade, and have my whey protein drink ready in the car. Then I go home and shower and put compression pants on.”
Biggest Challenge at 51: “I can’t hammer myself every day like I used to. I have to be smarter and respect my age. I have to recover and treat my body well.”
Top Tip: “Mix things up. I sign up for things that I know will be hard workouts, like indoor soccer and basketball. I also do Spin classes. They keep me moving and running fast. Also, I ride with cyclists, not triathletes. Our training rides are almost like races.”
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Stealth at 61: Lynnda Best-Wiss
Name: Lynnda Best-Wiss
Resides: Boulder, Colo.
Recent Highlights: 1st (Women 60-64), 2011 Rohto Ironman 70.3 Boulder; 1st (Women 60-64), 2011 Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3; 6th (Women 60-64), 2011 Ironman World Championships.
Lynnda Best-Wiss may be soft spoken, but she certainly carries a big stick. And that stick comes in the form of her impressive speed and athleticism, honed from a near lifetime of competitive running. A former middle-distance star on the track (she competed at the University of New Mexico before Title IV), Best-Wiss took up triathlon in 2004 after dabbling in swimming and cycling while battling a running injury. “I did pretty well and joined a women’s tri team with a coach who encouraged me to keep going,” she says. “It just snowballed from there.”
On Staying Motivated: “I am certainly focused on getting faster in my weak sports. I was never a swimmer, so I’ve been working with a coach who has made my stroke more efficient. I also now train and race with a power meter and watch my effort on the bike so I can run to the best of my ability. And I just bought my first tri bike.”
On Staying Competitive: “The competitive juices have been in my blood since I was a 14-year-old training with the nation’s best [800-meter] runner. That hasn’t changed because of my age. This year, I want to qualify for 70.3 words and win my age group.”
On Staying Healthy: “I have a great team of physical therapists, massage therapists, a nutritionist and a dietitian that I work with on a regular basis. I also lift weights twice a week and do a postural therapy called Egoscue, which helps with my knee issues.”
Biggest Challenge at 61: “Staying injury free. That is one of the goals I work on constantly. I started running 46 years ago, and that is a lot of wear and tear on my body. I’ve found that it’s much easier to get injured at my age and harder to recover. I am constantly tuned in and listening to my body. “
Top Tip: “Set realistic goals. If you have an idea in mind for a race or a time, talk to a coach or friend who knows you well and can give you an idea if it’s realistic enough. Maybe it’s something you’ll be able to do eventually, but you may have to set intermediate goals to get there.”
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Strong at 71: Roger Little
Name: Roger Little
Resides: Bedford, Mass.
Recent Highlights: 1st (Men 70-74), 2011 ITU Long Distance World Championship; 4th (Men 70-74), 2011 Ironman Cozumel; 6th(Men 70-74), 2011 Ironman World Championships; 4th (Men 70-74), 2011 Ironman World Championships 70.3; 2nd (Men 70-74) 2011 Ironman Lake Placid.
“I’m not crazy, but I’m committed,” says Roger Little of his dedication to the sport of triathlon. You can say that again: The 71-year-old has been competing since 1982, racking up a total of 326 races in that time. The CEO of Spire Corp, a solar manufacturing and research company, who considers the grueling Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon as his favorite race, shows no signs of slowing. This year, he plans on racing the Ironman US Championships in New York City as well as making his 15th trip to Kona.
On Staying Motivated: “I’ve done the same training routine for a couple of decades, rarely missing a day. It keeps me from having to think about what to do or make any extra decisions. I get up at 4:30, run eight miles, bike an hour in my basement, then go to work at 9 a.m. During the day, I bolt out and swim a mile and run in deep water for an hour. On the weekends, I do more.”
On Staying Competitive: “I always want to get faster. I’ve been number one in the US two years in a row, so my goal is not lose my position. Obviously I like to win, but I never had any plans to go on forever with this sport. My philosophy is to just keep going.”
On Staying Healthy: “The good thing about aging up is that you have fewer injuries and you recovery faster. I think it all goes back to the fact that you are going slower, so you’re not stressing your body as much. I can do back-to-back iron-distance races with a two-week gap.”
Biggest Challenge at 71: “There are always injuries to worry about. And certainly, I’ve slowed down in running. But my biking has hung on and my swimming isn’t much slower than it has ever been. The attrition rate in the 70s group is pretty high, so I appreciate that I’m still going.”
Top Tip: “Don’t take it all that seriously and try to enjoy the experience. I love traveling to different places, allover the world and seeing sites I normally wouldn’t. When the race is over, I’ve met a lot of people and got to see a lot of nice places.”
Awesome at 80: Bill Olsen
Name: Bill Olsen
Resides: Warren, Mich.
Recent Highlights: 2nd (Men 75-79) 2011 Austin Marathon; 1st (Men 75-59), 2010 Clark Lake Triathlon and Duathlon; finisher of over 125 triathlons and 100 duathlons.
Back in 1956, Bill Olsen was an elite cyclist and an alternate for the American squad at the Melbourne Olympics. Today? He’s pretty much just as active, but with a few more accolades under his belt. Multiple triathlon finisher. All-American Duathlete. World Duathlon Long Course Age-Group Champion. And, perhaps most notably, a three-time cancer survivor. Although he lost one kidney to the disease in 2009 and is currently battling pancreatic cancer, Olsen, who will turn 80 in June, still runs four to eight miles a day and last year was the oldest finisher of the Livestrong Marathon in Austin, Tex., crossing the line with his granddaughters (including current pro triathlete Terra Castro), in 5:42:06
On Staying Motivated: “I’m motivated by my desire to keep active no matter what, plus the friendships I’ve made and the good health. I like to run by the clock and maintain my speed, and I also keep a journal.”
On Staying Competitive: “I love the joy of competition, I always set a goal of time for a race or a practice and like to monitor my progress on my watch. In turn, I enjoy the overall experience and satisfaction of completing the race in a decent time.”
On Staying Healthy: “The secret of my longevity in endurance sports is consistency. I do something pretty much every day. Sometimes the hardest part is getting out the door. I don’t follow a special diet but eat a variety of good basic food in moderation.”
Biggest Challenge at 80: “I’ve experienced numerous accidents and health issues and my goals have changed. But I train and compete with the same fervor I’ve always had. I realize it’s important to keep doing and keep trying no matter what the obstacles. I am grateful that I still relish going out everyday and training and realize how important it is to keep working at your passion no matter what the limitations are.”
Top Tip: “It’s no good feeling sorry for yourself, you can’t go back. Just do the best you can with whatever means you have. Have a passion in life that you commit to whatever it is.”