Big Man, Little Man, Old Man, Woman
This week I am going to write about body composition, age and gender. Should be something to offend everyone...
Before getting to my point, let's define terms. Specifically, what is "big" and what is "old"? There are several way to look at this and each method impacts the risk/return profile of different training approaches.
Now a six foot tall, 165 lbs person is not going to look very big walking around the strip in Las Vegas. True, but for the purpose of what follows, "big" people are going to respond to training differently than "small" people.
What's old? Let's make some more friends (!) and define that:
For events that are fuel constrained (ironman, adventure racing, mountaineering, ultracycling), we often see that the fastest athletes are a little big and a little old.
Thinking about it... maybe I should have said "experienced," rather than "old." Your knees aren't wrecked... they are experienced... ;-)
Don't Train Like A Woman (unless you are "experienced" and/or female)
It's not just the elite ladies that crush people. The fastest amateur women on our team do a lot of "damage" to the guys in their training groups. Just because they are polite and smiling... don't be fooled! They are crushing you (I see the data).
How are you going to know that you're not coping?
Think back to my question about biomechanical age -- you are going to start feeling "old". ITB syndrome, piriformis syndrome, planter faciitis, chronic back pain, chronic fatigue -- most the larger men that join our team arrive with one, or more of these chronic issues. As coaches, we spend months providing psychological reassurance that it is OK to back off. It is important to remember that even when a big man backs off, the actual work rate remains high. For example, moving 175+ lbs at ANY speed requires effort. For a larger man, easy training isn't easy!
I also think that this is why coaches that excel with women completely fry their larger men. Even dialing their training protocol down, it is still too much intensity for the guys. Small women get fast from intensity, big men get fast from volume. The takeaway point -- the higher your absolute capacity for work rate, the more careful you'll need to be with sustained high intensity training.
As a man that is kinda big, kinda old (or should that be "experienced"?) -- most of my training mistakes happened when I was greedy with fitness/speed and tried to train "hard" for an extended period to time.
Grandpa Is Throwin' Down
I've been fortunate to coach one of the fastest men over 65 in the world for the last eight years -- he's in his 70s and won his AG (in Kona) by an hour when he turned 70. When I look at Ron's training a few things stand out:
I'll explain the chance. A long break from exercise in your 20s is a non-event. Even at 40, I took a long break from swimming (when my daughter was born) and was able to come back to quite a good level. With each decade we add, the losses (in specific strength) that result from long lay offs are tougher to regain.
What does chance have to do with strength training and consistency? Bike crashes!
Tips you can use to "shape your fate":
The takeaway point -- in the upper age groups, there are characteristics of high performers that differ from what we see with the "kids." Given that quite a bit of sports science is based on short-duration studies of college kids... we should keep our eyes open to the common threads that run through athletes (of all categories) that are long-term performers.
Do You Need It
It appears that a certain amount of higher intensity is beneficial for our general health (FWIW, I don't see that in my own life but accept the benefits others report are real).
From a strictly sports performance basis, consider your race pace relative to your functional threshold and VO2max paces. Even if you think you need it. I can assure you that the further your average race pace gets from your VO2max pace, the less you will tolerate high intensity. If you fail to tolerate your training program then you will not be able to do the work required to perform (it always comes back to work). Your underperformance will manifest itself three main ways: illness; injury and departure from athletics.
As a fan, you might not care about the elites. As an athlete, or member of our team, I'd recommend that you think very carefully about your approach. There are times to take risks -- take them with your eyes open and be alert to the signs of impending doom (which will be covered next week).
Photo this week: 1-2-3 at a half ironman race in New Zealand. You can decide who's large or old!