TRIATHLETES OVER AGE 75
How they keep on tri-ing
Why are some triathletes able to keep training and competing in their senior years while others have had to retire? We talked to some triathletes in this country who are still going strong past their 75th birthdays to see what they have in common. Here’s what we learned about them.
They are almost all men. And most of them live in Ontario or B.C. In Ontario, eight out of 10 provincial triathlon association members aged 75-plus are men. In B.C., all 11 are men. But this is going to change. (See the sidebar on female triathletes.)
They travel light. Charlie Barnes, who trains in Guelph, Ont., is 5-10 tall and weighs in between 145 and 150 lb. Tony Marriott, who lives north of Hamilton, Ont., is 5-4 and 120 lb. Both have medalled at world championships. In general, older triathletes aren’t carrying any extra pounds.
They don’t take drugs. Whatever came first – the almost empty medicine cabinet or the training regime – the 75-plus triathletes we interviewed take nothing stronger than a cholesterol pill, a thyroid pill or maybe a tiny daily blood pressure pill. Most take no pharmaceuticals at all.
They have always excelled at sports – or not. Victoria’s Mike Ellis swims, bikes or runs almost every morning. “Then we spend another hour having coffee,” he admits. The 76-year-old has been on the podium in his age group in recent world championships. He also set a new Canadian record in the mile run when he was 15 and kept up the pace, setting another national record in a 50 km ultra race at age 60. On the other hand, Winnipeg’s Jim Anderson, who won his age at the national triathlon championships last summer in Toronto with a time of 1:38 for a sprint tri, says he was terrible at sports growing up, and didn’t take up running until he was 40.
Their spouses, siblings, children or friends are happy to form a cheering squad, especially at world championships.
They have support.
They value their physician’s advice – but don’t always follow it.
While Barnes was training for last itu world championships in London, England, year’s his doctor suggested he was getting older and should take it easy. “I told him I was going to the world championships, and how was I going to get onto the podium if I took it easy?”
Mississauga, Ont.’s Gord Brockie was told by a doctor 25 years ago to quit running for good. Instead, he started taking glucosamine and his knees stopped hurting. He’s still running.
Al George of Abbotsford, B.C. says whenever possible older triathletes should have a health care provider who’s a kindred spirit. “You need a doctor who understands endurance sports, and who can think further than a hockey stick.”
Sport is about the now, and future goals, rather than those long-gone PBs. For example Barnes, 76, says his plan is to bring home gold at the world championships the year he moves to the 80+ age category. “It’s kind of scary to think someday I may no longer be able to do triathlons,” Barnes admits. “This in itself is another incentive to train hard and do the best I can right now.”
They accept that they’re slowing down.
Tony Marriott with his grandson Matthew Marriott at the 2012 Subaru Guelph Lake Triathlon
Gord Brockie racing the 2006 Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C.