Q&A: How a 40-something Triathlete Stays on Top
You've taken time off over the years for happy reasonshaving kidsand not-so-happy ones, like a bout with thyroid cancer, a bike-versus-18-wheeler crash, and an accident with a storm window. How did exercise help you bounce back?
Just a little walk was able to get me through many of my recoveries. After my two C-sections, walking helped my circulation and helped my digestive system get jump-started again. When recovering from my cancer surgeries, exercise helped me regain a sense of wellness and also confidence in my body. Cancer has a tendency to rob you of your feeling of control; seeing my body respond to exercise by getting stronger helped me regain that control. I wasn't "training" per se, I was merely exercisinggetting the body moving and the heart rate elevated for a period of time. It is so important and is such a miracle cure for some things.
Have you ever trained so much that you got an overuse injury?
I wish I knew back in college, when I was on the swim team, what I know now about recovery and overtraining. I suffered from overtraining at times, but I haven't since the late 1980sknock on wood. I've had no stress fractures, for example. I'm really careful about not getting overtrained, and I'm a big believer in a minimalist program. That's kept me in it so long. I totally train by feel. I have things on my schedule that I've planned, but I'll cut workouts short if I'm tired. I've developed my own instincts.
You also coach yourself. How does that translate to keeping your own life in balance?
The Ironman buildup is a burden on the family. Long training is a grind for me, so I keep it to a pretty quick buildup so I won't get sick of it. I train depending on how much my body can absorb while still staying fresh and excited about it. And I definitely can't fit in as much volume these daysnot with two kids and coaching. I maintain quality, mostly cutting out those two-hour easy bike rides.
What's your advice for midlife athletes, especially those who haven't been doing sports all their lives?
It's never too late to start. The 60-plus age groups at the Ironman are filled with men and women who didn't even start running or biking until they were middle age! But start small (not with an Ironman) and with something that you enjoy. Find a friend to walk with; join an adult soccer or volleyball league. Sign up for classes at the gym. If you can combine a social element with the exercise component, people are more likely to enjoy it and stick with it. The great thing about just starting out is that you get to see improvement very quickly. Stick with it and feel yourself be transformed.
Do you think you'll retire from racing?
I don't see the word retire connected with my life!