How Old is Old?

By Dr. Steve Jonas | May 08, 2017, 4:11 p.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 43, 2017/05)

Just about the time I first started running, back in 1980, I met Dr. Charles Ogilvie, Professor of the History of Medicine at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) in Fort Worth. At Charlie’s invitation, I had come to TCOM as a consultant in medical education and preventive medicine. Charlie and I worked closely together in program development, and at the same time he did much to turn me into a regular runner. Overweight as an adult, but a former college sprinter, Charlie first took up distance running at age 58. By the time he was 60 he was doing marathons at just over 3 hours, blowing away most everyone else in his age group and many younger than him as well. (One of his great regrets was that with a personal best of 3:01, he never broke 3 hours.)  Charlie celebrated his 65th year by doing 10 marathons, all in the low three-hour range.

But when Charlie turned 68, he decided that it was time to take up something new. He turned to triathlon and he became pretty fast at that, too. It turned out, however, that his mother, still living well into her 90s, was concerned. “Charles,” she said to him one day, “do you really think that it is safe for a man of your age to be riding a bicycle on the public roads?” He did. Unfortunately, Charlie and I lost touch as the years went by, but there he was, becoming a triathlete at age 68.

Then there was a gentleman I met while setting up my bike on the rack at the London Super Sprint Triathlon in 2008. I was 71. He was 77. “Have you been at the sport for a long time,” I asked? “Oh no, this is my first one,” he replied. “I see. Do you come from a running or cycling background?” I asked.  “Not really,” he said. “I started running when I was 74.” He then told me that his plan was to work up to the Olympic distance in triathlon. I’m sure that he did.

“OK, OK,” you might be thinking, “there are plenty of oldsters in our sport.” Indeed there are. In the Sprint Duathlon Worlds coming up at Penticton, British Columbia in August, there are seven 80-plus males, including Ed Maruna at 89, as well as four 70-plus athletes and one 80-year-old, Margaret Bomberg, among the women.

But how about this one. 

“Ed Whitlock, a retired mining engineer and masters running champion…broke three hours in the marathon in his 70s and last fall became the oldest person ever to run 26.2 miles in under four hours (a 3:56:34).…He had no coach, followed no special diet, did no stretching except on the morning of a race, got no massages and took no medication, except for a supplement for his knees. The training itself was drudgery, Mr. Whitlock said, and he did not run for his health. He simply enjoyed setting records and getting attention.”

As for equipment, on the day he set the record he ran in 15-year-old shoes, wearing a 20 to 30 year-old running singlet.

And finally, how about this gentleman?  

“A 105-year-old man has made history by cycling more than 14 miles round a track in an hour.
Robert Marchand set the first hour record in the over-100s category in 2012, then beat it himself two years later at the age of 102, when he covered more than 16 miles. While his distance in Wednesday’s ride was not as great as those two, the new over-105s category had been specially created for him to reflect the magnitude of his feat.  Cheered by hundreds of fans, the Frenchman completed 92 laps round the velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, near Paris.  ‘I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left,’ said Marchand. ‘Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time. I’m now waiting for a rival.’ ”

If we can stay healthy, we don’t know for how long we can go on racing.  And of course, all of the training — and racing — that we do makes it that much more possible for us to stay healthy.

 


This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.