THE MERRELL BLOG: WHAT'S NOW. WHAT'S NEXT. LET'S GET OUTSIDE.
Youth vs Experience
Sean McFarlane about the optimum age for best performance in long distance multisport racing
I’m asked a lot of questions with a central theme - when are you going to stop all this? Aren’t you getting a bit old for this? Are you still improving? They’re all linked to that old issue of youth versus experience. So what’s the optimum age for performance in long distance multisport racing? The guys who pipped me to the inaugural Celtman and City to Summit titles were 43 and 49 respectively. There’s no doubting the effects of ageing but experience really does make a massive difference. So after plenty of debates over the years on this here are my musings.
1. Don’t underestimate the huge benefits of experience
Experience in life counts for so much and endurance racing is no different. You’re unlikely to forget your first ironman and despite how much you abuse it your body won’t either. Having previous similar experiences under your belt is invaluable. Knowing you’ve done it once, however slowly, works wonders second time round and dark places tend to become a bit lighter once you’ve visited them.
Another very important aspect of experience is being able to get every last ounce out of your body. I see plenty of people running the last couple of kilometres with a big smile and at a decent pace only to cross the line half way down the field. I’ve been there several times. It might look good to others but the ability to “leave nothing in the tank” is crucial to maximising your performance and for me only comes through experience.
2. Don’t forget what you can’t do with age
Performance wise, I don’t feel my age inhibits me, for now at least, but I am very aware of its effects in my training and wider life. Perhaps the most obvious aspect here is my relative inability to do different training or even fairly mundane activities without at least some degree of soreness. Biking and running are fine and even a bit of swimming, but that’s because that’s mainly all I’ve done, for years. But add anything else into the mix and I need to be careful. I spent 20 minutes practicing my kayak rolling last week and the next day felt like I’d been hit by a bus (not that I ever have been so I confess I don’t know what that feels like but I was sore!). Last year I turned down a game of golf for fear of injury! First planned game in two years so I think I was justifiably cautious.
3. Don’t expect to do well in the younger man’s races
In general for me, as I get older, my short course abilities drop off. A recent foray into track speed sessions might help stem the decline, but expecting to beat people half your age in short fast races is, for me, a non starter. That’s why we have age grouping.
4. Remember when you started all this
In my experience, the point in time at which you start long distance training in your life does affect your peak. I started in 2005 when I was 32 so am confident that I’ve got at least a few years ahead of me of good performance. I have other training partners who started much earlier and are clearly dropping off at my age. The truth for me is that I may have had a higher peak in say my mid thirties if I’d started at 20 but I didn’t so can look forward to more competitive racing in future. Happy days!