Competitive Aging: Fit After Fifty, Sixty and Beyond

by Barry Hill
Competitive Aging: Fit After Fifty, Sixty and Beyond

Sometimes it isn’t about ‘aging gracefully’ as people say. We caught up with Cherie Gruenfeld, multi-Ironman Champion and featured inFit After Fifty“, after her most recent Kona Ironman race. Cherie turns 70 next year, and we were interested to hear her thoughts on competing and aging. For her, it’s not about getting older gracefully, but instead; it’s about getting the most out of life now.

It’s pitch black on the lava fields of Kona, Hawaii, where I’m racing in the Ironman World Championships. I’ve been here 18 times before – my first when I was 48-years-old. I’m now 69. My time goal for this year’s race is 13:13 and I’m going to have to do something very special to make that. Some years ago, I finished this race in 11:57.

For a brief moment, my thoughts roam. Do I want to keep working hard each year, struggling to make times that continually get slower and slower?

During my race, I should never let my mind do anything other than focus on pushing my body towards the finish line; however, the question is still at good one. Regardless of how good my genetics are, how much rigorous training I do and how great my motivation, my rational mind tells me that it’s unrealistic to believe I can race as I did when I was younger. That being said, it is not in my DNA to give up on believing that I can still excel. I believe that if I use 100 percent of what I have at this moment in my life, I still have the opportunity to exceed expectations. Therefore, I still set the bar high. My training and racing goals are aggressive, designed to push me far outside my comfort zone.

But the biggest issue in this “competing while aging” scenario – I believe – is understanding and accepting exactly where the bar needs to be set to make the goal challenging, yet achievable. Each person may handle this situation differently.

Here are some random thoughts on how I try to deal with it:

  • Put away training journals for all years except the last five. Anything more than that is simply no longer relevant.
  • In using past performance as a guide for setting race goals, strive to improve last year’s results.
  • In racing, go for course records rather than PRs.
  • Compare yourself only to yourself. If you judge your standing with others your age, you may possibly be setting the bar too low. If you compare yourself to others in the age group below, you may be setting the bar too high.
  • Know clearly why you’re continuing to compete and be prepared to step away when you’re no longer happy with what you’re getting out of it.
  • Always believe you’ve got a great race in you.

Earlier, you heard the question I posed to myself, wondering if Ironman racing is what I still wanted to be doing or if it was time to call it a good career and step away. Moments after crossing the finish line, I answered that question – in the affirmative.

Yes, I do want to continue Ironman training and racing because I believe I have a race in me next year that will be better than this year. I’ll have to work hard, put in a lot of tough training time and pay strict attention to my diet and general health. But for me, the trade off between the hard work and the great sense of accomplishment is a very good deal. And there’s a course record I want to take a run at!

We will all age. But we don’t have to get old. Personally, I’m not trying to age with grace. I want to suck everything out of life for as long as I can.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “WOW – what a ride!”


Click here to watch Cherie’s story, about setting your course.

Inspired? Talk to Cherie or share your own story of competitive aging by clicking here.

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