Embracing the Aging Athlete

by Kevin Farr, BSc, 14 time Canadian Masters Track Champion

The numbers don’t lie.  It's 2015 which means I will be turning 45 yrs old.  Although I may still dress as a teenager, my body is telling me I’m not.  

My hips are stiff, back is tight, I’m not as quick and agile as I used to be and a bed time before 10 o’clock is the norm.

Aging affects us all the same way, whether we are athletes or not.  As we age, our hearts pump less blood, we lose muscle mass and injuries begin to wear on the body.  Specifically in athletes, aging affects our speed, our endurance, our strength and balance.

But accepting the aging process does not mean I have to lose my competitiveness.  That is something I was born with and can’t lose.  Alter?  Now that’s another story.

I still push myself into the torture zone, but I’ve accepted that zone comes a little earlier than it used to and I need more recovery time.

As an aging athlete, I have learned to modify my workouts and lower, somewhat, my expectations.  It’s no longer a case of “can I”, but “should I”.  Should I do as many sets as the 20yr olds?  Should I skip the warm up and cool down?

Studies have shown that most athletes hit their peak around 24yrs of age.  Endurance athletes and distance runners like me, peak around 28.  Going by these numbers my peak was 17 yrs ago.  

Those 17yrs I’ve learned some valuable lessons.  I can no longer gauge my worth on time and performance.  My outlook has changed.  I do care about my times but I’ve also learned what I can contribute to others just by competing.  

I’ve embraced the fact that I’m not as strong, or fast as I used to be but that doesn’t mean I have to stop either.  I now focus on being as strong and fast as I currently can and slow ever so slightly the aging process.

How do I do this one might ask?  I have added an element to my workout regime that is quite important to the aging athlete - weight training   Many endurance athletes, even those younger are reluctant to add weight training to their daily routines due to the fear of “bulking up”.  Distance running breaks down the muscles in the body and can result in a loss of strength.  Couple that with an already aging body and overtime overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures and runners knee become apparent.  Thus, incorporating a weight training program, this muscle breakdown can be limited and sustained.

Limit and sustain.  Two words that have become my motif.  I may be limited in what I can do, but I choose to sustain for as long as I can.

Kevin Farr is a world ranked masters endurance athlete.  His accomplishments include being a 5 time OUA champion, 3 time CIS champion, 11 time Provincial Masters Champion, 14 time Canadian Masters Champion and 7 time Canadian Masters Silver Medalist.