Anyone who has watched TV coverage of the triathlon at the Olympics could be excused for assuming that the sport popularly known as ‘swim, bike, run’ is strictly for fine-honed and glowing youth rather than those of us who have reached the elastic waistband years. It is, though, one theory that will quickly be disproved by a peek at your city’s local triathlon.
At the largest most elite competitions, this race features the sport’s elite: men and women who can swim 1,500 meters, pedal 40km and lope 10km in the time it takes most of us to collect our baggage from the carousel at the airport.
In most big cities, there’s the familiar assortment of enthusiasts, celebs and gallant souls doing it for charity, many of them extremely heartening proof that triathletes come not only in all sizes and ability levels but all ages too.
Triathlon is in fact a great sport for people of mature years, and not just in terms of losing some weight and improving health and overall fitness. Exercising in three different disciplines puts you at far less risk of injury than keeping yourself in shape by running alone, because the low impact nature of cycling and swimming puts much less strain on joints. Which means, of course, you can carry on doing it longer.
There is, too, the special joy of open-water swimming in the sea, lakes, rivers, canals and reservoirs that are usually deployed for the wet part of the proceedings. It’s a prospect that can seem daunting at first, but once you’re confident, it’s exhilarating to be outside in the fresh air in an environment that far transcends anything experienced swimming lengths in an indoor pool.
Meanwhile, although there is no shame in doing the cycling stage on your rattling old bike when you start out, you’re at an age where there’s all the fun of splurging an exorbitant chunk of disposable income on the bike of your dreams.
Competitive types will also be driven by the prospect of international recognition in their fifties and sixties.
But even if you’re just doing an event as a one-off for charity, a couple of sessions with a qualified coach is useful. Triathlon isn’t just the three disciplines of swim, bike, run. The fourth is transition, that frantic and sometimes chaotic, bike-crashing, shoe-slinging interlude between stages when survival depends on getting out quickly and efficiently.
Jo Lewis is a top-level coach in the UK who runs Tri50.co.uk which offers specialized training for over-50s (but only in Great Britain). Jo, plans to go on competing until well into her sixties, talks enthusiastically about triathlon’s ability to give a new lease of life. “Don’t feel intimidated by youngsters,” says Jo. “You don’t have to be young to engage. Plenty of older people do triathlon.”