How to become National Champion at age 37!
"These days, I know what workouts I am doing, why I am doing them, and how itís going to get me to the race in peak condition."
When I signed up to do my first race ever - Half Ironman California 2004 - I had little experience running or cycling, but some experience swimming. I was anxious about my race and eager to find a local training buddy. Through the Ironman race 'Participants' list, I contacted Chris Harig, who I did not know, and asked if we could cycle together. I did not know Chris's level of athletic experience. On our first ride, I showed up on a 30 year old Bianchi dressed in my hiking clothes and my son's golf shoes. But Chris, noticing my resolve and basic strength, took me under his wing and shared his insight into competitive distance cycling.
Chris entered the 2004 Half Ironman Calfornia race To get back into racing and training, after laying around on the couch watching TV for a year and after his wife told him he was getting a gut. But, Chris had a true running background. He started running competitively at around age 6 and entered the town summer track league in Rhode Island. From there, they just kept throwing him in races. Then it was on through high school and then college. He ran for Furman University, an NCAA Division I school.
At Chris's first bike race at age 13 he crashed into a hay bail and "was hooked after that". In the off-season in college he raced triathlons and duathlons to stay in shape and keep competitive through the summer. After grad school he raced for Saucony running shoes on their factory team which had a bunch of great runners. After he moved to Seattle and raced at Half Ironman California, he raced for a few different cycling teams, but kept running and doing the multisport events. Running, cycling and racing was in his blood!
In January 2010, Chris asked if I would help him train on the bike to help him prepare for the racing season ahead. Beginning in January, we cycled 30 miles in the dark in the wet Seattle countryside winters at 7:30pm twice a week.
Chris's best athletic performance has come while in his mid and late thirties. In July 2010, Chris, at age 37, was crowned the USA Triathlon Long Course Duathlon National Champion beating out the entire men's. In 2007, Chris was the top overall amatuer American at the ITU Duathlon Age-Group World Championships in Gyor, Hungary. He repeated that position in 2008 at World's in Rimini, Itlay. In the 2008 USA Triathlon Rankings, Chris ranked No. 1 in his Duathlon age group.
So, how does an athlete with a busy full life reach his best performance at age 37?
How is Training Different now from Training when age 20 or 25?
Recovery and Experience. When you are 20 or 25, you recover relatively well and quickly. Day in and day out, you donít have the same aches and pains. The difference now for Chris is he is a lot smarter now and train smarter. "When you are young you make rookie mistakes and do dumb workouts. You run yourself ragged and donít know why you do certain workouts." Knowledge is empirical with running and endurance sports. But kids these days have access to information that we just didnít have, so you did what the coach said regardless of your situation.
Knowing what Works! "These days, I know what workouts I am doing, why I am doing them, and how itís going to get me to the race in peak condition. I also know how to build a training profile and can use a plethora of tools and resources to be efficient with my time."
What has been Learned over the Past 3 Years regarding Training?
1. Consistency. Consistency is more important than any other variable in your training. If you string together a consistent plan and minimize your days off, you will be faster, period. See Harig on Running with Consistency.
2. Workout with a Reason. Every workout has a reason, and if every workout has a reason, then there are no junk miles.
3. Trail Running. Run as many miles as possible on trails! Youíll suffer fewer injuries and be a more efficient and complete runner. See Harig on The Benefits of Trail Running.
4. Prioritize. Your family is most important so you owe to them to be in great shape, but you owe to them to be there too. So donít sacrifice family for time away running. Make it work however possible.
My observation of how Chris's training this year was smarter than the past few years is that, for as much as Chris trains, he didn't overtrain. This year his training was acretive, with each workout adding to his metabolic efficiency for peak performance and for maintaining a healthy immune system. In prior years, I've seen Chris push himself over the 'metabolic edge' impairing his immune system to a point where he was coming down with every bug his kids brought home from school. To me, the indicator for just the right amount of training or overtraining was bodyweight. This year Chris stayed slightly overweight instead of underweight. I'm guessing sufficient rest and sufficient quality calorie intake this year helped make that difference.
What Advantages and Disadvantages does an Athlete in their mid or late 30's have against Younger Athletes?
Advantages. Mature athletes have the advantage of reading races better. We can process what are bodies are telling us better, and we can make adjustments in training and racing better. We also know our limits better and we do fewer stupid workouts because we have to.
Disadvantages. The young athlete has more room for error and a bigger buffer when it comes to recovery. They also have a little more speed and can take on a greater amount of pressure on the system. But if you look at results these days, you see a lot of older men and women in our sports winning and winning consistently. I think that has a lot to do with my generation having the experience and the access to information. We straddle the old and new, while the younger generation hasnít had the time to assimilate all the information.
How to Manage Athletic Training with a Wife, Young Family and Stressful Job
"You know what, itís more important that I am home tonight early than it is to get that extra run in."
Chris has a cool family! His wife was a great swimmer and college tennis player and trains for fun as much as he does for competition. So she understands that they both need their own time to do their own things and they donít compete with each other.
Chris's wife also knows that his competing is a big part of who he is and so she affords him the time to keep it up. Chris thinks his kids are awesome and would sacrifice anything for them. "If I had to walk away from racing for them I would do it in a heartbeat." Because he doesnít struggle over a decision like that, he is able to keep everything in perspective and capitalize on the time he now has. Who knows what could happen tomorrow. We make sure that we each have our time to train and everyone is happy. That may mean a night ride for him or a 5 am run, but it works.
As for work, Chris runs at lunch and sticks to that pretty religiously. He works at an amazing company and there are a few former college runners, so we have similar running schedules. Essentially, he makes the time he has work and I donít skip a lot of workouts. His job can be stressful and being at one of the most powerful companies in the world with some of the smartest people in the world, every day is a lot like racing. But his colleagues have all been very supportive over the last 15 years. He takes pride in the amount of quiet success he has been able to have with all the different balls I have been juggling. "Itís very rewarding to have a year where you are racing at World Championships, working a full time job at Microsoft, recording drums for an album, playing shows live in Seattle, all while balancing family life. Itís a full life."
You also just have to know when to say, ďyou know what, itís more important that I am home tonight early than it is to get that extra run in. Without my family, none of it means anything."
How Athletic Challenge and Success Helps in Other areas of Life
"If you know what it takes to put together a winning program for running, say, then you can apply similar methodologies to other areas in life."
Being an athlete dedicated to success requires an investment in time. Some may wonder whether this is time well spent. I asked Chris his thoughts on how/whether the challenge and success of athletic competition helps in other areas of his life. Chris noted that the more success he has, the more he can speak with authority and confidence. "If you know what it takes to put together a winning program for running, say, then you can apply similar methodologies to other areas in life."
Chris thinks putting a winning running program together is a lot like computer program or project management. When you know what the product is, you know what you need to do to produce or market it. That confidence gained from putting together a winning running program is applicable to your career and family life too; that discipline, confidence and knowledge is gold!
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