Twenty-Three Seasons…..and Counting (Preparing for # 24)


USA Triathlon's Women's Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year (Photo Credit: Tony Svensson)

USA Triathlon’s Women’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year (Photo Credit: Tony Svensson)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Our very own resident butt-kicker, Cherie Gruenfeld, was recently named USA Triathlon’s Women’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year. At 71, Cherie continues to shatter conceptions about what is possible at ANY age! We are so incredibly proud of her (and terrified she’s going to ask us when we last worked out). Boingo is so proud to help sponsor Team Cherie, and even prouder to support the great work of her foundation, Exceeding Expectations, which helps inner-city kids move their lives in a positive direction using triathlon as the vehicle.]

1992 was my first triathlon racing season. I was 48 and a total novice. Flash forward 23 years and the good news is: I’ve had 23 great years. The not-so-good news is: I’m now racing as a 71-year-old.

Clearly, I’m coming into the home stretch and can now see a finish line that wasn’t there when I was forty-eight. But, I’m not done with this adventure yet. I’m coming back for Season #24 and I’m all in.

A major key to a great season is consistency. This means keeping healthy and highly motivated throughout the year, which is much easier said than done. Here are some of my approaches to staying in the game and setting myself up for a good season.

Get Strong

Endurance racing is less about speed and more about strength. A strong body will move more efficiently over a longer period of time – getting to the finish line quicker. I’m not a fan of the weight room and have given up on the idea that I might learn to like it. Rather, I use what I call the “fitness by walking around” method. I keep balls, resistance cords, stretch bands, etc. around the house, and in between work and household duties, I stop and do quick sets. Throughout the day I do push-ups, walk up the stairs two at a time, carry 20-pound bags of ice upstairs for an ice bath, etc. All this keeps me working on strength and is a constant reminder of the importance of staying strong.

Stay Healthy

A busy, demanding life sometimes has to take priority and it’s somewhat out of our control. But there are a couple of other things that can wreck a consistent training schedule and these we have a better chance of managing: illness and injury.

A well thought-out schedule will go a long way towards keeping you rested enough to stay healthy. And being strong is the antidote for many injuries. But sometimes stuff happens: a bike crash takes you out or you catch something from the kids. Whatever it is, there are two approaches you can take:

  • Denial, pushing through it which usually ends up nudging you over the edge and recovery time increases dramatically.
  • Bite the bullet, catch it early and be patient, which will usually get you back into action in the shortest amount of time.

I’d say the best approach here is obvious.

Have the Confidence to be Courageous

Even at my age, I’ve gotta believe! Every time I complete a tough, aggressive workout, I build confidence. And the next time, I’ll be a little more courageous – pushing myself a little harder or a little longer. On race day, when I know that it’s going to require an extraordinary effort, I believe I can do it and am courageous enough to aggressively go for it.

I have a training partner (a young 48-year-old guy) who does a ride/run workout with me. After an aggressive ride, we start a 3-mile run – the first mile uphill. Obviously, he gets to the top of the hill before me, turns right and continues to run for another few minutes before turning around. I get to the top of the hill and turn left which now puts me in front of the “young buck.” At that point, the game is afoot! My goal is to stay ahead of him over the final two miles while his goal is to not let that happen. Usually, it’s a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint to the finish line. Regardless of who wins, we’ve both had an excellent workout for building strength, courage and plenty of confidence.

Never Give In

Being 71 and having had a long, fairly success racing career, there’s a case to be made that it’s time to mellow out a bit. But that’s not gonna happen yet. If we accept age, we get old. If we feel that we can’t do what we used to, we have no chance of exceeding expectations. Clearly, I am aging and I can’t always do what I used to. But I still have some game.

I look back at my training log, but only to last year, and I go into every race with the goal to exceed last year’s time. Sometimes I accomplish that goal and sometimes I don’t. But striving for it pushes me harder than if I gave into the “another year older and slower” mentality. And what a great feeling it is when I do exceed last year’s time!

This is my strategy for the 2015 season – my 24th. What’s yours?

About Cherie

Cherie Gruenfeld, Boingo's official butt-kicker, is an Ironman age group champion and world record holder. She is a grand masters triathlete — a sport in which she didn't even start competing in until her 40s — proving that top fitness is achievable at any age. She has raced in more than 25 Ironman triathlons, has 18 wins overall, and has won her age group at the Ironman World Championships a whopping 13 times. She's also an incredible fitness coach with great insights on goal setting and fitness on the road. Have a question for Cherie? Email her at askcherie@boingo.com. You can also learn more about her non-profit organization, Exceeding Expectations on Facebook.
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