Sleep and Recovery As We Age Through Endurance Sports
Balancing social stuff (family and friends), sleep and work combined with good nutrition are critical to your success as an athlete and for a long life (at least as long as your genes allow). I will not claim to be perfect with this, ask my wife, but I think I get most of it right and have learned plenty throughout my career as an age-group athlete competing 15 times at the IMWC as well as a coach. That combination has afforded me a unique perspective that I share with you here.
Probably the hardest thing to get right is sleep. There are so many things to get done in a day, especially when you are still working and raising a family. I don’t have personal expertise in the latter but do know that adding a lot of training to daily life is possible having worked with athletes who do have a good marriage, children and a successful career. Having a full daily load life does, or should, raise the question “what are the limits of my training hours”. If you don’t, something from my first sentence above may suffer, including your health. If you do, answer the question you may realize that you are limited to sprint and or Olympic racing. That’s not a bad thing by any means, and this foundational work in racing is actually a great way to get good at longer races when your time frees up.
Because of my age (75) I get asked a lot about how my training has changed over the years. The simple answer is just more recovery time. I do the same or similar workouts. There are some changes, including now strength training is year-round and is in my taper plans, high intensity workouts are higher intensity (great advice gleaned from the book “Fast After 50” by Joe Friel).
My recovery time is now two days after a big dose of training, more Friel advice but something you will discover anyway as you age. How much training you can do balanced with enough recovery, meaning sleep, becomes a very individual thing as you age past 60. At any age we are all different in our potential athletic abilities but it sure gets more challenging to find that right life balance.
Sleep is important. Some might feel it’s a waste of time, but all of the research I have ever seen says you need at least 7.5 hrs of sleep a night. And that is actual sleep, not just time in bed. This is when your body recovers. When you add in training for a race, especially an IM that sleep requirement goes up. The best way for me to cover this is to describe my day.
My Typical Day
Up around 6am (5:30 when I worked full-time), snack (while walking the dog) and off for a swim or strength session at home, breakfast (mostly oatmeal and some PB on toast). Back a few years ago, I was off to work around 8, but now doing something like this, writing an article for D3, and other things around the house, my timing is a bit different. Lunch and then a nap for 45-60 min (I was lucky to be working at home throughout most of my IM career which made napping possible). Bike and/or run in the afternoon or early evening when working. At least every ten days or so when I was 6-12 weeks out from an IM, I would put in a big training day, SBR, 3800m, 100mi, 10k. Bed before 9 pm.
Obviously, there are some variations you can play with this. When I was working from home, I sometimes got in a short workout at lunch time. My evening workouts started around 5pm. So commuting is something that needs to be considered. What you don’t want to be doing is squeezing in a workout that ends sometime after 7 pm and then dinner … you can’t sleep well with a meal less than 90 min before going to bed, unless it is a small one. A solution here is a big lunch (like I used to get growing up in Ireland).
If you’d like to listen and learn more about this topic, Coach Simon was interviewed on the podcast The High Performance Human Triathlete by Simon Ward. They cover topics about aging and health issues and alternative training strategies to achieve your goals including training with Rita (RI), Simon B.’s dog.
Coach Simon Butterworth has 15 Ironman Kona World Championships to celebrate … and he knows bikes. His philosophy about coaching notes that the key ingredients in a good coach/athlete relationship are regular and open communication, mutual respect, and keeping it fun for the athlete and their family. My training programs are developed with those ideas in the forefront. I work with athletes to develop both short term and long term objectives that work well within the context of the other things they have going on in their life.