Justin Martin: Ironman at 61
At Take a Challenge, we believe the biggest barrier stopping people from participating in sport at any level is a mental one and rarely physical. When you see professional athletes 'retiring' at the age of 30, it's quite easy to see why age is an age old excuse. However, for endurance sports, mental strength factors significantly, as people move out of their twenties and through their thirties, mental strength tends to grow. The optimum age for sports such as ultra-running, Ironman triathlon and high altitude mountaineering is significantly older than your average professional sportsman.
So anybody out there who thinks they are too old to get into running, cycling or swimming, should read what Justin Martin has to say on the matter, he does all three. Justin is in his 60's, he works like any normal person, he exercises because he wants to and he has proved that age is most definitely not a barrier if you don't want it to be. And lets be honest, none of us do.
All Photos by Catherine HolderRamblings of an over 60's Endurance Athlete
"I had entered the water with over 2000 competitors at 7 am, completed a 3.9 km swim followed by a 183 km bike ride. It was now mid afternoon on a beautiful sunny day and I was stopped at the side of the road with my hands on my knees staring down at the asphalt. Exhausted. Knackered. Banjaxed. Slowly my hands slipped further down…to mid calf. My head was now so low that I could see the asphalt very clearly. It was a lot closer. And infinitely inviting. “Just a short nap on that comfy tarmac and I’d be fine.”
The temp was in the low 30’s. I was on a minor road beside Skaha Lake in the Okanagan valley in British Columbia at around km 19 of the marathon portion of Ironman Canada. Runners were passing me; most were encouraging me to go on or stopping to ask if I needed help. I waved them on.
I could stop any time but what would I reply when my family and team mates asked me, “What happened?” I would only be able to answer, “I got really tired at the run turnaround”. No, that just wouldn’t be acceptable.
I looked around me and discovered that I had decided to initiate my collapse right beside an ambulance, the door of which was wide open. And inside it was empty. “Now there’s a reasonable solution”, I thought. “Nobody could fault me if I arrived back in Penticton in an ambulance”. And then a phrase in the Race Instructions manual jumped into my mind. Along with advice on nutrition and hydration and drafting rules and the water temperature, there was an instruction in bold type. “Do not lie down”. It really does say that! They must have been here. They know that to lie down is to admit total defeat ‘cos once you’re down, you ain’t getting back up.
So I walked my hands back up my legs and took a few deep breaths, had a stretch and started to walk toward the turnaround. Interestingly the marathon turnaround is in the town of Okanagan Falls, affectionately known as OK Falls. I said to myself, “OK, OK, OK I am going to make it to OK Falls”. I converted my walk into a shuffle…no, now I was running. And I made it to the turnaround, to my family and friends who were supporting and then I headed back the way I came, in the direction of the finishing line. At 10km to go, it was getting dark but there were still citizens of Penticton sitting out on their driveways. As I went past one of the groups, a man shouted out words of encouragement and the added question, “Hey, how old are you?” I had to think for a minute (anoxia, you know) and replied, “Sixty one”. I heard, “WOW”. Those people were impressed that I was able to train for and compete in an Ironman triathlon at what (to them) seemed to be a surprisingly advanced age.
And yes, I did go on to finish. In the dark. Just before 10 pm. To the delight of my team mates who were waiting for me at the finish line.
When I did this first Ironman (I have done another since) I had been a member of Human Powered Racing (HPR), a triathlon team in Victoria, BC for 4 years. You’ll note that HPR is a team, not a club. The difference being that only applicants who subscribe to the team concept are considered eligible for membership. It’s a relatively small group – around 20 members – with ages ranging from 30 to 60. And an equally broad range of athletic abilities. We train together and socialize together under the direction of a full time coach, Mike Neill. It was he who initiated the philosophy of the team concept.
I am by nature a non-athletic person. When I come home from work on a cold, dark, wet or frosty February evening I do not relish the thought of changing into running gear for a training session on the track or on some hills on a quiet suburban street. I really would like to set myself up with the newspaper or my book in my favorite armchair. But before that thought gets too much of a toehold, I remember that at 6 pm there will be at least 10 or so of my team mates and Mike the coach jumping up and down and rubbing their arms to keep warm before heading off on the warm up in preparation for the evening’s drill.
There are many columnists in the media who write articles encouraging people to get more exercise. They make the point that you only need to set aside a relatively small amount of time to complete whatever physical activity you participate in. And often those same columnists will add a rider, “You don’t have to be a triathlete.” My response to that would be, “Why not be a triathlete?” Tell me what’s wrong with an hour of exercise on weekdays? An hour of swimming, an hour of running or an hour of biking?
And what do I get out of triathlon training? Firstly the knowledge that I am as healthy as I can be. In years to come, if I get sick with cancer or heart disease or something else, I am comforted by the knowledge that I did my best to keep myself in top physical shape, so whatever else comes along, so be it. It’s fate.
The second advantage is the sense of well being I get after a hard training session. No matter how reluctantly I drag myself out of the house on one of those cold February evenings, at the end of that hour of activity I am totally energized and clear headed.
Lastly, I enjoy the thrill and excitement of competition. Every year I will enter 3 or so triathlons. A sprint distance, at least one Olympic distance and perhaps one Half Ironman distance. Not that I’m going to win; but just to test myself. I know how fast I swim, bike and run and I know how fast my competition is. If I finish in the middle third of my age group, I am very content. And sometimes I get a pleasant surprise. A year ago I competed in an Olympic distance triathlon which also was the venue for the Canadian National Championships. I came 9th in my age group. For that particular race, the rules stated that any competitor who finished in the top 10 in their age group was eligible to join the Canadian National team to go to Auckland for the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Oct 2012. My flights and hotel are booked. Maybe I’ll see you there?"
Nick Merry is a founding partner in Take a Challenge, he has participated in numerous Triathlon, Running and Cycling events over the years. He has been on the teams of high altitude mountain expeditions including Kilimanjaro (19,341ft), Elbrus (18,842ft) and Muztagh Ata (24,757ft) as well as much smaller peaks around the UK and the Alps. Click here to read more about Nick's story.