Saturday, February 11, 2006

Hope for Aging Hipsters, er, Runners

Global warming: Whew. It's snowing in Washington, but you'd never know it here in SoCal. We just returned to our hotel after eating brunch and walking briskly around Old Pasadena for several hours. I thought I'd never say this in mid-February, but, dudes: It's too hot.

It's 81 degrees in the shade and everyone - from the valet attendants to the suspiciously glamorous-looking homeless people lounging on Colorado Avenue - is wearing sunglasses. Living on the east coast has toughened me for winter weather, but I am now unused to these sub-Saharan climes.

Schoolin' the Young'uns: Get your hands on this weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal and read the front page story, titled, "Older But Better." [subscription required] It's about 35-year-old U.S. Olympic ski team member and cross-country skier Carl Swenson.

Even though he's wading in the shallow waters of middle age, Swenson keeps getting better, and has a real shot for an Olympic medal, something the U.S. hasn't received in x-country since 1976. But what's more important is that he may not be an anamoly. Experts say that maturity could lead us to better race performance. And perhaps even better cardiovascular health than when we were callow youth.

Here's part of the story, written by WSJ reporter Kevin Helliker:

"Evidence is mounting that age isn't the dream killer it once was. While it unquestionably slows the reflexes needed to hit a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, it can give endurance athletes such as marathoners, triathletes [emphasis mine
] and cross-country skiers a host of advantages - improved judgment, tactical strategies, discipline, perhaps even enhanced cardiovascular capacity.

"Triathletes in America teem with 20-somethings. Yet of the countless women who aspired to represent the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004, the three who prevailed were each 35 - and they lost to a 35-year-old Austrian. Sarah Konrad, a biathlete and cross-country skier, just made the U.S. Olympics team for the first time at the age of 38."

And one more excerpt:

"Scientists increasingly recognize that genes matter as much as age when a 35-year-old is pitted against a 25-year-old. But why a 35-year-old would surpass his performances a decade earlier remains something of a mystery. Scientists talk mostly about the psychological benefits of experience and maturity.

"But Mr. Swenson [who turns 36 in two months] insists that a physiological component is also at work. Cross-country skiing is a series of grueling mountain climbs that eventually wear athletes down. Mr. Swenson says that his resting heart rate has remained at about 36 beats per minute - about half the average rate for males - and his weight at about 150 pounds since college. His maximum heart rate has remained above 190 beats per minute.

'Everybody tells you that that's supposed to decline with age, but fortunately, that hasn't happened to me," he says.

"When he entered his mid-30's, Mr. Swenson found that he often had greater reserves of cardiovascular strength than he'd ever had before, even though his trainig regimen hadn't changed. Increasingly, coaches of endurance sports say that the physiological benefits of cardiovascular training appear to accrue over years."

Okay, one more:

"For endurance athletes, drive almost always weakens before the body does, says Stephen Seiler, an exercise physiologist at Agder University College in Kristiansand, Norway. 'The mental demands of pushing, sacrificing and chasing peak performance year after year becomes too much before [these athletes] are actually 'too old' physically,' he says.

"If true, this bodes well for Mr. Swenson. Everyone who knows him says he has an astonishing tolerance for the grind ...."

If that's the case, and if 40 is the new 30 (I read that somewhere), then I'm still a wee babe ....


  1. natascha badmann's what 38, and she's one IMH like the last two times...

    we may be old(er), but we endure.

  2. notice how poetic:

    we may be old(er), but we endure.

    notice how pathetic:

    she's one IMH like...

    she actually won.

  3. Good news for those of us...what... in the deep waters of middle age? :)
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. (Bold, i had to read it 3x, but then I eventually got what you were trying to say. It's Saturday nite; I understand.)

    Great article Bex; thanks for quoting it (cuz my sub is at work). This is very exciting news! There is hope.

    And yeah, put the some more sunscreen on, will yah? I'm looking out the window at a winter-wonderland.

  5. It's been in the 70s up here although there is frost all over everything in the early morning.

    My motto in life is "never older, always better". Thanks for confirming.

  6. Very cool! I've always said that ultrarunning (my sport of choice) is a sport that one grows into - the winners are rarely under 30, and "masters" is a joke! It's the over-40 crowd winning many of the races! I can't wait to be a decade older...I'll be running even better...