By Paul Asay
Having raced at the USAT Age Group Nationals near Portland, Ore., this past September I came away amazed at the ability of those within my age group (50-54).
This was my first experience at a national level, and I have to say it was very humbling. Rather than just walking away from it and deciding to race in just my own backyard, I thought it would be both motivating and educational to ask some questions of those individuals who had such outstanding performances.
I certainly had nothing to lose and only to gain by the information. Nothing like starting at the top, so I sent off a few questions to age group winner Steve Pyle from Boulder, Colo. Steve was quick to respond, and his answers were well worth reading by the age-grouper community.
PA: Can you tell us just a bit about yourself, including what got you started in multisport, and a few highlights of your racing career?
SP: I began as a bike racer and competed in about 1,000 races between 1974 and 1990. I’ve raced for several corporate sponsors as well as the US National Team internationally. Retired from bike racing and started running when I was 30, then began racing duathlon. Taught myself to swim at age 39 so I could race triathlon (I never learned to swim when I was young). I have won Age Group Nationals in cycling, duathlon, and triathlon. At the Triathlon World Championship I have finished second twice. Have also finished second and third at the Duathlon World Championship with many other top 10 finishes.
PA: Were you influenced by someone specifically within your family or community?
SP: No, I just like the process of training and racing. No one else in my family is an athlete. My drive is entirely internally derived. I like being fit at 50. Many mistake me for someone much younger.
PA: Can you provide a few keys to holding a motivation level required to be a top age group triathlete?
SP: The vast majority of athletes participating are age groupers so it's just a hobby. They participate for a variety of reasons, and there must be a sense of satisfaction to do the work to be competitive. Motivation must come from within. Athletes who do it for other reasons don't last long in the sport.
PA: Having been a successful coach as well as a athlete yourself, what do you see as the biggest factor an athlete needs to overcome for top performance?
SP: An athlete must enjoy the training and be consistent over the long-term to find out what they can do. They must have some competitive energy and drive to participate in organized events (some are better suited to training for fitness and should pass on racing; nothing wrong with that). Every athlete has a different level of genetic talent they must work with. So the only valid measure of success is comparing the 'old' you to the 'new' you, not comparing your performance to others who may be more 'genetically talented' or started endurance sports at a younger age.
PA: Do you have a favorite workout and race?
SP: I like all workouts, but my staple workouts are bike rides. The sensation of going fast under my own power is fun. I can cover lots of ground and check out the scenery far from home.
PA: Anything else you would like to add to help age group triathletes to be at their personal best?
SP: I coach many athletes with lots of energy for training, but that tend to get in a rut. They do the same workouts at same speeds and eventually plateau for race day performance. I get them to try different approaches to training. Common training flaws are running too fast, riding too slow, and not putting in enough pool time to find out what they can do...
Well now that Steve has given such positive answers, I think it may be time to evaluate my own workouts carefully and plan for a return engagement. If Steve can go from a non-swimmer, non-runner into an age group multisport world class athlete, maybe my hopes are not completely dashed. Like most of my fellow age group athletes, a positive attitude and a good work ethic can take you a long way. Now just where is Tuscaloosa, Ala.?