A challenge for any age
One of the great things about starting out in sports like running, swimming, biking and triathlon is the extended period where you just keep getting better and better.
Sadly, that doesn't last forever. Fortunately, you get over the disappointment, and the great thing about age-group competition is the fact that you can look forward to new challenges every five or 10 years, depending on your particular sport.
Under the rules of triathlon when I turn 65 in 2013, I'll be competing in the 65-69 age group from next summer, and that's something to look forward to.
None of that matters much when you're racing at home. You tend to focus on the people around you and you know very well whether they're improving or not (and whether you are).
For the last 20 years, I've had an endless succession of 12- to 13-year olds arriving on the scene. Fair game for an old git to outfox - briefly. Before you know it, they're gone, far ahead, never to be beaten again - at least by me.
Last weekend I did the Nelson Tri Club's duathlon at Rabbit Island.
I finished up biking in a group of three. One was a 17-year-old German student, Elisabeth Hilfenhaus, who is spending a year at Nelson College for Girls and who seems certain to become a part of Nelson's triathlon scene over the summer.
I didn't beat her on Sunday, and I don't think I will in the year to come. Once we got off our bikes, she raced away over the final run.
The other member of our bike trio was a 49-year-old from Motueka, Maria Voigt.
Maria started in triathlon a couple of years ago and has recently become the latest in a string of people to start beating me, running off into the distance last Sunday, while I shuffled around the final run section of the duathlon, feeling more zero than hero.
You couldn't find a person more modest about her achievements: “First of all I do think I am a prime example of a very average person, never an athlete," she said.
Well that's obviously not true.
In just over seven weeks, Maria will line up among the best of the world in the 50-54 age group at the International Triathlon Union's world championship in Auckland.
Her recent entry into triathlon ranks doesn't mean she's any less an athlete. “I loved sport in primary school and was pretty good at everything but quickly lost interest as a teenager, became a smoker for a good few years and I then had two wonderful kids.
“I spent the next 20-odd years running around after them and getting involved in whatever they did for sport, in particular horses and motocross so I was far more comfortable in a pair of muddy gumboots than trainers.
“I busted my knee and had a rebuild a few years back. I did a lot of rehab for that and from there just went from strength to strength really. The more I did, the more I learnt and the more I enjoyed.
"I often team up with my daughter to do adventure races, orienteering and mountainbiking which is lots of fun and a great way to get fit.”
And so Voigt drifted into triathlon, qualifying for the New Zealand team last October on the course that will be used this year.
“My goal in Auckland is to do better than last year's qualifying time and try to place in the top third of my age bracket, but I know anything can happen.”
Although plagued by injury last summer after the qualifying race, Voigt still managed to do enough to also get into the team for the Aquathlon World Championships, five days before the triathlon.
“It's a chance to have a practice run at it and get rid of some butterflies. I have absolutely no expectations there," she says.
Like many triathletes who start later in life, the first leg of the race is the hardest.
“Swimming has been my biggest challenge, I've spent the winter training with the Tasman Gold masters squad and it's been great to have good knowledge and encouragement and have fun as well. I know I'll never be the first out of the water but I do hate being the last.”
Although the excitement of a world championship event is a big incentive, Voigt has found a more sustaining way of life in taking part in sport.
“Swimming, running and biking is just part of life for me now - I feel so much better off if I get out than if I don't. I am fitter now than I have ever been and I'm loving it."
“After Auckland my focus will be on longer distances, preparing for the Wanaka Half Ironman in January and the Olympic distance national championships in Wellington in March and of course all of Nelson's local events over the summer, especially looking forward to the weekly Port Nelson Sea Swims.”
- © Fairfax NZ News