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Recently, I responded to an athlete who met up with an untimely cold just before heading down to Louisville, Kentucky for the 2013 World Masters Cyclocross Championships. Colin Funk spent most of his life in a pair of running shoes until his early forties when he swapped them out for some pedals. When he was 16, he won the 1500 metres at the Ontario Provincial Championships and now meets with success again with his road and cyclocross bikes in Master C 50-59 age group: 2010 Ontario Provincial Hill Climb Champion, 2010 Ontario Provincial Road Race - 3rd, 2011 Canadian National Championships Road Race - 7th, 2012 Canadian Championships Road Race - 10th and most recently 2013 World Cyclocross Championships - 8th. He is currently a Professor and Tier I Canada Research Chair in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences specializing in Cardiovascular Inflammation at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Be inspired to keep pedaling whatever your age as you read some of Colin’s musings about his cycling.
What changes have you noticed in your ability to train and/or race over the years?
Switching from running, due to injuries at around age 40-42 and gradually moving into “competitive” Masters level racing at age 46, enabled me to feel “young” and reinvigorated again. Switching from a high-impact sport (running) to cycling (low-impact) actually seemed to “rejuvenate” my body. I started to feel, both mentally and physically, much better than at age 40 when I was experiencing all sorts of running injuries. I have been able to train at increasingly higher intensities from 46 to present age of 54. I attribute much of this to a positive mental attitude. Even though the textbooks say that the older you are, the more you will experience the guaranteed decline in physiological function (e.g. decrease in VO2max), I have found that this inevitable decline can be delayed. Taking up “competitive” cycling at an older age has improved my ability to race over the years. I feel I can compete better than ever now in my 50s. There is a very high level of competition in Master’s cycling events in North America that pushes athletes even further. I have realized that as I get older it is critical to get enough rest and recovery between hard, intense workouts. Although this may not be a lot different than for younger athletes, the main difference might be in the length of recovery.
What wisdom would you like to share with others Masters racers about aging and continuing cycling?
I believe one can continue at a high level well into their 60s with proper training year round (strength training, stretching, positive mental focus, etc.). In my Master’s athlete study that I am conducting at Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada), we are measuring VO2max in 50-60 year old competitive cyclists. I have never had mine tested before until this study and I was astounded to find that mine was 65.2 ml/kg/min, which is considerably higher than most young men half my age. One participant in our racers group is 60 years old with a VO2max of 60, which is about double the capacity of an average 60 year old man. My new slogan for Master’s athletes is “60 at 60!” It’s never too late to reach your peak!