Ironman-type people tend to execute one Iron-distance race a year—that’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. Maybe two. When Will Turner was about to turn 60, he thought it would be fun to set a “big, hairy, audacious goal” of doing six Iron-distance races the year he turned 60—he’d done his first about nine years earlier.
While each event would take longer than it would have when he was 30—you get slower with age for many reasons, including hormone dips and slowdowns in nerve-fiber signaling—his endurance capacity and the efficiency he’d developed in swimming, biking, and running could still get him through.
A friend mentioned to him that another athlete had done the same thing, so he turned up the dial by a factor of ten: 60 Iron-distance races in his 60th year. “It scared the crap out of me,” says Turner, who’s now 63. “I knew I was on the right path.” Prior to this, “I’d thought of hitting the next decade with dread. Time was speeding by, and I worried that I might get to the end of the runway sooner than I wanted, especially when it came to my health and vitality,” he says. “In fact, settling on that goal instantly erased any concerns I had for hitting 60. Any trepidation I had was quickly replaced by excitement to take on the huge challenge that awaited. I was determined to prove that we shouldn’t let age limit or define us.” When he hit those 60 DIY races, he decided to see what happened if he reached for 100. That turned into 105 by the end of two years (while holding down his regular job as a management consultant).
What he found along the way:
Learn from everything.
To see if his body could even do 60 races in 12 months, he signed up for a quintuple Ironman—five Irons in a row. “I made it 696 out of 703 miles,” he says. Instead of taking the incomplete finish as evidence he couldn’t do it, “it fueled me to say, ‘How can I get better?’ ” Turner cut his training volume but kept the intensity. Since his cardio base was already there, “I wanted to make sure my body was as strong and injury-free as possible, so I beefed up my strength training.”
Another key lesson he learned from repeated racing like that is that if he was going to do all of them—an average of one every six days—and make it through, “I needed to pull back on the throttle during my races,” says Turner, who’s also a performance coach. “In other words, I had to race with the expectation that I was turning around in less than a week and doing it again and again. So there was no point in going from ‘zero to hero’—crushing one race and then struggling the next. It was important to have a solid day and keep things strong and steady.”
“Over the years, I’ve gotten better at listening to my body, and my training reflects that. I’m less concerned with obsessing over my numbers, like pace and heart rate, and more in tune with how my body is feeling and performing,” he says.
Keep “rest” active
Turner’s Iron-distance races took place all over the country; 12 of them in National Parks, many of which he chronicled in his book, Journey to 100. “For the first 60, we were driving an average of 1,300 miles a week,” he says. “I did have to worry about tightness from sitting in the car.” So he’d use available rest-stop picnic-table benches to prop up his legs and stretch, and he’d do a few pushups with his hands on the table to release his upper-body tension.
See the other goals
For Turner, pushing hard and having big goals is a way to stay excited and feel stronger and better. “Sure, I can ‘live’ without this craziness,” he says. “But I’m not as fully engaged.”
Accept that some things are harder with age
Turner started referring to himself as 60 years bold instead of 60 years old to better express how he felt. Yet he’s not in the “age is just a number” camp. “There are definitely things that get harder with age. In fairness, there are some things that get easier with age. But I can assure you that what I did was more difficult because I was 60 and not 38,” Turner says. “That wasn’t a reason not to do it, however. We can and should test and push ourselves at any age. We are stronger and more capable than we realize.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Men’s Health.
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