One of the highlights of competing in Ironman Canada 2012, was racing alongside 82 year old Sister Madonna Buder. I passed her on the run and felt both guilty and relieved at the same time. I witnessed up close what a fierce competitor she is. Shortly after I gave her some words of encouragement and ran past her, she started running after me. I could hear the determination in her breath. She would go on to set another world record as the oldest Ironman finisher and complete her 46th and last Ironman distance, only 30 minutes behind me.
This famous “Iron Nun” began training at age 48 at the behest of Father John who told her it was a way of tweaking, “mind, body, and spirit” and for the relaxation and calmness it can bring an individual. She completed her first triathlon at age 52 and first Ironman event at age 55.
On the way home from Penticton, I had the pleasure of meeting another inspiring senior athlete. I was at the airport terminal looking at pictures from the race on my laptop. A lovely lady sitting near me asked me if the pictures were from the Ironman. I turned my laptop screen so she could see. She complimented me on one of the photos. She had traveled to support her grandson who had also competed. “I told him not to do it. He was not prepared to race” she said. Unfortunately, her grandson had crashed badly on the bike course. I would then learn that this grandmother had raced Ironman Canada 25 years ago. She continues to participate in Gran Fondos, long distance organized cycling events. Like Sister Madonna, she appeared quite fit. My guess is that she was in her late 60’s. A gold and diamond M-Dot pendant hung fashionably from her neck. She spoke humbly however I could tell from the way her eyes lit up that she enjoyed sharing her story. I introduced myself to her but am disappointed that I cannot recall her name. I wondered if her grandson dismissed his grandmother’s advice not to race with the attitude, “how hard can it be after all, if grandama can do it, I can do it”. If so, he probably should have listened to grandma. I suspect she was and remains a well trained athlete.
While I always knew I’d remain active all my life, these ladies have inspired me to continue to pursue these types of endurance events for as long as I am able to. Studies have shown that physical activity helps seniors to keep mentally and emotionally sharp.
Unfortunately, as we age, there is a tendency towards muscle loss. Research tends to suggest older athletes may need to increase the amount of protein in their diet to support muscle development. In addition, senior athletes should incorporate weight lifting into their training regime to build and maintain muscle strength. At the suggestion of my coach, I had already started to incorporate some light weight lifting into my most recent ironman training. We wondered if I had a possible muscle imbalance that may contribute to my cramping issues, so we focused on strengthening the weaker muscles. I will continue to incorporate weight training and core exercises into my weekly workouts.
Lastly, I will need to make a conscious effort to ensure my diet supports my future athletic pursuits. Not only do I need the right amount of carbohydrates, I need to ensure I am getting the right amount of protein. See the “Protein” section of Recipes tab for some healthy protein rich recipes!
To read more about nutrition and the nutritional needs of aging athletes, check out this article: