Renaissance Triathlete – Enjoying Sport as an Older Athlete /Managing Mind and Body by Douglas Wood (with foreword by Alistair Brownlee). Published by Hullo Creative Ltd
What happens when you are in lockdown, you are an active triathlete and all your events are cancelled? For me, it was an opportunity to pause and reflect on what sport means to me. I decided I would write a book. As the means to accomplish the task, lockdown was the gift that kept on giving – a ready-made writer's retreat.
Why write about sport in your 70s?
I am in the vanguard of the baby boomers born immediately after the Second World War. Those born around that time and in the years following formed a significant bulge, a tidal wave, as we have progressed through life's stages. I think of 1946 as a good year. In retirement, we have been different to those who came before, or at least that is what's said about us. We're supposed to go travelling and take up bungee jumping.
I did go travelling, to far-flung places that were beyond reach in the normal opportunities of a full-time career. But bungee jumping isn't my thing. I have always enjoyed taking part in sport, running and orienteering, and in my 50s began to develop a passion for triathlon – swimming, cycling and running. Retirement was the opportunity to pursue my latest passion more seriously and venture further afield.
I keep abreast of what's happening in my field, reading relevant magazines. Often there are articles about training for triathletes in their 50s, and sometimes for those in their 60s. But I've not noticed anything about participating in sport in your 70s, though a significant number of us are doing this. Neither am I convinced that there is a proper understanding about why older people are taking part in sport and the nature of the mental and physical challenges being faced.
Talking ideas over with some others, a common theme emerged. Why was I doing it? What motivated me to continue doing triathlons in my 70s? What was it that I enjoyed about it? There was plenty to write about and it appeared to be an open field.
My fledgling writing process
At the start, I found it important just to write; to write about the things that were in my mind and ready to come out. Most of the book was written on an iPad while listening to music (Shostakovich can take much of the credit). After each session, to make sure nothing was inadvertently lost, I would email myself what I had written. This led to an accumulation of unconnected topics and experiences that would have to be brought into a coherent form.
Reading over my notes made me realise that I hadn't considered basic practicalities such as the tense I was using. I found that rather too much was written in the pluperfect, which merely served to distance the reader from the subject. I tucked these realisations away rather than spend time going back. It was clear that a mixture of present and past tense would be much better. When there is some action to describe, the present tense gives immediacy and engagement. All that would have to be sorted, but best left for later.
The main task was to find a framework that would provide the necessary connection for the disparate pieces. Cohesion eventually came through arranging the narrative to form a journey, or a series of interwoven journeys that could be perceived at different levels. In some ways, these were chronological, in other ways, a journey through triathlon or how seasons unfold, but always alongside an underlying journey of personal discovery and understanding.
Setting aside the law of averages
At an early stage, I came across a comment that most books that are written are never finished. It served as a useful spur whenever I felt the task was losing direction. Another comment was that a book should begin after the start and finish before the end – an interesting perspective that was useful to keep in mind. There was always the dilemma about what to include and what to leave out. I had to be clear in my mind what the book was about. If it was relevant, put it in; if not, leave it out.
The writing was finished a few months ago. Being a new experience, I didn't realise that I was merely at the end of the beginning if I wanted to publish it. But it has now reached the light of day. The publishing team has taken it over the line. The book is called Renaissance Triathlete – Enjoying Sport as an Older Athlete, Managing Mind and Body
, with a foreword contributed by Olympian, Alistair Brownlee.
It is set in the context of the older athlete managing the physical and mental challenges that are faced. It is about enjoying sport, trying to get the best out of yourself as capabilities change, always searching for the ideal blend of physical effort and mental application.
Sometimes it's better not to be influenced by the science. Age-related decline in sporting performance follows a downward curve. Research suggests the trajectory becomes more pronounced around the age of 60, before decreasing exponentially beyond the age of 70. The rapid rate of decline by the age of 70 appears to be a common feature in all sports. I'm glad that no-one told me this. Fortunately we're all different. There can be an average but no-one is the average person.
My triathlon journey has introduced me to open-water swimming and the discovery that one of the most exhilarating things you can do is to wade into a loch and swim to the other side. If the far side would be a long trek by other means, that makes it more exhilarating still. The journey has taken me to European and World age group championships, travelling with a bike and a wetsuit to Beijing, Auckland, Edmonton and Chicago. With family living in the UAE, visits are planned to coincide with events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and I can join sessions with the local club. Participation in sport gives an opening to a different world.
There are anecdotes, people and places in the book that convey the essence of triathlon. Though set in that context, the issues will be relevant in other sports. Most of all, it is about enjoyment. While it should resonate with contemporaries, I hope it may encourage others to keep going and continue enjoying their sport for as long as they can.
is available from online bookstores and major retail outlets. See www.renaissancetriathlete.com
for more information.