How Old Is Too Old for Triathlon & Ironman? Examples and Optimal Triathlete Age


Many people look to triathlons to provide a new lease of life, particularly in later or middle age. Buying a carbon fiber time trial bike and entry to an Ironman may not be much cheaper than buying a Porsche or a motorbike, but it is much healthier!

There are many examples of older athletes competing at the very top level well past what many of us would consider the peak age of sports stars. This is particularly true in triathlons, where many of the top competitors – particularly in longer Ironman competitions – are into their mid-to-late 30s. Some continue because they can still compete at the very top level. Some continue because they simply cannot imagine living their life without competing in triathlons. (Source)

If you’re looking to compete in triathlons, you’ll have heard terms like master and veteran and you probably wonder if they apply to you.

You may also be wondering how old is too old to compete in a triathlon? There are athletes competing in many different forms of triathlons including ironman triathlons into their 90s. One can say that one can never be too old to compete in a triathlon, however, every age bracket presents its own challenges.


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What Are the Age Groupings in Triathlon?

There are many different age groups in triathlon, usually grouped into five-year age brackets.The age groupings usually take the following format; 20 – 24, 25 – 29, 30 – 34, 35 – 39, 40 – 44, 45 – 49, 50 – 54, 55 – 59, 60 – 64, then either at 65+ category, or a 65-69 then 70+ category.

This is to allow people of different ages to compete equally, allowing for physiological differences. In some competitions, these age categories are given names.

Anyone older than 35 is commonly referred to as a ‘master’ but sometimes, particularly in Europe, they are also known as veterans.

There are also weight categories, which are named; for men, this category is known as ‘Clydesdale’, and is for athletes weighing over 200lbs. For women, this category is known as ‘Athena’ and is for athletes weighing over 145lbs. Participation in both categories is completely optional.

How Old Are Pro Triathletes?

Like every sport the age of professional triathletes ranges, but the peak years are later than in many other sports. The latest available data shows the average professional triathlete is just over 33 years old. (Source)

Because of the different lengths of the sport, the athletes’ peak years change. That is why there are so many examples of triathletes graduating to longer and longer distances as they age. A great example is Jonathan Brownlee; the British triathlete has won several triathlon medals at Olympic distance, including at the Olympic Games and has been World Triathlon Champion. However, in 2021 he made his Ironman debut and has raced regularly since. He has made this change because now he is over 30 he will begin to become more competitive at longer distances, and less competitive at shorter races. (Source)

For more on triathlon performance with respect to age & distances, check out Triathlon Distances & Average Timings Analysis (Infographic); Pick Your Right Fight !

Can You Do an Ironman at 50?

There are many examples of people doing an Ironman in their 50s, and it is likely far more common than you think. If you’ve been doing triathlons for many years already, there will be little reason for you to give up now you’ve reached 50.

There are in fact many examples of people taking up the sport as complete newcomers at the age of 50. That’s because for many because 50 is halfway to 100, it can feel like a real marker in your life, and it can inspire them to do something new.

However, there are problems. After the age of 50, the mass and function of muscles begin to deteriorate, so your fastest days are probably behind you. However, since Ironman is an endurance-based sport where speed matters less, the resulting drop-off in your performance will probably be less noticeable than it would be in other sports.

Can You Do an Ironman at 60?

Performance and physical decline in your 60s in almost inevitable, but that should not preclude the ability to complete an Ironman. Mary Hubolt, a cancer survivor, competed in her first-ever triathlon and completed an Ironman to celebrate her triumph against the disease. (Source)

Even people who have previously competed in triathlons experience muscle loss over the course of their lives. However, there is a real acceleration of this loss rate that begins in a person’s early 60s. Strength training should therefore take a more central role in your training. If you are new to the sport, your unusual circumstances may necessitate the advice of a professional trainer. (Source)

Can You Do an Ironman at 70?

Competing in an Ironman at 70 is unusual, and for people new to the sport taking it up at this stage of life may prove difficult. But completing an Ironman in your 70s isn’t impossible. Dr David Minkoff regularly competes and often comes across competitors who are of a similar age. (Source)

However, this is the point where it really becomes about increasing your performance relative to your age group rather than the rest of the field. That’s because After the age of 70 is when the greatest decline in endurance performance occurs. You will also need to take more rest days, even if this isn’t something you are used to. (Source)

Also, check out Is Cycling Good for Seniors in Their 70s? Why It May Not Be!

Can You Do an Ironman at 80?

The oldest man to complete an Ironman Triathlon is Hiromu Inada, who finished the 2018 Kona Ironman was 85 years and 328 days old. (Source)

Inada began competing in triathlons at 69 years old after he retired. In 2020 he stated that he intends to keep competing into his 90s; physiologically, there is little reason Inada could not complete an Ironman in his 90s if he can complete on at 85 and has continued to train rigorously, as Inada has. (Source)

Can You Do an Ironman at 90?

At 90 you’re beginning to push the boundaries of capability, but it has been done before. Sister Madonna Buder, also known as the ‘Iron Nun’, has completed triathlons at 91. (Source)

She also holds the record for being the oldest woman to complete an Ironman triathlon, when she finished Ironman Canada in 2012 at the age of 82. Since she started competing in triathlons at 48, she has competed in 400 triathlons, of which 45 were full Ironman races.

How Old Are Ironman Winners?

A study in 2013, the most recent to date, analyzed Ironman Hawaii competitors between 1995 and 2010; the ages of male and female winners were 31.9 ± 3.5 years and 31.6 ± 3.7 years.

Jan Frodeno is the current dominant Ironman athlete; he is 40 years old and still setting the standard. However, Gustav Iden became the youngest Ironman winner of all time in 2019, winning Ironman Florida at 23. Just like in other sports, there are huge differences in the age of Ironman winners; however, the top end at which pro triathletes can compete and win is a lot higher than in most other sports. (Source)

What Is the Average Age of Ironman Competitors?

Usually, the best years for Ironman performance are between 30-39 for men and between 25-34 for women, however, this is for elite performance. The average overall age group for the 2015 Kona Ironman race – the last time a demographic study was conducted – the overall age was 42.8 years old. (Source)

Also, find out How Old Should You Be to Do An Ironman Triathlon? & Why!

sherifjallad

An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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