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HOW IMPORTANT IS AGE IN RACING?

A Mental and Physical Game

 

  Age is an important aspect of riding that has an impact on riders at every level. There is a stereotype that the younger the rider, the faster they are. While there is some truth to this, there is something to be said for riders who are in their “golden years.” Mountain biking is a sport that requires a fine balance of finesse and fitness that can only come with time and experience.

Ned Overend saw plenty of success later in his career when some considered him to be past his prime. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Kate Courtney, who is going up against some of the fastest and most established female racers in the world. We caught up with both racers to get their take on how age can play a role in racing.

NED OVEREND

Age: 61

How important is a rider’s age in racing?

That depends on the rider and their mindset. I know many riders who expect to start declining when they hit their 30s, and if they believe that, then they are putting themselves at a mental disadvantage.

At what age did you feel like you peaked?

My attitude is that I’m going to peak this year! That helps me to stay motivated to train. I have set several PR [personal record] times for Strava segments this spring. Improved equipment and wind
conditions have helped that.

It’s hard to pinpoint when I peaked, because the race lengths and courses, equipment and the competition all evolved together over the years. If I had to guess, I would say I peaked in my mid-40s. I achieved a very high level of fitness when preparing for the Xterra series in my early to mid-40s.


Young ripper racing his heart out

Is there anything you learned later in your career you wish you’d known earlier?

I learned a lot about how to train properly, and I’m still learning how to keep momentum in my training by listening to my body to keep from overtraining and avoiding over-use injuries.

What traits are most important in young up-and-coming racers?

Natural talent and the willingness to suffer so it can be developed. They have to have the discipline to stick to a training program and not overtrain. What I see with a lot of juniors is too much enthusiasm for racing and training, which leads to burnout. So, an important trait may be to listen to coaches and mentors who can help guide them to a more sustainable training and racing regimen.

KATE COURTNEY

Age: 21

How important do you think age is in racing?

Just looking at the Elite Women’s World Cup field this year makes a pretty strong argument that age is just a number. From young phenoms like Jolanda Neff and Jenny Rissveds to aged veterans like Gunn Rita and Sabine Spitz, there are riders at all ages performing at the very top level. But, it is also important to remember that the path to success looks very different for each rider. For me, it has been really important to keep in perspective my personal progress and goals for the future. While there are always young girls coming up who have gotten incredibly fast early, that isn’t everyone’s path to the top. I have had to refocus on the incremental progress and consistency that works for me and will hopefully lead me one day to the top of the field. That means for me, the optimal racing age might be a bit later.

Kate Courtney on course

Is there anyone that you have looked up to during your career? 

There are so many women who have paved the way in women’s mountain biking that I look up to. It’s a really exciting time to be coming up in the sport, with growing media attention and equal prize money for the women’s races. In particular, Lea Davison and Georgia Gould have been big inspirations in the sport for me. They are both fierce racers but kind and really positive people. Both of them have been incredibly supportive of me and shared so much knowledge about how to approach racing at the World Cup level.

Has there been any advice you’ve gotten from older racers that has been helpful?

So much! I think the most important advice I’ve gotten from older racers is to focus on the process and stay balanced. As an up-and-coming racer, it’s easy to look at the people at the top and think they must be working 10 times harder than you are. But, in reality, being the best seems to be more about training smart and well, focusing on rest, and making sure to maintain the love and joy for riding a bike. I think older and more mature riders have a better perspective on the complete picture and know that sometimes chasing the 1-percent gains across the board means resting and staying balanced, not just training yourself into the ground.

Young Joey Foresta on the slalom track


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