He’s not an ordinary athlete. When Outside magazine featured Steve Ilg on their cover in May of 1992 he became both famous and infamous. The cover, as Ilg laughingly admits, was later voted by readers as one of Outside magazine’s least favorites. Maybe it was the finely coiffed mullet he sported or the cover’s brash title, claiming he could break you. Maybe it was the unsettling look of serene confidence on his face.

Moving past the cover I read about a sports polymath, a multi-sport mutant according to another article. Ilg was extraordinary at a number of pursuits from running to biking to climbing to a multitude of winter sports. But what truly intrigued me was that he preached with an uncommon passion a lifestyle that rejected sport specialization.

At the time I was training for my first triathlon and had found a new level of fitness by combining biking and swimming with my love for running. Combining the sports I felt not only stronger in each but more durable and healthier than ever.

Ilg though was preaching for a life that went beyond cross-training. He believed and is now even more adamant that sport is a noble and even spiritual endeavor through which we can more fully experience life as a whole. His ideas of Wholistic Fitness combined sport disciplines, yang endeavors he calls them, with the yin of meditation and yoga.

I was so intrigued by this approach that I interviewed him for a regional magazine. Some 25 years later we reconnected for this podcast.

Ilg at 55 is no less strong. Last winter, from his home in Durango, Colorado he raced in events ranging from 5K to 50k. He competed in snowshoeing, ski mountaineering, fat tire bike and winter decathlons. Remarkably, he made it to the podium of every race he entered. Incredibly, he won seven events outright.

He, maybe with just of touch of irony, often refers to himself as “Feeble Ilg” and he does project humility and gratitude for what life has brought. Yet he’s also fiercely competitive and embodies what he calls the athlete’s warrior spirit.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Your comments, as always, are very much appreciated.



Resources:

Total Body Transformation: A 3-Month Personal Fitness Prescription For a Strong, Lean Body and a Calmer Mind

The Winter Athlete: Secrets of Wholistic Fitness for Outdoor Performance

The Outdoor Athlete: Total Training for Outdoor Performance

Health Mark IVO18110 Yogacise 2-In-1 Yoga and Exercise Bench

Steve Ilg on Facebook

Steve’s website: Wholistic Fitness: Fitness as a spiritual practice

Show Notes:

How as we age our focus changes from yang to yin

To be athletic is to be supple and strong, enduring and capable

The addiction to comfort: how it severs our connection to wholeness

Everything is training, even brushing your teeth

The 5 Noble Fitness Disciplines

The 4 Lifestyle Principles

The athlete as warrior

If you are not feeling the yin you may not be training hard enough

No easy days: every day is challenging but in a different way

Racing Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, from Durango to Silverton and beyond

The importance of morning rituals. Poop early

You are only as young as your spine

Holy hunger… why its good to be hungry

Don’t eat fearfully, eat sacredly

Shifting to pranic nutrition

Ilg’s new book

 

 

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Robert Marchand, 105 sets new world record bicycling 14 miles

Robert Marchand, 105, sets new world bicycling record.

The French not only know how to live. Some of them are world-class at aging, both gracefully and vigorously.

On January 5, 2017 Robert Marchand, at the amazing age of 105 set a new world record and demonstrated something even more amazing. As if that were possible. He proved that you can actually improve exercise performance as you age.

This is startling because we’ve all been told, and have indeed experienced, how age slows us down, robs us of muscle, stamina and speed. But it appears that under certain circumstances, and with the right kind of training, the effects of age can be forestalled and even overturned, at least temporarily.

Marchand, after setting the one-hour record when he was 101 underwent a series of tests by Veronique Billat and her exercise science colleagues at the University of Evry-Val d’Essonne in France. Their tests created a benchmark against which they could measure subsequent performances. The results of these fascinating tests and subsequent follow-up were published as Case Studies in Physiology: Maximal Oxygen Consumption and Performance in a Centenarian Cyclist┬áin The Journal of Applied Physiology. Clicking will link you to the abstract. If you are a fitness nerd (like me) you can access the full report via Google Scholar.

So Marchand sets a world record at 101 and then at the age of 103, just two years later, he set another world hour record, averaging 17 miles per hour, a performance improvement of 11 percent.

For those two years he trained 5,000 km per year (about 3,100 miles). About 80 percent of his riding was done at what was referred to as a “light” effort, a 12 on a scale of 1-20 with 20 representing an all-out effort. The rest of the time he trained at a considerably more vigorous pace, a 15 on the same perceived exertion scale. His cadence was measured at a rate of 50 to 70 revolutions per minute.

Over this period his body mass did not change, i.e. he did not gain weight or add muscle yet his VO2max increased by 13 percent. This is a fitness measure commonly thought to steadily decline after the age of 50. Peak power output also increased from 90 to 125 watts, an increase of around 39 percent. This was attributed not so much to his ability to pedal harder but to an increase in maximal pedaling frequency, which he boosted to a range of 69 to 90.

His maximal heart rate of 137 also did not change, which by most theories on aging should have declined. It remained steady while maximal ventilation increased from 57 to 70 liters per minute, an increase of 23 percent. Respiratory frequency increased 8 percent. So it appears the increased amount of intense exercise allowed him to consistently take in more oxygen and at a higher rate.

The scientists were as amazed as anyone to see that it was possible for someone so old to increase performance and VO2max simply by changing training protocol to include higher intensity work.

And for his record on January 5, at the age of 105 he managed to pedal at a pace of 14 miles per hour. I’ve been riding for years and there are many days when I would have been happy to have averaged 14 miles an hour.

After his world record he said he was disappointed with his time and feels that with a little more training he could do better. Spoken with the spirit of a true athlete.

Looking at the photos of him on the track I think one thing that could help is to have a major cycling brand sponsor his effort and get him an actual time trial bike along with some more aerodynamic gear like helmet, etc.

Maybe Marchand is truly a once in a generation phenomenon. But maybe not. There are a number of older, very talented athletes pushing age and performance barriers every year. Marchand may be just the beginning of a new era of human endurance and performance.

 

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