It’s a sport that you'd think would be for the younger athletes. A test of endurance - both muscular and cardiovascular - something that both are meant to deteriorate with age. It seems that one Blairgowrie athlete didn’t get the memo though.
45-year-old Robert Harrison, a principal teacher of Craft, Design and Technology, continues to confound people by competing at the highest level nationally as a triathlete. He only completed his first race back in 2008 while in his mid-thirties, and has since gone on to become one of Scotland’s leading competitors.
He is backed by the Live Active Talented Athlete scheme – read our story on it here – and this has allowed him the opportunity to train locally and to be in fantastic physical condition showing that age really is no barrier.
A keen cyclist, Robert started running which led to him competing in a duathlon. He progressed into triathlon and he loves his sport and its structure, which allows him to remain competitive at the highest level despite his age.
“I had always enjoyed cycling and then I began doing a bit of running in winter when the weather made cycling more difficult. This led to me competing in a duathlon, where I improved quickly and reached a competitive standard. In my youth, I had been a fairly competent swimmer and although I had not trained in any club system I was good enough to bring this background into triathlon.
“A major draw of the sport to me is the structure of triathlon where is the opportunity to compete against others in the same age category as yourself. Scottish, British, European and World medals can be won and it gives you a realistic target as opposed to trying to compete against the top younger athletes.”
Robert is entirely self-taught apart from a few swim analysis sessions to improve the efficiency of his stroke. He spends time reading different books and gathering information from the internet to improve his performance and tracks his progress and performances to monitor how his training is impacting his race time.
As one of the Live Active Talented Athletes, Robert is entitled to free use of all the facilities which is something that has helped him with his training and for which he is grateful for.
“It has been great to gain free access to swimming pools and gyms in Perth and Kinross. I use the pools in Blairgowrie and Perth, as well as the fitness room at Blairgowrie Recreation Centre. Having access to training on a good quality treadmill is really beneficial.
“As I get older, I find that the rebound of the treadmill is easier on the body during the more difficult sets compared to running hard down a road or pavement that would certainly cause greater muscle soreness and increased risk of injury.
“I love the variety in training for a triathlon. Having the three disciplines means it keeps the mind fresh, as well as giving you a balanced, full body workout. Injuries occur in all sports, but the good thing about triathlon is that you can usually continue training in two of the three aspects if injured in the other.”
In the past twelve months, Robert has had some great results showing that, like a fine wine, he is only getting better with age. I love the variety in training for a triathlon. Having the three disciplines means it keeps the mind fresh, as well as giving you a balanced, full body workout. He has picked up a Scottish gold medal and British silver, while also coming fourth in narrowly missing out on a podium finish in the European Middle Distance Triathlon in Austria last September.
It’s those kinds of results that keep the hunger alive for Robert and he still has aspirations to achieve even more success both nationally and on the continent. He remains inspired to keep going in triathlon and also loves the buzz he gets from training as well as competing.
“I would like to win an age group medal at European or World level, as well as winning my age group and picking up gold at British level. I have won my age group a number of times at some of the Scottish National Championships but, so far, have only managed to achieve silver at British level and just missed out on a medal in the Europeans.
“I am still able to win local races overall, but it is difficult to compete against younger athletes at the higher level. The structure of the triathlon races is great and it helps keep it competitive. Scottish Championships are split into 10-year categories, while the British, European and World events are split into five-year categories. The standard at these events are high but realistic to target because of the splits.
“I still really enjoy the training and keeping my physical fitness levels high. There are so many great opportunities to swim, bike and run around Perthshire with some particularly attractive locations. Physical fitness has benefits to work and everyday life too, and I rarely pick up illnesses.”
Triathlon running is something that many people do as a sporting challenge either for themselves, or for a charity. It’s an event which I myself have often contemplated trying and if like me, you quite fancy a go then Robert has a few words of advice.
“Triathlon is a very friendly and supportive sport and I would definitely encourage others to get involved. In the first instance I would suggest picking a short event and just trying to complete the distance. Joining a club is not necessary but has many benefits in terms of coaching and being able to train with others.
“Running is certainly the hardest of the three disciplines on the body and I would recommend building up the duration and frequency gradually. Personally, for me running is the strongest part of my race and swimming the weakest, but swimming is also the shortest aspect of a triathlon.”
A quite remarkable athlete who is still having great success in his sport at 45-years-old, Robert is certainly doing Perthshire proud! He’s certainly inspired me to have a go and I think I’ll be heading down the Perth Leisure Pool over the next few months to get the lengths in with a view to doing a triathlon for myself!
For more information on the Live Active Talented Athlete scheme, of which Robert is supported by, you can visit their website.
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