Do we get slower with age?


Our editor, Jan Birkmyre, talks about the first round of the national series and how getting older does not necessarily mean you have to accept you will be (much) slower.


Jan Birkmyre wins sprint


The 2015 National Omnium Series kicked off at Herne Hill earlier this year last and as always the first event is a revealing meeting, because it gives the first indications of who the form riders will be and there are always some new names that appear on the start list too.


I have been riding this series since 2005 and I have raced with the biggest names in British track cycling – which by definition also means the biggest names in world track cycling – and many have used this series as a spring board to getting selected for the GB squad, or as a race meeting to sharpen up before an international event.


Having won the series seven times, it is now more about training and tactics, rather than being a goal in itself but I would be lying if I did not admit to really wanting to win when I get on the start line and given the success I have had, my aspirations are always high. 


That said, while I don’t want to make my performance all about my age, I have to face the reality that my capacity for dealing with training and my ability to recover will decline as I get older.  According to research published by Training Peaks, peak performance for an endurance athlete occurs somewhere between 25 to 35 years of age – I was outside of that age range before I even took up cycling and am more than a decade past that “peak”, which physiologically means my VO2 max will be on the decline.  However, Training Peaks go on to say that studies on runners between the ages of 50 and 80 who continue to train and compete, have shown that a slight decline in VO2 max may be countered by the ability to deal with greater amounts of lactic acid.  On top of this, research suggests athletes are capable of holding onto both muscle mass and strength if they maintain exercise , so peak torque measurements do not decline until the ages of 60-69.*  Perhaps I’ve got a few more good years in me yet!!


So while a deterioration in performance as we get older is as certain as death and taxes, the rate of decline may be slower than expected and that means my best excuse may not be much of an excuse after all.  Yep, I’m regretting doing that bit of research already!


Herne Hill Omnium Scratch race 2015


With that all said, let’s talk about the racing.  As always, given that this is the first serious meeting of the year, I rocked up to Herne Hill full of self-doubt and promising myself that this would be the last year I put myself through it.  As an aside I make this same promise every year but somehow I seem to forget about it over the winter months.  Anyway against the odds, the day started rather well.  A win in the 500m TT is always a great way to get an Omnium underway and my time of 38.79 is very respectable on an outside velodrome.  That put me ahead of multiple World Masters champion Maddy Moore and Olympic Development rider Abbie Dentus – perhaps I should have quit while I was ahead?  I followed this up with second places in the points race and the keirin, which put me in second place overall on 5 points but I was still very much in the fight, just one point behind Maddy and 6 points ahead of Abbie.


It was in the pursuit that Abbie showed her class, a time of 2:21.730 set a new track record for the distance, lowering it almost 3.5 seconds.  In fact the top four fastest times in the pursuit were quicker than the previous record, so although I rode faster than I have on this track before it was only good enough for 5th place but there was no shame in that.


I was still in second place heading into the final event, the scratch race, and since anything can happen in a bunch race it was all still to play for.  I knew I needed to mark Abbie to protect my second place and at the same time try to finish ahead of Maddy in the hope of snatching the overall omnium win.  I was reasonably sharp at the start of the race, covering the dangerous moves and I was aware of where both Maddy and Abbie were but coming into the bell lap I was horribly boxed in and with 22 of us all fighting for position, there was a lot of bumping and shouting as we headed down the back straight.  Then I had to face the dreadful realisation that I simply could not get out to contest the finish.  With less than 200m to go I found some space but I was so far back and by this time riders were five wide...  it is painful even to write about it!  The result dropped me down to 3rd overall, while Abbie, who had ridden a much sharper race tactically, won and incredibly made up a six point deficit to win the omnium overall.  I don’t think that has ever happened before and both Maddy and I were left shaking our heads at the opportunity we had let slip away.


On the plus side there were some good performances from me on the day, with the “disaster” that was the scratch race being all about tactics rather than fitness and a National Series podium is not to be sniffed at.  I sometimes need a bit of a shake up to keep me sharp and so I really hope I don’t need to learn the lessons from the scratch race twice this season and I am already looking forward to the next round of the series in Newport on 6th June.


Thanks as always to those that support me – mentally as well as physically! – my husband David Jack puts up with so much, as does my coach Chris Davies.



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