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World-Class Competition At 65 by Dr. Goh Kong Chuan

Is it possible to compete against everyone else in the World at the age of 65? Well, I had the opportunity to do that from March 15th till April 15th 2007, when 3,619 people of all ages and sizes competed against each other to see who could row the farthest on the Concept2 Indoor rower in that month.

The rules were simple-Row as far as you can, and log in your distance rowed with a cut-off time on Friday night each week. So 120 Kg 18year old giants competed against frail 100 lb 70 year olds, and you would have thought a 65 year old retired Malaysian Doctor had no chance against some of these ex Olympians. But, by the fourth week, I was still #1, with >1 million metres rowed, and at the end of the competition, I was at #4 among all of them. This was the North American Rowing Challenge 2007, and I had come out 9th in the same competition 6 years ago, when in 2001 I had rowed 1,006,353m

This time around, I had rowed 1,491,621 metres, averaging 45,613.16m per day (an improvement of 48.2% after aging 6 years), burnt 76,997 Calories, averaging 2,406 Calories per day and rowed 9,329 minutes, averaging 291.51 mins. per day and the weight loss was only from 147 lbs at the beginning to 142 lbs at the end.

This endurance trial is the culmination of the following endurance events last year in 2006:
· Climbing Gunung Kinabalu (from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata) in 7 hrs in March 2006
· Climbed G.Kinabalu (Timpohon – L.Rata) in 3h50min in June 2006
· Race walked Penang Bridge in mid-2006 in 2h50min
· Race-walked Pg.12 hr endurance walk -64KM on Nov 25th 2006
· Race walked Star walk 10Km in 67min 1 week later Dec 2006

VO2max measured 3 years ago at age 62 was 48.9 (using a Sensor Medics gas analysis machine on a cycle ergometer). This compares well to Peter Snell who measured at 70 ml/Kg/min. when he ran the 800m in 1:44sec in his 20s, (and 1,500min in 3:50) but now has a VO2max of 40 at age 68, and still competes at Orienteering.

How did I feel? There was no strain at all, as the heart rate varied from only 80 to 110 during the long rows. No musculo-tendinous injuries were sustained at all, and the Total Body Fat, as measured on the Lange caliper had come down to 14.3% (normal for men is 17% to 19%)

What was the daily routine?

Waking up at 5.30am became a simple routine, as the chirping of the early morning birds would announce the time. There was no need to warm up, as light rowing at the beginning served that purpose, and as momentum and waking up followed, the rhythm would keep up, and the only sense of time passing by was the call to prayer coming from the 2 nearby mosques as they announced the Waktu Subur. Then dawn would break out with the sky brightening up until one could easily see the numbers on the display monitor. A banana taken in between would feed the night hunger, and this was hurriedly consumed to avoid the automatic 4-minute shutoff from the display when the machine lay idle. Water was hastily gulped down every 50 minutes or so, and petroleum jelly liberally smeared on the haunches to prevent the skin from breaking.

What do you think of to stave off the “boredom”? Well, it is surprising that the most creative thoughts come during exercise, and on such long rows, lectures and articles formulate so easily that writing them during the rest intervals becomes such a breeze. As a prelude to this competition, I had already given some 11 lectures when invited to speak on board the Starcruise 7-day S’pore Phuket route twice in January, and I had already spoken to my old school scouts on my experience in climbing Gunung Kinabalu in March and June 2006.

Was the social routine broken? No, not at all, as dinners and social engagements were not postponed. Fine dining and wining was continued, and even motor trips down to KL and back the same day. Continuing Medical Education meetings were duly attended, and one had all the time in the World to read up on the latest journals and publications in one’s field of interest. When one is idle, time, is spent wastefully, and “Killing time” becomes the favourite expression.

Is there a danger of “overstrain”? Gradual buildup, with “long slow distance” is the key to endurance training and good health, with no dieting, dependence on supplements or medications, as the immune system is stimulated instead of suppressed. This is borne out in a recent Birmingham paper, writing about “Immunosenescence and Adrenopause” at molecular level. That is food for thought, and perhaps we should research into that aspect of Ageing Medicine.

Comparing this to my 76KM Ultramarathon, running around Penang Island in 1991, I find Indoor Rowing so much safer and more enjoyable (even after >15 years). You are free to eat and drink in the comforts of home, and your knees are spared from all that jarring. I think I shall try to follow the example of all those great rowers who keep on at it way into their 90, God willing.

So, Malaysians of all ages, take up the Ultra challenge. Start with these rows, and go for the Comrades Ultramarathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in South Africa. It is 89KM, and only a few Sarawakians have made it within the cutoff time of 11hrs, whereas Prof Tim Noakes has run 6 of them under 7 hours, and Alberto Salazar has won one in under 6 hours (after he retired from winning standard marathons).

Dr. Goh Kong Chuan MB.BS (S’pore) MSpMed (UNSW) FAFP (M’sia)
e-mail drkcgoh@streamyx.com

 

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