Why you will want to read this interview: on your last birthday, the realization that you have completed 50+ trips around the sun hit you hard. You have passed the half century mark, and now looking at the next 30-50 years with either excitement of a new challenge, or more likely, a bit of fear and trepidation. If you need a little motivation, a wake up call of what is still possible – you’ll want to read this interview. If you want to know what it feels like to cross an Ironman finish line seven times in one year – at the age of 66, you will want to keep reading.
You have seen pictures of the Grand Canyon online, but until you stand along the rim of that massive and majestic abyss, it’s hard to grasp its immensity. You can read about Usain Bolt breaking multiple “fastest man alive” records, but until you are standing (or running) beside him, you cannot comprehend exactly how fast he is moving. Without having something to compare, our minds often cannot fully appreciate a natural wonder – or in this case – a wonderous athletic achievement.
When I tell you that Michael completed 7 Ironman races – in ONE calendar year at the age of 66, you will probably file that information in a mental folder labeled, “Impressive Athletic Achievements”. Sounds impressive, but you may not have any relevant experience to compare it to. A spin class can be exhausting, your last HITT class drained you – but not really comparable. When you compare Michael’s achievements to the average 66 year old American male, your “scale of impressiveness” is sure to expand a bit more. You may be familiar with the stats: 80% of seniors (defined as 65+) are battling multiple chronic issues. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes cause almost two-thirds of all deaths each year. At this stage of life, depression is common, elite athleticism is not. Eighty percent of seniors are fighting multiple chronic issues, Michael is fighting the clock on the way to podium finishes.
If you have ever run a marathon – you can be exceptionally pleased with yourself if you cross the finish line in under 5 hours. By itself, this is a wonderful achievement, and your hard work should be applauded. And as we all know, those 26 miles represent just one of the three sports of an Ironman. Once you decide to compete in a full ironman distance triathlon, you should know that on average – as a 50+ athlete – you will be moving non-stop for just under 14 hours.
Now you need to physically recover from the wear and tear on your body. Under 50, you should plan for at least three weeks to fully recover. Over 50 – even more time is usually recommended. This is a very time demanding sport just to complete a single ironman, never mind excelling in the sport and hopefully, standing on the podium at the finish.
I hope I have adequately imprinted on you the impressive dedication and time required for an athlete of any age to compete in an ironman distance triathlon. Michael Doyle completed 7 of these events in a single year at the age of 66. Right now, my hope is the Grand Canyon just went from being a cool and interesting photo, to representing one of the most remarkable natural wonders you have experienced. What Michael has achieved and continues to do every week, every month, every year – is remarkable.
Is Michael exceptional? Genetically speaking, is he simply one in a million? Can his performance and achievements be duplicated by most in his age group – or is his fitness, health and continued success in competition, due more to determination and persistence?
For those who are reading this interview to compare Michael’s achievements to your own, then the metrics provided below in the speed round I call “50+ in 50 seconds” may suffice. But if you want to delve into the reasons that AgeIsNoBarrier for Michael Doyle, then please keep reading. If you would like to share your thoughts, I would love to hear from you.
60+ years in 60 seconds
Athlete: Michael Doyle
Home residence: Fairfield, Connecticut
Actual Age: 66
How old when you close your eyes? Early 50’s.
Occupation when not wearing spandex: Investment Advisor and Asset Management specializing in Hotels
Basic Biometrics: 5’ 9 inches, 160 lbs, blood pressure on average: 116 over 67 (from last week Doctor visit), resting heart rate: 40 BPM and sometimes lower
Sports/activities in order of time and preference: Triathlons, Running-only events, Yardwork😉
Exactly how much do you love coffee? On a scale of 1 to 10 – a 10!
“Have to” or Want to”? Interesting – Want to.
The health benefits of competing – is this a goal or just a happy outcome? The competition and the prep is more mental, the physical benefits are just a happy outcome.
Greatest amount of time you have ever remained inactive? From 25 to early 50’s.
Current injuries if any: Thankfully no Injuries to report.
Past injuries fully recovered: Couple of bike crashes with hip, shoulder, and arm scrapes.
Past injuries that effect today: Nothing to report.
Age when I stopped recovering quickly from injuries: Have not had this issue as my small issues pass rather quickly – still.
Any chronic health issues that require clinical intervention? No – do not take any medications.
Biggest physical change over the last 20 years? Loss of 25+ pounds with significant improvement to energy level
Twenty years from now, I will be: Challenging our grandchildren while pushing our children to stay active
Dietary choices or restrictions: Pescatarian (almost 5 years) and do not consume alcohol (12 years+)
Supplements I swear by: Do not take any
Average hours of training each week: Depending on race length and schedule – 15 to 25 hours a week
How do you monitor your recovery status? Managing my schedule, and listening to my body
Greatest achievement of being a 50+ athlete: Motivating others that this is possible.
Who is Michael Doyle, and can he be cloned?
You were mostly inactive from the age of 25 all the way to your early 50’s. What was your motivation to start this journey from businessman to Ironman competitor? –Oddly enough, it was not doctor’s orders. My doctor did suggest I needed to be more active, but I was not unhealthy by the normal standards. I was overweight, but my heart rate and blood pressure were normal. The decision to become more active was really a personal decision to find a better work/life balance. I’m very proud of my career, and early on, I was often put in situations that required a great amount of dedication, and time – easily working 70 hours each week, and for months at a time. Life is always a balance of family and work, but my work/life balance teeter totter was completely off center. I had to rip off the work band-aid and take better care of myself.
Speaking of work/life balance – triathlons are very demanding in terms of time to train and prepare. How were you able to successfully combine the two? -Early on, it was very difficult to train consistently while working 60+ hours each week. Luckily, my career has been in hotels which allowed me access to hotel pools anywhere I traveled. I would frequently be in the pool by 4am.
Two questions: Did you play sports throughout your youth and if yes, were you exceptionally athletic? – Originally, came to America via Canada on an academic scholarship at Cornell University. My focus for the first couple of years was hockey and then shifted to my academics when I found my passion (Hotel School) and realized that I was not going Professional. Cannot say I was a gifted athlete, but was able to play hockey, baseball, and golf well.
You have pushed yourself tremendously hard for the last 16 years, and have managed to avoid any serious injury over your competing years. This is a tremendous achievement at any age – how have you managed that balance when your career as an endurance athlete really started at 50? -Work is all about scheduling. In my career, have to manage that schedule, stay committed to discipline. Training and competing requires the same dedication to a schedule. When traveling for work, the workouts were simply another priority to schedule into the day. And put in more miles on the weekend if needed.
Why? What drives you to keep training this hard when you could be enjoying Pickleball at a local club? What motivates Michael Doyle to consistently run, bike and swim with the world elites? -I simply love the challenge of pushing myself to an extreme. I have always enjoyed the competition; age does not alter the desire to win. And I remain very interested in testing how well I can perform, even at this age.
Ironman specific questions
Why triathlons? How did you pick this sport? Pickleball is extremely popular right now… -Simple. Having coffee with a friend from a competing firm and he suggested I try a sprint triathlon. Just happened to have an event 2 miles from the house, so “why not”? I entered and competed, and loved it.
Every competitive athlete I know, highly recommends working with a coach from the start. To “learn from their mistakes and wisdom”. You have had tremendous success and have never worked consistently with a coach. Two questions: Why? And how? -The “why” may be easier to answer. I already have a career and did not want my training to feel like work. If I work with a coach, I’m really afraid they will put another level of discipline on top of what I’m already doing, and these hours of training will start to feel like work. I am still having tremendous fun and trying hard to avoid this from becoming work.
In essence, you have been your own coach and wanted to learn on your own? –Yes. This is how I’ve always been. Just my mindset, and my personality to stick to difficult things, figure them out and try to prevail.
As your own coach, what early errors would you use to caution other triathletes? -I would say race nutrition and hydration were the sources of my biggest early mistakes, and caution athletes to never try a new fueling strategy during a race. I once drank a bottle of 5-hour energy in the middle of the run and had never tested this is in training. Completely backfired and destroyed my gut for the remainder of the event. Even today, I need to focus on developing a better plan and more discipline on my fueling strategy.
What would Coach Doyle say is your weakest of the three events? -Running. I feel that I still have lots of room for gains.
How does Coach Doyle vary your training intensity over the course of the year? -Just based on the timing of the races, ramping up mileage based on the dates of the events. Typically, will do 5 events each year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to feel hopeful about aging, consider that Michael – at age 66 – completed 7 Ironman events in a single year and still believes he has room to improve. With proper training, nutrition and recovery – the body keeps responding.
Were you successful from the start of your triathlon career? -I really had no idea what to expect from my first competition. I entered the race unprepared, found myself swimming over large waves in the dark, and getting tossed around. Had not yet figured out how to properly fuel for the event and the transition from swim to bike and bike to run could have been much better. But it didn’t matter – I was hooked. Physically, I loved the challenge. Mentally, I knew this was a challenge I could figure out, study what works, what doesn’t. I would learn from my mistakes, train smart, tweak my fueling, and come back over and over again until I prevailed.
And did you? Prevail? -This past year, in the Ironman world rankings, I was listed as #5 in the US, and #9 in the world. I also won my age group in the Alaska event.
I’m assuming you started with sprint distance tri’s – how long until you were competing in the full distance Ironman competitions? I competed for about 4 years at Sprint and Olympic distances before my first half Ironman 70.3, which was Puerto Rico.
How long into your Triathlon career until you were invited to the world championships? -About 6 years. When I first started competing, getting into the world championships in Kona was just a dream.
How do you get an invitation to the championships? -The invitations were offered to top competitors at the end of the event – 1 slot for men, 1 for women per age group.
Any critical lessons learned after your first Ironman 70.3, and after your first 140.6? -It’s extremely helpful to seek out someone who has successfully competed in those distances. For my first events, I simply did not know what to expect, went in fairly blindly. As an example, my first 70.3 was in Puerto Rico and I was not prepared for that level of heat. Didn’t even know that I needed to prepare.
For anyone not familiar with these grueling endurance events, a half Ironman or 70.3 consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. For the full Ironman, or the 140.6 – just double all distances, and exponentially increase the suffering.
This past year in 2022, you were finally invited to the most famous of the Ironman events – the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. You mentioned it did not go well? -That race did not go well at all. This past year (2022) was my first time ever at the Kona event and it was unbelievably hot. High 80’s with 87% humidity. The swim went ok, I was happy with my time. The bike is normally my strength, but it was so hot, it just wiped me out and through me off my plan. By the time we started the run, I was extremely depleted. My body needed electrolytes, but I wanted something cold, so I drank plain water. Serious mistake. Felt “off” from the very beginning of the run and threw up multiple times, starting at only mile 4. I was not adding enough calories and my energy level really tanked. Eventually, my gait slowed to just slightly faster than a walk. But I would not quit. When I couldn’t run, I worked on perfecting what I now refer to as the “Doyle shuffle”. I persevered and finished the full 26 miles.
Did the Kona event discourage you from wanting to sign up for your next race? -Not at all. I mentioned that I enjoy trying to figure things out, to analyze what went well and what went poorly. In hindsight, it’s all nutrition and hydration. I qualified for the 70.3 World Championship in St George (left), scheduled for only 3 1/2 weeks after Kona, so had to adapt quickly. Took what I learned in Kona and finished in 5:52. Kona was a painful lesson, but felt like I redeemed myself in St George.
Seven ironman events in one year is extremely demanding for any age. At 66, adding your race days to your training days, and combining the miles from all three sports, you completed around 10,000 miles. How are you recovering? -So far, I still seem to be recovering quickly. I’m usually back in the gym or on the bike within 2 or 3 days after a race. Just one week after the St George Ironman, I was able to successfully run the NY marathon.
Do you have a specific recovery routine, such as massage, ice baths, hydration IV’s? -Not really. Love massages, but not easily accessible. Did start going to Stretch Labs fairly regularly.
Let’s talk prep: when you are not swimming, biking or running – how do you prepare your body to handle the stressors of an ironman? -Stretching, strength and core for 4 days per week.
Without coaching, how have you managed to avoid over training or injuries? -I talk to others involved with the sport, and while I’ve never been coached, I just trained at paces I could handle, and never stressed my body other than the amount of time needed. I would also add that getting adequate sleep and evolving my nutrition has been key. I have been following a pescatarian diet for just over 5 years.
You previously mentioned that you do not use supplements, you try to get all nutrients through real food. How does that change during the actual race? What are your favorite sources of fuel / hydration during the events? -Started working with Performance Hydration – for both hydration and calories. And I don’t wait until the night before a race, I start dialing in the nutrition several days in advance of the event.
Extending the Healthspan and the circle of influence
When you are training for your next event, purely focused on your performance for that race – do you also consider yourself training for the healthspan you want to enjoy in your 80’s and beyond, or is that a distant thought for now? -When focused on my daily training plans – I remain in that moment, not really focused on life in my 80’s. Otherwise, I absolutely want to have the ability to pursue any activity as I age, while remaining cognitively healthy.
You are succeeding wildly in slowing down the aging process. Obviously, your lifestyle choices are a huge factor in how you age, but your DNA also plays a role. How healthy were your parents at this age? -Father passed in his mid-70’s. All lifestyle, not really genetics. Mom was not an athlete, but lived a pretty healthy lifestyle overall.
Any family history you need to be mindful of? -No real genetic concerns, just remaining very aware of how my lifestyle choices effect my health as I grow older.
Michael, you have to know that many people your age and much younger are watching you, pulling inspiration from your month after month dedication to sport. When you lace up your shoes, or jump in the water – how much of your training is purely for yourself vs the idea of being an example to your circle of influence? – Those are a bit intertwined. People will sometimes let me know my racing is inspirational, or that they are now getting more active. I know I’ve become a bit of an example and yes, of course it feels good. The recognition is nice, but not the reason I keep going. What is important to me – the reason I keep going – is to influence my children and all extended family – to remain active.
I’m betting the holidays at your house looks like the clearance section of The Triathlete Store. Do any family members train with you? -Immediate family does not compete in triathlons, but they’re all very active, including full and half marathons.
What does it mean to Michael Doyle personally, to know that others are motivated by your racing? -I have appreciated when I connected with a mentor, and the impact that person had on me in my early years after college graduation. If my racing can have a similar effect on others, then that gives me even greater motivation. I have found great pleasure in getting people to break outside a comfort zone and know that challenging yourself is possible – even as you age. To me, knowing and having this feedback, pushes me onward to keep trying and to see if I can get a little better each year.
You motivate others – who motivates you? Whose example do you follow? –Disabled athletes motivate me. I volunteer with Achilles international, a wonderful organization that empower the disability community to participate in sports. I am continuously amazed at the level of energy and determination of these athletes. Being involved with this group, both motivates and moves me. These athletes don’t see obstacles, they just see the experience, the opportunity. They are completely overwhelmed by the moment. Anytime I work with one of these athletes, I’m the big winner.
Putting on your coaching / mentoring hat for one last question: What should 40- and 50-year-old athletes expect as they train into their 60’s? -Diet and fueling has become much more important. Also be mindful of your sleep, the right amount of sleep. Very necessary to stick with a schedule – if you’re serious about performance, your training plan can no longer be ‘off the cuff’. Have to be disciplined. At this age, I can no longer blow off training sessions and try to make it up later.
Thank you Michael Anderson for introducing me to your friend Michael Doyle! These interviews are dedicated to the belief that Age does not have to be a barrier to the sports and activities you enjoy – and Michael is another prime example of how the body continues to respond to proper training, nutrition and recovery. At 66 years of age and for the foreseeable future, Michael assures me that he is still racing to compete. Not to just participate, but to compete.
Athletically, we are in uncharted territory. People like Michael are breaking new ground in endurance sports in this age category, proving that AgeIsNoBarrier for people wishing to dramatically slow down the onset of age-related chronic disease. Today’s 60+ population is still learning, still adapting, still improving. For me personally, I view Mike’s continued success in competition as a personal challenge to not believe my best days on the bike (or skis, or trails) are behind me.
How long can this sexagenarian continue at this level? No idea. But it will be exciting to check back with Michael periodically as he continues to push his athletic boundaries as a septuagenarian and hopefully, as a still competitive octogenarian.
If you have any questions for Michael, please include in the comment section below and I’ll forward his reply. If he’s not training….and training….I am sure he will happily reply.