Age actually is a number. It tells how many years you have been on this planet. We reference that against our general experience of what that represents.
But IRONMAN has a way of rejiggering that reference point. It happened once again at the IRONMAN World Championships in 2017. It was done by a Dutchman named Rob Barel. He was racing in the 60-64 age group. He came with nothing to prove, but ended up proving what is possible with steady practice done over about five decades.
A swimmer growing up, Rob Barel switched to triathlons in 1982. And he’s no stranger to IRONMAN, where he competed for the first time in 1984. An eventual top-three finisher at the race, Rob’s last lineup in Kona was way back in 2003.
“I never thought I would come back to Hawaii. It’s expensive and so hard on the body. But in 2016 I got an invitation from Peter Kropko to race his 70.3 race in Budapest. Without any real preparation I finished 24th overall in 04:06:51. I won the M55-59 and my time was fast enough that I would have also won the M45-49 and M50-54 categories! This made me think it would be possible to do another Kona race without too much sacrifice.”
As a professional Rob was one of the most consistent athletes in history. He never had bad races.That seemed to be linked to his philosophy of always tuning into his body and pulling back the second things started to go over the line of overtraining.
His lifestyle for years has been to stay active and “competitive” as long as it was fun. For the past two decades he’s continued to race in a lot of endurance events. In other words, he didn’t hang up the training shoes and sit on the couch once he stopped competing as a professional. In fact, the line really blurred, which ultimately has been his fountain of youth.
Rob lives the lifestyle that enabled him to clock a 4:06:51 without any real preparation!
“After winning the World Championships Cross Triathlon in November 2016 I decides to go for another IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. I mainly focused on increasing my running mileage during the winter to prevent injuries. I went from about 20-miles a week to closer to 30-miles most weeks. Overall my training totals increased from 10-hours a week to 15-hours a week on average.”
“To qualify I chose IRONMAN France because of the great memories and the beautiful bike course. It was great to be back in Nice after 20 years and to see Yves Cordier do such a great job organizing the event.
“It gave me a lot of confidence to see that my time there would have qualified me in all AG’s except the ones under 30. So I began to dream of breaking the course record set by Yves Tabarant in 2010.”
Yves Tabarant set the 60-64 record in a time of 10:08:15. I remember him doing that because when he was brought up on stage at the awards, his time blew away the rest of the field on a day where few records were set. Yes, it’s odd that I remember it, but it was impressive.
Rob Barel had that record in his sites. But that was not his real goal. He just wanted to enjoy the race after a 14-year break from it.
“My 2017 race in Kona was the most relaxed IRONMAN of my career. For the first time I raced with a power meter and it was perfect to pace myself and allow me to enjoy the ambiance at the same time. As a pro I only raced to win, except for my first Ironman in 1984. Now for the first time I raced only to finish in the best time my body and the Island would allow.”
What was the result? Rob Barel blew away Tabarant’s record and the rest of the field. He finished in a mind-blowing 9:46:54. That was over 20-minutes faster than a record that no one considered to be soft. Second place was another age group stalwart Greg Taylor. He finished nearly an hour later in 10:38:13.
Rob’s last few hundred meters looked like he was out for a casual weekend jog:
Yes, age is indeed a number. But when you are able to redefine what is possible with that number it qualifies as a Top-40 Greatest Moment at IRONMAN! Congratulations Rob.
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.