The Craft of Coaching Logo

The Upside of Growing Old

The OG of endurance sports coaching shares how bike racing and life have changed since he turned 70—and what you have to look forward to.

Illustrated headshot of Joe Friel

Chasing weekend podiums was what my life revolved around for more than 30 years. In many ways, that defined who I was back then. My, how things have changed since I turned 70. Podiums are nice, but not the be-all and end-all they once were. I found other things in my life were just as important—or more so. Let me tell you how this came about. 

A major milestone in my journey 

Some say that things happen for a reason. I don’t know about that, but at age 70 my life was changed gradually, and then suddenly, in quick succession. And it was for the better, in many ways.  

In the summer of 2013, at age 69, I finished 5th in my age category in a mountain-finish road race in Boulder. It was my worst race performance since turning 60. Not a big deal, I guess. Lots of good riders have bad days. I had lots of excuses to soften the blow. Stuff happens. 

Then, a handful of months later, while training for another race, a much bigger life-changing event happened—a bad crash on a training ride. I broke seven bones and ended up with a concussion and blood clots in both legs. For six days I was in the hospital in intensive care. Making matters worse, I ended up with a frozen shoulder that stayed with me for nine more months. It was not a fun experience.  

It was a long recovery, and I was riding in the garage for weeks. At that point, podiums were not something I could imagine, let alone train for. This forced me to rethink everything and determine what in life was truly important to me. 

Before the crash, my daily life revolved around three things: family, career, and (of course) riding my bike—seriously. The only reason for riding was to prepare for a race and, hopefully, another podium. Then came the crash and my life changed. 

A new perspective on sport and life 

Now, 10 years after that crash, things are dramatically different. The narrow focus of the previous decades of my life is gone. My focus has become somewhat broader. There are more things in my life that give me satisfaction and happiness. Family is still first. But I’m now not as reluctant to miss a workout—even a week of workouts—for my family.  

While family has always been important to me, I used to push back on things that would cause gaps in my training. If my wife and I were going on a vacation to Europe, which we have done frequently, I’d strongly suggest that it be a bike tour. And it wasn’t going to be a “see the sights” trip around France or another destination. I always had an agenda that entailed serious riding every day. Now I am willing to skip a workout when needed and I don’t take it as seriously as I once did. Why? I really do want my family to have a good time. It’s not just about me and the bike. 

My concentration on career has also gone through an adjustment. Throughout my 40s, 50s, and 60s, “career” meant proving to myself and others that I knew what I was talking about when it came to training. That’s what prompted me to write The Cyclist’s Training Bible and The Triathlete’s Training Bible when I was in my 50s. Could I effectively explain my methodologies for training cyclists and triathletes? That was the challenge then. I was quick to react when someone called my attention to a “problem” in what I believed and how I coached. Now I really don’t care. I’m okay with who I am. There is certainly more than one way to train—to each to their own. It’s no longer taken as a personal attack. 

But it’s my own “training” that has undergone the biggest change. Again, I’m fine with occasionally missing a training session if it means I can spend time with my family. Oh, I’ll still try to figure out how to get something in that is beneficial fitness-wise—maybe go for a walk or ride with my wife. In either case, I really don’t care how fast we go. If I can get to Colorado to see my son race that’s a great reason to miss one or more of my own rides. (Dirk is where I was 30 years ago—still chasing podiums.) 

From coaching athletes to equipping coaches 

There are a few other things that have broadened my focus on life beyond my big three. My newest priority is to help grow the professionalism of coaching. It’s the biggest shift my “career” has seen since age 70. Of course, I’ve been actively involved in coaching for more than 50 years. Lots of things have come and gone in those five decades. The Craft of Coaching Series is a project I’ve been working on alongside the Fast Talk Labs staff for well over a year now, and it is intended to share what I’ve learned in those decades—and what I didn’t learn. For the latter, especially, I’ve brought in many experts on topics in which I’m not well-versed. And there are many. It’s been a growing experience for me, and I’ve learned a lot. 

Part of my dedication to growing the coaching profession was born out of my experience training coaches in the hows and whys of applying the data in TrainingPeaks. I travelled with a select group of TrainingPeaks staff around the world (U.S., Europe, U.K., Middle East, South Africa, and South America) offering two-day seminars on coaching from 2014 to 2020. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had as a coach. Unfortunately, COVID brought it to an end.

RELATED: The Craft of Coaching, Managing Athlete Performance

Benefits of growing old 

What else has changed with age? The biggest change is that life is more fun now than it was 10 years ago. Old has meant better. I’m no longer overly focused on paying the bills. Of course, that still has to be done. But, to use a common phrase, I’ve paid my dues. I can sit back and let life take care of itself. Now I stop work every day to sit with my wife, compare our days, and read in front of the fireplace in the winter and on the patio in the summer. I have to admit that there are still days when she has to remind me to shut off my computer and join her. Old habits can be hard to break, even after 10 years. 

There’s no doubt I’m getting old. In the last 10 years I’ve had a few serious surgeries and medical procedures. It seems to be a part of being this old. Interestingly, training also makes a difference in these new challenges. Even in my 70s, as it was for the previous several decades, I’ve never taken pain medications in recovery. And I recover quickly. The medical staff is always impressed. It’s not the sort of thing you want on your resume, but nevertheless, a great benefit of being a fit old guy.  

Here’s another old-guy benefit that I really like as an introvert: I no longer go to parties I don’t want to go to. People (my wife included) are more willing to accept this without a pushback. It wasn’t like that when I was young. This is truly a great benefit—at least from my perspective.  

My overall goal in life, besides family, career, and training, is focused on three very important matters—health, happiness, and longevity. They really weren’t in the mix more than 10 years ago. I took them for granted. I’ve since learned that they deserve more of my focus. And they are closely related to the original big three—family, career, and training. 

So, what’s the bottom line on the upside of growing old? I smile more now.


You have reached the end of The Craft of Coaching Module 11 // Coaching Masters Athletes. Up next is Module 12 // Coaching Female Athletes.