The Inspirational Athlete Who Will Change How You Think About Training

If you’re fortunate and play your cards right, you just might end up like Joe Downs. I’m sure hoping I do. Joe is 80 years old and this week he’s attending his third CTS Climbing Camp in Tucson, Arizona. He’s an inspiration to me and everyone here, and once you read more about him you’ll be inspired, too!

About three years ago, at the young age of 77 years old, Joe started working with CTS. He’d been active all his life and was a good friend with another longtime cyclist who works with a CTS Coach. The goals were simple: have fun and ward off the gradual decline of aging. That year Joe attended his first Climbing Camp in Tucson. One of the features of the camp is a ride up Mt. Lemmon. Typically we climb for 2 hours, and in order to ride back home as a group we turn everyone around after 2 hours, wherever you are. That first year, Joe made it 8 miles up the mountain before being turned around. One year later, in the same amount of time he climbed 14 miles – all the way to Windy Point!

One of the top questions we get from athletes calling CTS is: “Do you work with athletes my age?” Right now I know of at least two 80-year-old athletes who are working with CTS Coaches: Joe Downs and Fred Schmid, who last summer was the first 80-year-old to finish the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. So I’d say that no matter how old you are now, the answer is yes, we work with athletes just like you. At their core, Joe’s reasons for training are the same as everyone else’s. He doesn’t want to give in to the aging process without a fight. He wants to make the most of the years in his life, and he wants to keep doing what he enjoys for as long as he can.


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  • Seven Training Mistakes You Make When You Get Back in Shape: Several CTS Coaches contributed to this guide from

And let me tell you, Joe doesn’t ride like some old man. His coach, Jane Rynbrandt, has him doing intervals, just like any other athlete. Training gives Joe’s riding purpose, gets him out the door, and he’s a regular at local rides. And he’s still getting stronger. Over the past 6 months his best 20-minute power output increased by 10 watts! On Friday this week he did 3x8minute ClimbingRepeats at 160-165 watts. That’s a really impressive power output for a man who was born in 1934! And the only concession he made for his age was a post-ride nap – after which he got up and joined us for the afternoon recovery ride.

We’re not all going to be able to ride like Joe when we’re 80. Getting to where he is took a combination of good genes, healthy living, a lot of good fortune; but we can all strive to stay active and pursue goals for as long as we possibly can. And Joe’s not done yet. He regularly competes in duathlons and runs 5k races, and this year he’s considering racing the time trial at the Senior Games!

The greatest thing about endurance training – particularly cycling and swimming – is that it’s a life-long, life-extending, and life-affirming activity. Your goals, the results you value, the fulfillment you seek… those things change as you grow up and then grow older, but there are so many opportunities in endurance sports that there’s always a way to stay engaged and involved. Athletes like Joe and Fred are pioneers, they are really in the first generation that has had the opportunity to stick with endurance training well past middle age. They may only be an n of two, but I’m thinking they’re proof that endurance training is the key to staying strong, mobile, mentally sharp, independent, and physically healthy past 80! If you think about it that way, every workout you do gains more purpose and meaning. It’s not just about next month’s race or this year’s goals; maybe the training you do over the next 20 years determines how you’ll spend your 70s and 80s.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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