Book Review- Fast After 50. How to Race Strong For the Rest of Your Life by Joe Friel

The author Joe Friel begins this book by stating he was 70 years old when he began writing this book (published in 2015). He is also the author of Cycling Past 50, which he wrote in the mid-1990’s when he was 53 (and many other books since then). He claims there wasn’t much research on aging in the 90’s, which I take to mean there wasn’t much research on the aging athlete. Much of Friel’s writings are based out of research studies and what that research says about older athletes’ performance, training, and lifestyle.

This book is arranged into two parts, with part I describing the rather depressing “challenges” the aging athlete faces and part II proposing some solutions to said challenges. The first chapter of part I begins with the author asking the question, “What is aging?” and expands from there. There are some rather dismal graphs depicting the big drop-off in performance for swimming records, cycling time trials, marathon world records, and Ironman Triathlon World Championship records. For women, the trends for increasing finish times are even more dramatic.

Chapter two dives deep into the science and discusses research on animal models and how they might relate to humans. Acknowledging that aging is complex in humans, the author discusses the role of diet and genetics on aging. The next chapter goes heavily into VO2max , aerobic capacity and the effects of muscle and fat on these two things.

Part II begins with chapter 4 and offers some solutions to the problems brought up in part I. Friel goes into the importance of balancing high intensity training and finding that Goldilocks sweet spot that works for you and strength training. The next chapters cover the different ways to measure your efficiency, aerobic-capacity testing, and lactate-threshold testing. There are specific training details for high-, moderate-, and low-dose workouts. These workouts are part of the seasonal periods for the older athlete.

Friel also emphasizes many older athletes would benefit from a longer than usual training routine. For most people that follow a training plan, a week is 7 days, but Friel suggests athletes 50 and over might benefit from extending that training week to 9 or 10 days. This means your long run wouldn’t always be on a Saturday or Sunday, as it is for most people. One week your long run would be on a weekend but if you’re following a 10-day training week, let’s say that’s a four month half marathon plan, the days of your long runs will vary from week to week. The whole purpose of a longer training week is to incorporate more rest days, which becomes even more important as we age. There are many examples on how these training weeks would look for someone training for a specific event to help you figure out how to incorporate it into your training plan.

To round things out, there are chapters on rest and recovery and body fat. In the final chapter (body fat), Friel goes over hormones, menopause, diet, medications, and the effect of high intensity exercise on body fat. I should say that each chapter also has insets by experts, some of whom are aging athletes themselves like Amby Burfoot, a runner who finished the 2014 Boston Marathon 49 years after his first Boston Marathon in 1965. There’s also an inset written by John Post, MD, a six-time Kona Ironman Triathlon finisher who writes about arthritis and some things athletes with arthritis can do.

In the epilogue, Friel states that not everyone wants to or is able to achieve high performance in sport, regardless of age but this applies perhaps more so in the older athlete. He goes on to say that some people are content to do easy workouts and they are happy with their current regimens. Not everyone wants to lift heavy weights or run fast intervals and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I like that he included this part in the book because no one should feel like they “should” work out harder or what they’re doing isn’t “good enough.” Like he says, as long as they’re eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep, they’re promoting a long and active life. “Keep it up!” he says and I agree.

As someone who recently turned 50, I appreciate this book and will definitely look into some of the workouts he suggests. I already lift heavy weights and make sleep and a healthy diet a priority in my life. With my full-time job and teenage daughter’s schedule, it would be difficult to lengthen my cycle to say a 9-day cycle where my long runs wouldn’t always be on the weekend. I also run with two different running groups on specific days so that mean I would have to stop running with them on some weeks. Obviously a longer cycle would be easier for someone who was retired or worked from home with a flexible schedule.

Here’s a link to Joe Friel’s website: You can find training plans (for a fee), his many other books, blog posts, and other services.

What about you? Are you 50 or older or approaching 50? Have you begun to see changes in your athletic abilities as you age or are you still going strong? Would you consider making changes (or have you made changes) in your workouts by including aerobic-capacity and lactate-threshold intervals, lifting heavy weights, getting more sleep, and changing your periodization routine to a longer cycle than the typical 7-day cycle in the hopes of getting faster or having more power?

Happy running!



Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US, which I completed in 2021. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

3 thoughts on “Book Review- Fast After 50. How to Race Strong For the Rest of Your Life by Joe Friel”

  1. Happy New Year, Donna! And if I haven’t said so before, welcome to 50!

    I bought Joel’s book years ago and have read much of it. I took encouragement from the idea that you can maintain a high level of fitness well after 50. And it has so proved. I ran my first ultra at age 50 and am currently training for number 36. And I enjoy long bike rides both as training and recreation.

    I have never used a marathon training program out of a book or website. I’m fortunate to have a terrific coach and a trainer who understands both older athletes (he’s my age) and runners. I tell them my goals and they help me get there. Worked well so far. And I listen to my body. If I need an extra rest day, I take it. Otherwise I don’t worry about how old I am. I just go do stuff. I strongly recommend this approach to life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy New Year!
      You’re a perfect example of an athlete who is thriving in their “older years.” Completing 35 ultras after turning 50 should prove an inspiration to others (I know it does to me!). I’d say keep doing what you’re doing because it’s obviously working for you!


  2. Yup. Over 50 here. Well over. This sounds very interesting esp the 10 day training plan. You have to be retired to make it work.

    It didn’t start running until after 50 so my performance has not decreased so much.

    But as he said I am content to continue as I am. Getting faster us not important. Staying healthy is.


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