The following is the interview I did with Merrill.
Merrill Schwartz is a 67 year old triathlete who lives and practices law in San Francisco, California. Merrill started cycling when he was in his thirties in an effort to lose weight. He found it much easier to increase his activity level rather than eat less, because he really likes to eat. With four young boys in the family, and a busy law practice, Merrill picked up running, so that he could get a higher intensity workout in a shorter amount of time. About 17 years ago, Merrill’s son Brian was volunteering at a triathlon, and Merrill figured that he cycled and ran, so why not do a triathlon. He now loves the diversity in training that triathlon training offers.
Merrill was green long before it was fashionable. He has been cycling to work for over 40 years. Each day, he rides his folding bike 3 miles to the train, takes it onto the train, then rides 4 miles from the train station to his office. Merrill is as committed to cycling to work, as he is to his family and his clients. Merrill considers his greatest achievement as running with each of his four sons when they did their first marathons.
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment in your sports?
A: My biggest accomplishment is having run with each of my four sons when they did their first marathon. That had meant a lot to me.
Another accomplishment is my continued participation at a high level of intensity. I go slower, and therefore it takes me longer to complete events. I’m very persistent.
Q: What one or two things do you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?
A: I think the key at my age is consistency, to continue without taking a long break, except for injuries. Even when I’m injured, I cross train. It takes a lot longer now for me to get back into shape if I let myself get out of shape. Fortunately, I live in San Francisco, where it’s neither too hot nor too cold, and I can train all year around.
Q: What would be your ultimate achievement?
A: I’d like to continue doing triathlons as long as I can. I would also like to do an Ironman triathlon, probably after I retire from practicing law. I say after I retire because I feel I need more time to train, so that it doesn’t hurt too much. I don’t want to feel terrible during and after the event, so I want to be sure I am prepared properly.
Q: How do you set your goals?
A: Typically, my goal is to do one or two marathons a year and half a dozen long course triathlons a year. These give me something to train for, because if I didn’t have goals, I don’t think I would be motivated to train with intensity.
This year I have a goal of doing a cycling trip through the Pyrenees Mountains, which entails 55,000 feet of climbing over 600 miles, in seven days. As training for this, I recently did the Death Ride in California, which is 15,000 feet of climbing over 130 miles, in one day.
Q: What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?
A: I don’t have enough time to do my work and the activities I love, to the extent I would like to. That’s the biggest challenge, getting everything I want and need to done in the day.
I try to manage it by setting aside time for the my sports activities, just like I do for a client appointment or a court appearance.
One of the things I’m doing this year to prepare for my Pyrenees trip is to get out of the house by 5:00 or 5:15 in the morning and do three hours of cycling, so I can be to work by 9:00am.
The other thing that is helpful for older athletes is that you don’t have the same family pressures you did when you were younger, because the kids are on their own. It was much tougher when I had four young boys to raise.
Q: What is your diet like?
A: I don’t eat a lot of red meat, and I don’t eat a lot of fats. I don’t eat any deep fried foods, if I can help it. I try to eat a decent breakfast and try to eat three meals a day, and avoid snacking. With the kids out of the house it has become easier because we don’t have lots of fast food or snack food in the house.
I do treat myself after a big race. I’ll stop on the way home and have a hamburger.
Q: What 1-2 things do you believe differentiates you from your contemporaries who have tailed off in their athletic participation and abilities?
A: It’s being injury free. I good genes that have allowed me to cycle and run without damaging my knees. I have had my share of crashes, and tendonitis, and back ailments. Most people my age who do what I do, have trouble with their knees, shoulder or back that prevents them from maintaining activity. I’ve just been lucky, or have good genes.
Q: Have you experienced a breakthrough, and if so, what led to it?
A: I haven’t had a breakthrough as a single event, but I have been able to build to longer distances with more comfort. When I started out, I couldn’t only run two laps around the track. The first time I ran for half an hour, I thought that was a real achievement. Now I go cycling for four or five hours and I feel great. I don’t know if that’s a break through, but a continuum of accomplishing longer distances and enjoying it more.
Q: What was the best advice you were ever given?
A: I was complaining to an ex-football player friend of mine about how you get discouraged because I’m no longer able to keep up with the front of the pack, or even the middle of the pack. He said, “You don’t always have to be the best. Mentally go out there and do your best and don’t expect to be king of the hill anymore. We’re too old to be the king of the hill.” This was significant for me, and I realize that I need to be able to mentally get through the discouragement, and believe that I don’t have to be the best anymore.
Q: Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?
A: Be committed and follow through
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: I get inspired by younger people. Part of the reason I think we compete is because we have the younger group pushing us. The people who go out there, look good, act well, and try hard inspire me.