At Their Peak

Meet Jill Tarr, high-achieving senior athlete.

Endurance bicycling means riding a course for 12 hours straight—stopping just for restroom and snack breaks, riders must plow through until the time is up. For 63-year-old Jill Tarr, a retired pediatric nurse practitioner in Richmond, the sport is a revelation. “For whatever reason, it’s something I can do and it has given me a place to focus myself.” She has clocked as many as 215 miles in a single race. 

“It’s shocking that my body can do this. I don’t think I’m going to be able to pull it off, but once I start a race or a workout I have this ability to go to whatever place I need to, and I do it.” She’ll compete in Sebring, Florida in February and also in time trials in Virginia and a particularly rugged spring race, the Wintergreen Ascent, where riders climb the mountain as fast as they can.

You don’t have to be superhuman, but I don’t want to leave and not feel I’m the human I was supposed to be. It’s not about the numbers or how my body looks, it’s about the connection between the mental and the physical and the spiritual—it’s everything that matters.”  

Tarr works with trainer Michael Harlow of Endorphin Fitness and describes their relationship as a “total partnership.” Harlow considers his client an extraordinary example of post-retirement fitness. “We want someone to give a great effort to their sport and to transform their life,” he says. “As a coach and athlete working together, the relationship supersedes doubt, it creates a trusting relationship—they’re going to want to work hard for you.”

Tarr describes the drills Harlow uses to evaluate her progress as excruciating. “I get mad, but even though I hate it, I’m doing this because I want to be doing it.” she says. “Everything I do within this process is all about skills and things I can use in my life, in my relationships—trust, belief in another person, taking steps to do what I think my body can’t do. It’s very much a mental thing. What stops you is usually your mind telling you what you can’t do. The skills on the bike give me the strength to overcome the doubts in other parts of my life. The commitment allows me to stick to my other commitments.”

Tarr rides on her indoor trainer, a Kinetic Road Machine, while watching videos of cycling or triathlon races to see other athletes pushing their limits and reaching their goals. When outdoors, she just rides, unplugged, listening, she says, to the sound of her breathing. 

“During a race I thought I would spend the 12 hours thinking of all the problems of the world,” she explains. “But you just bike, by yourself, and you’re just free.” Tarr is motivated knowing that her team—her sons, friends and trainer—are connected in support as they track her progress on race days and says she’s always intent on preparing for the next event. 

“I want to do this as long as I possibly can, but I would never go to a race unless I can do it the way I want to do it,” she says. “I really want to find some more freedom in myself to experiment more. I don’t want to die not doing the best I can do.”

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