By Coach John Hughes
239.1 miles in 24 hours at age 70. That’s how far Elizabeth Wicks rode on June 14-15, 2014, in her record ride in the National 24-Hour Challenge, beating the old record by 13.7 miles.
Wicks is a veteran ultra racer whom I’ve had the privilege to coach for the past couple years. In 2013, at age 69, she broke the Calvin’s Challenge 12-hour record with a ride of 172.5 miles. Her training and race were narrated in RBR Newsletter last year and are available on my website.
This year she aged up and raced the windiest Calvin’s ever as a 70-year-old. Another record ride of 157.0 miles. All of this was accomplished after getting a new hip in October 2010, and still working full-time. She gets up at 5 a.m. several days a week to train before work.
Of course, very few of us are ultra racers, no matter our age. But there’s nothing special about the training Wicks does to enable her to keep breaking records. The techniques and workouts are available to any rider, of any age and ability. That’s why I enjoy telling her story.
After the 24-Hour Challenge, she wrote, “My first 24-hour event was an adventure! As so many of my ‘big’ rides are. My training was right on thanks to Coach Hughes. After Calvin’s in May, John focused my training on maintaining my endurance and building in lots of practice and visualization rides: Learning to ride more slowly and steadily. Those long, steady rides really helped me be in excellent shape and not over-trained or muscle sore when I got to the start.”
This was Wicks’ first 24-hour race, following closely on the heels of the Calvin’s 12-hour event. After Calvin’s 2014 she had just six weeks to prepare for the 24-hour. She had plenty of endurance to ride for 24 hours. We needed to work on her cruising speed, pacing and mental preparation.
Just a week after Calvin’s she repeated her baseline time trial to check her heart rate training zones. She rode a full minute faster than last fall at the same HR, so she was already in very good shape. Just once a week she rode fartlek intensity workouts.
I told her how long to ride hard; for example, 40 minutes. After warming up, she rode for 40 minutes, mixing up the very hard and very easy riding depending on the terrain and her mood. After the mixed-intensity main set, she cooled down. By riding much harder than normal she raised her average cruising speed. There’s more information on how to do this in my eArticle Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity.
She also did short weekly brisk tempo rides and moderately long rides to maintain her endurance. The moderately long rides were practice rides, ridden at race pace, practicing her nutrition and visualizing racing for 24 hours.
Racers at the National 24-Hour Challenge complete a 130-mile loop, then a 24-mile loop. Then they ride as many laps of a 7-mile loop as possible.
I created a plan for Wicks with the speed for each loop (getting slower as the race wore on), time off the bike between each loop and the total number of small loops to ride. The plan was to ride 239.1 miles: the big loop, the middle loop and then 12 times around the small loop to break the record. Despite some difficulties, that’s exactly what she did!
“The race was amazing. Great weather, sun all day, no humidity, moon light all night. Well organized and well run. The routes/countryside were just gorgeous. The terrain was either relatively flat or rolling on the big and middle loops. The night loop was a piece of cake, except for one short uptick toward the end.”
Wicks did a great job on the first loop, finishing 15 minutes ahead of schedule while still keeping her HR in the target range. Over the course of nine hours she drank 4 bottles of Perpetuem, 4 bottles of homemade sports drink from Eating and Drinking Like the Pros: How to Make Your Own Sports Nutritionand consumed a few snacks. Although she was fueling regularly on the big loop, she wasn’t consuming enough carbohydrates, the source of glycogen. Glycogen fuels hard riding, and your body can only store a limited amount.
“I don’t know when I finished this loop. I was a little tired, but otherwise feeling good....It was about this time I think that I stopped eating/fueling as much as I should have.” This further depleted her glycogen stores.
“From here on I somehow forgot about all the food I brought, and the crew didn’t know I wasn’t eating it. They’d ask me what I wanted, but half the time I couldn’t tell them.”
Wicks had bonked. Her brain burned glycogen for fuel, and when she ran out of glycogen she couldn’t think straight.
Despite bonking, she kept riding!
“At some point, maybe after 7 or 8 small laps, I couldn’t tell whether I was hungry or sick. Actually, I thought maybe if I got sick I’d feel better.” After another loop, I was sitting down with my blanket over me and nodding off a bit. Susan [Notorangelo] came over to check on me and began massaging my legs. She suggested I go into the gym and take a quick nap. I don’t know how long I slept, but I don’t think it was very long. I was groggy, but I think the rest helped. I got a baked potato, and it tasted divine.”
This is a great example of what makes a good endurance rider–she dealt with the problem and got back on the bike.
“OK, I was hurting. My butt wasn’t too bad, with no broken skin, but my body and brain were tired. I passed the previous record of 225 miles, which felt good. We had planned for 12 night loops, and once I passed that milestone I decided I was done.
“Bottom line: the race was great. I was well-trained, ready and very capable of doing the ride. I think the nutrition mistakes were what wore me down.
“I am already looking forward to going again next year! Knowing the routine will make it so much easier. Now…if I can do 200 plus miles at each of the next 5 years, I can earn one of those snazzy 1,000 mile jerseys -- and I’ll only be 75.”
Athletic maturity. Wicks has been an endurance rider for 16 years and has regularly ridden 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets (125, 188, 250 and 375 miles). In 2003 she completed the 1,200-km (750-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris. For an older rider, capacity to perform is more a function of athletic maturity (riding experience and physical fitness) than chronological age. How to determine your athletic maturity and select appropriate workouts, along with nine different training plans, are part of my two-part eArticle series: Cycling Past 60: Part 1, for Health and Part 2, for Recreation.
Endurance base. Since getting her new hip in 2010, Wicks rode 3,800 miles in 2011, 3,700 miles in 2012, 5,500 miles in 2013 and 1,540 miles by Calvin’s Challenge on May 3, 2014.
As a rider builds an endurance base, her cruising speed increases as a result of all the miles. Also, all those endurance miles strengthened her muscles, tendons and ligaments to then do harder intensity training without injury. Despite living in Massachusetts, Wicks rides year-round to maintain her endurance base. For more information on building an endurance base for longer rides, see my 3-part eArticle package on Endurance Training and Riding. The first eArticle lays out the principles of training for endurance and contains training plans for rides from 100 miles (200-km) to 375 miles (600-km)
Appropriate speed work. If she just rode a lot of miles, she’d get a little faster, but not fast enough to ride at record-setting paces—that requires speed work. Because she maintained her endurance base over the summer and fall, she was fit enough to do hard workouts on the trainer in the winter.
In November and December 2012, excited by an indoor cycling class, she rode hard twice a week. But it proved to be too much. We changed her workouts in January 2013 to once-a-week intensity sessions, with much recovery riding. To prepare for Calvin’s and the National 24 this year, she started once-a-week intensity sessions in December 2013.
For almost all senior riders, one intense workout a week yields continuing significant improvement, while two hard rides a week result in overtraining -- and sometimes injury. For more information, see my eArticle Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity. It explains why “breaking out of your routine by varying the intensity is the fastest way to improve your cycling,” and it shows you how to add intensity for the most benefits with the least risks of injury.
Tested nutrition. Nutritional problems are the No. 1 cause of riders not doing as well as planned in events. These range from lack of energy to an upset stomach, bloating and even nausea and diarrhea. Everything before an event must be tested and perfected in advance.
Wicks had tested her nutrition both at Calvin’s 12-hour and on specific race-simulation rides. However, toward the end of the first 12 hours of the National 24-Hour, she stopped eating and drinking, and the lack of nutrition hurt her. Endurance nutrition both for training and performance for rides of 100 km and longer is explained in the second eArticle in the package on Endurance Training and Riding.
Smart riding. The key to a successful event is to use your smarts to complement your legs. Wicks prepared carefully by developing sound ride plans for each event. The plans also included when and how long she’d stop during the race, what she’d eat and drink while riding, what she’d consume while stopped briefly and what equipment she’d change at a stop. Learn more about how to prepare for and ride a successful event in the third eArticle in the package on Endurance Training and Riding.
Having fun. Right after the National 24-Hour, Wicks wrote, “It was a grand adventure as always. I am already looking forward to going again next year!” And two weeks later she emailed me, “I’m looking at doing the mid-Atlantic 24-hour in North Carolina on August 23—several cycling friends probably will be racing, too.”
If it’s not fun, don’t do it!
I hope I’m having as much fun in five years when I’m 70 as my good friend and client Elizabeth Wicks! And I hope you have as much fun riding, no matter what your age.
If you happen to have a teenage boy in the house (I have two!), you’re likely no stranger to the series of often hilarious “Epic Rap Battles of History.”
I’ve watched a few choice ones myself with my boys, and they’re typically quite witty, if perhaps a little blue for some tastes. But always fun!
So when a friend sent along this “Mountain Biker vs. Road Biker Rap Battle,” I couldn’t resist. If you’ve got three spare minutes, check it out for a laugh or two.
What a long, strange Tour de France it’s been this year.
I’m certainly not a Tour historian, but I have no memory of the top two riders ever crashing out within days of each other. And of a Tour losing its sprint king on the very first stage.
Heck, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find even a handful of crashes among Tour favorites in the past few decades. They typically are so well-protected by their teams that crashes are what happen to the riders somewhere back in the peloton, not to the race favorites.
So Vincenzo Nibali has ably stepped into the void and stamped his place among the elite riders today with a performance that may well have won this Tour even if Chris Froome and Alberto Contador had not crashed out.
His 4:30 lead heading into the last few days will certainly zap the drama from the penultimate stage’s long individual time trial, but the 29-year-old seems like a consummate, keep-your-head-down pro. And he’s good for the Tour, and for pro racing, calmly fielding questions about cycling’s dope-addled past.
“Unfortunately, those questions arise because we’re paying (for) the past years,” he said in a recent news conference. “I try to answer in the most correct way, like I already did at the Giro last year. I’m here to give the best answers I can, and clarify everything about myself. I’ve always been a flag-bearer of anti-doping.”
Nobody likes to see leading riders crash out of a grand tour, but it’s the crashes that have made this one memorable, along with the performances of those like Nibali who have stepped up claim their place at the front of the peloton.