RBR Reader Keith asks, “I’m 73. Way, way back I was an average club time trialist here in the UK. Then I went to university and forgot it all. About five years ago I climbed back on a bike and, using Strava, I steadily improved but for the last couple of years I’ve pretty much plateaued – my Strava segment times reflect that. Somehow I need to break out of my comfort zone. The endurance is okay – I can ride 50-75 km without collapsing in a heap and have done a 100 km sportive and lived. Average journey speed is around 15mph.
“I know there’s something extra there – last year I holidayed in Ireland, took in a sportive and ended up climbing (slowly!) two Cat 2 peaks, something I never believed possible and only did because I was with friends.
“I live in a relatively flat part of England, tend to ride familiar roads and routes. I have no training plan, no monitors, no power meters, just a decent all rounder Kinesis bike, Strava and a few segments I challenge myself on. I ride 3-4 times a week, typically 20-25 km with one longer 40-60 km. I ride because I enjoy it. A distant goal was to do a long ride like Lands End – John O’Groats one day. But that won’t happen this year.
“So where do I go from here? I feel if I don’t try and improve properly I will steadily decline.”
Coach John Hughes replies,
“About five years ago I climbed back on a bike”
Good for you!
Stress + Rest = Success
The improvement paradigm is simple: Ask your body to do more than it’s accustomed to doing (Stress), allow enough recovery (Rest) and you get fitter (Success). Up until five years ago you hadn’t been riding at all. Then you started riding and steadily improved because you were asking your body to do more.
“I know there’s something extra there – last year I holidayed in Ireland, took in a sportive and ended up climbing (slowly!) two Cat 2 peaks, something I never believed possible and only did because I was with friends.”
Yep, you clearly can do more!
How to Improve
“I live in a relatively flat part of England, tend to ride familiar roads and routes. Somehow I need to break out of my comfort zone. I ride 3-4 times a week, typically 20-25 km with one longer 40-60 km.”
You’re correct. You’re already riding a total of 100 – 160 km per week, so you have excellent base fitness. In order to improve you need to do more than you’re used to doing. You could:
- Ride more days per week, i.e., 4 – 5 day a week.
- Do longer rides during the week, i.e., 25 – 30 km
- Increase the length of your weekly long ride, i.e. 50 – 80 km or more.
- Ride more total kilometers / week (the product of #1, #2 and #3)
- Add in intensity.
Pick just one of these – if you try to increase several at the same time you risk overtraining or getting injured.
“I have no training plan, no monitors, no power meters, just a decent all rounder Kinesis bike, Strava and a few segments I challenge myself on.”
You don’t need any fancy technology – just your bike. See my column:
“A distant goal was to do a long ride like Lands End – John O’Groats one day. But that won’t happen this year.”
It will help motivate you to continue to improve if you pick some goal to train for in 2020. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Maybe just over the course of the summer increase your weekly volume by X km? Or complete a solo 100 km by the end of the summer.
“So where do I go from here? I feel if I don’t try and improve properly I will steadily decline.”
For roadies in your 30s and 40s just continuing to do the same thing three or four days a week is sufficient to maintain fitness. However, in our 50s and beyond our bodies decline unless we challenge them more.
Keith replies, “What you have said has made me look more closely at my riding patterns (courtesy of Strava) and they are rather haphazard. I have a virtually full time hobby/job restoring an old boat and most rides are a long-way-round route there followed by a direct route back. Throw in bad weather days and busy days and the riding soon becomes inconsistent.”
Consistency is critical.
“I think it would be hard to ride more often or significantly longer on my workaday rides so I think I will focus on riding more demanding routes – there are a few hills around here, small ones but enough to make me puff. I’ll try and couple this with gradually increasing long rides.”
Weekly Program Including Hills:
Here’s a way to incorporate those hills:
- Week # 1: Four rides averaging 20 km (two are hilly ones) and a longer ride of 40 km, a total of 120 km for the week.
- Week # 2: Three rides averaging 20 km (one is hilly) and a longer ride of 30 km, a total of 90 km for the week.
- Week # 3: Four rides averaging 22.5 km (three are hilly) and a longer ride of 50 km, a total of 140 km for the week.
- Week #4: Three rides averaging 20 km (no hills), a total of 60 km for the week.
The weekly pattern is hard, easier, hardest, easiest. The weeks with longer rides are the weeks with more hills so that the shorter weeks are real recovery weeks.
The weekly total is 410 km. Because you are riding harder you should not also increase your long rides. You should ride fewer kilometers in the four weeks than you are now.
You can also do the weeks in a different order following the same principles of overload and recovery:
- Week # 1 – 140 total km including 3 hilly rides
- Week #2 – 60 total km with no hilly rides
- Week # 3 – 120 total km including 2 hilly rides
- Week # 4 – 90 total km including 1 hilly ride
The four-week total is 410 km.
It doesn’t have to be a four-week pattern. You could do three weeks: 60 total km (no hilly ride), 90 km (1 or 2 hilly rides), 120 km (2 or 3 hilly rides). Or six weeks: 80 total km (1 hilly ride), 50 km (no hilly ride), 100 km (2 hilly rides), 70 km (no hilly ride), 120 km (3 hilly rides), 90 km (no hilly ride).
After every three to six week cycle you should increase the total riding by 5 – 15%. In the first example you rode 410 km in four weeks so the next four weeks ride about 430 to 470 km.
Here are a couple of columns on:
- 6 Kinds of Intensity Training: Which One is Right for You
- How to Do Intensity for the Maximum Benefit
Weekly Program to Increase Endurance
“And you’re right, I need a goal and having spent Sunday being overtaken by all the young fit speed kings I think I will go for the old man thing of endurance: a 100 mile ride in July-August and maybe a longer one still, say 150, 2-3 months later.”
Your current longest ride is 60 km so if you to jump up to 100 miles (160 km) in two to three months you risk overtraining or injury. I suggest an initial goal of a 100-km ride on your own. Here’s a column on:
Here’s a four-week endurance program.
- Week # 1: Four rides averaging 25 km and a longer ride of 50 km, a total of 150 km for the week.
- Week # 2: Three rides averaging 20 km and a longer ride of 40 km, a total of 100 km for the week.
- Week # 3: Four rides averaging 25 km and a longer ride of 70 km, a total of 170 km for the week.
- Week #4: Three rides averaging 20 km, a total of 60 km for the week.
The four-week total is 480 km. Like the hilly program you’re alternating weeks: hard, easier, hardest, easiest. You can change the order to hardest, easier, harder, easiest or something else and you can use a different number of weeks like three or five.
Every three to five weeks increase the total riding and the longest ride by 5 – 15%.
Here are columns on:
“I ride because I enjoy it.”
This is what it’s all about! You don’t have to follow the above programs exactly just mix up progressively harder and easier rides and weeks. For variety you could also do the hilly (or endurance program) for a month or two and then switch programs to endurance (or hilly).
After three or four months with either program take a break with minimal or no cycling. You can plan these around holidays and other significant family events.
Anti-Aging. I designed and wrote my eBook Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process to help you slow and even reverse your physical decline by increasing your aerobic capacity, doing intensity training, building and maintain muscle strength and power, increasing your flexibility, working on your balance and reducing bone loss. Anti-Aging incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
Walter Chayes says
John: Thank you for your specific suggestions in this article. With the aging of the Baby Boomers there are MANY septuagenarians out there trying to stay in shape and actually improve their riding.
It would be greatly appreciated if you might write a few more articles that would help the 60-70 year olds stay motivated to not only ride, but to improve.
David Stihler says
Thanks John, I’m 76 and because of the covid didn’t do the Transcon this year but am onboard to leave for the 41257 mile Transcon in 2021. Age doesn’t really mean very much if you keep moving.
Robert Howard says
I’m 85 years old and have been riding since I was 12. Short answer to your question: Yes, you will decline in spite of everything you do. That’s life. But you’re doing the right thing now. Just keep on riding and enjoying it as much as you can. Keep as healthy as you can, and don’t fret too much about the inevitable.
I’m 71 and been training with a coach twice a week summer and winter for five years now. The COVID-19 lock down in Canada has limited our outdoor training together. Reading your article suggests to me that I need to get back to my regular 30-40 km two to three times per week solo training rides and add an occasional high-intensity ride with my coach and training group. I’m sitting too much and I’m running out of (life) time LOL.
Edward Custer says
Ah, growing old, My favorite subject. I turn 78 in August. My old workmates and high school classmates are dying off in droves. Actually when I was 73 I was still putting in the miles (around 140-145 miles a week). But the speed was gone. Last November I stopped riding completely and concentrated on going for long one hour walks with my dog. Come April I got the urge to get back on my bike and I was horrified about how difficult it was. The first ride out I managed to put in a measly 17 miles and I thought I was going to die. I stuck with it. Now putting in around 25 miles every other day and walking the pooch on the alternate Everything is coming back, but the salad days of old are gone. I live in a hilly area and I avoid the long climbs if I can. My mind says one thing and my body says another. ( feel like a 15 year old kid trapped in a 77 year old body. I still enjoy it. It’s different. I just take one day at a time. Old age is no fun but it beats the alternative. One tip, don’t stop!
Mike Togo says
I’m 75. Growing old is no picnic. I live in Mass. and ride year round. My advice is ride, ride, ride. The more you ride the stronger you get. I average 35mi hilly rides 4 times a week. I love riding with groups. I’ll keep riding until I can’t. You have to love the sport to keep riding
I know a lot of people don’t like to hear about ebikes but I’m 68 and have been riding road and mtn. bikes for many years. I’ve always ridden with younger people and still do. But the last couple years my endurance has really fallen off on long and hilly rides, especially in the hot humid summer months. I bought a Trek Domane+ HP recently and I can say I really enjoy it. I’m now able to ride with my younger riding buddies and do a lot of the pulling. They enjoy that part, not the part where I’m beating them up hills. We normally ride anywhere from 40 to 70 miles with 1,000 to 2,500 ft. climbing. I can do these rides now and enjoy the challenge and camaraderie of my friends. On most of the ride while riding in pace line or down hill sections I have the assist turn off and turn assist back on while out pulling, going up hills and when coming back in the rides get really frisky I use the assist. Some people see the bike and say I’m cheating. I ask who am I cheating? We’re not in any competition or going to win anything. It only allows me to keep doing the things I enjoy at the level I’m used to. If you don’t try one you’re only cheating yourself IMO.
Coach John Hughes says
David, There”s an eBike at some point in my future, too!
Ed Pavelka, RBR cofounder says
I turned 74 in early June. After John Marsh purchased RBR a decade ago to put me into retirement my goal has been to average 1,000 miles a month year round. I’m close, with a 9-year average of 11,951 miles, all on the road. (Fred Matheny and I didn’t name this biz RoadBikeRider.com for no reason.)
2017 did me in — only 1,575 miles in the second half due to a broken hip (Fido nailed me) and subsequent total hip replacement. I gained back some lost ground with a 1,227 miles-per-month average last year.
So I’m holding my own distance-wise but speed and power are only a memory. True, I don’t train for speed or power and never have. I just ride and, before moving to Florida from the northeast, all rides included lots of climbing.
For decades hills were my form of interval training, the only kind I could tolerate. In 1996, at age 50, it was enough for me to average 23.8 mph for 796 miles in 5 1/2 days — my share of the load for Bicycling magazine in our 4-man senior team victory in the Race Across America. With Coach Fred (50), Pete Penseyres (53) and Skip Hamilton (51) we set a senior record of 22.12 mph from LA to Savannah that still stands. Those guys included interval training; I climbed.
Without any hills of consequence where I live now, and with advancing years, most rides of any length average 15-16 mph. My perceived exertion still says 18 mph, which makes it a bit frustrating. I’m not complaining, just planning not to lose much more for a while longer.
I agree 100% with everyone who says consistency is the key. Get in shape and never allow yourself to get out of shape (attack dogs aside).
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it but I recently became a Zwifter. I’ve never been one for pedaling in a room but Zwift adds elements that make it both interesting and productive. Now there’s no fixed anxiety about weather or any other factor that could waylay my 4 days on the bike each week. Consistency has an insurance policy, and long hard climbs are available again.
Coach John Hughes says
Ed, Thanks for the comment! Consistency is everything. John
I’m soon to be 73. Up until 5 years ago or so, I could hold my own with much younger “recreational” riders. Things were starting to slide and then last year I had a major crash and was off the bike from late April until late August. I’ve been recovering from that but now close to where I was when I crashed. Still nowhere near 5 – 6 years ago,
Funny thing is the club I ride with (before Covid) is mostly my age and I am still at the front of this group. AND I’ve determined the coffee shop/bakery time mid ride is the best part of the ride!
Sadly about 10 days ago I strained my back doing strength training (poor form) and have been off another 10 days.
But I rode 30 casual miles today and couldn’t be happier!
Martin Sigrist says
If you want motivation as a 70 year follow this guy
He has the fastest time up Alpe du Zwift of any 60+ rider and he is over 70.
A 25 year old cat 1 rider would kill to have his power.
Not everyone has to be like him ofc but the key point is that it is (for us men at least) very often a choice whether we lose fitness or not as we get older (ladies are less fortunate, while there is no such thing as the male menopause, the female version can be very tough).