I’m an embarrassed 73-year-old. I’ve won ultra-distance races of 500 and 750 miles. I’ve finished the solo Race Across AMerica (RAAM), riding 3,000 miles from the Pacific to the Atlantic with minimal sleep. I’ve been coaching for 30 years. My clients have completed events ranging from a metric century (62 miles) to RAAM. Despite all my knowledge and experience I collapsed trying to climb Colorado’s Berthoud Pass (11,300 ft.) in December, 2021.
We can learn more from a so-called failure if we analyze it than we can learn from successes. Instead of a failure let’s call my unsuccessful climb a learning experience.
I collapsed because I was dehydrated. The temperature was only in the 50s and I only rode about one hour and 20 minutes before I fell off the bike. At that temperature my exertion wasn’t enough to cause significant dehydration. My mistake was not realizing I was dehydrated when I started the ride. The day before Berthoud, my buddy John Elmblad and I climbed up another pass. I drank a bottle on the ride, a diet soda at lunch, nothing on the drive home and a glass of milk at dinner. During the climb up Berthoud I was getting thirsty. Thirst is a sign one isn’t drinking enough and the sensation of thirst isn’t as strong as we age. I wrote this column:
I ride by perceived exertion. I know my body very well and know how it feels at different levels of exertion. I know from ultra-racing that even when I feel exhausted, I can ride much more. But on Berthoud I misinterpreted my perceptions of how hard I was riding, which contributed to my collapse. You can read more in this column:
I had foot surgery the fall of 2020. I spent the winter of 2020-21 rebuilding my base endurance. I cross-country skied 90 days, mostly one-hour skis on easy terrain. The winter of 2021-22 I cross-country skied 61 days mostly on rolling moderate trails and hilly expert trails. Several days I skied for over two hours on expert terrain. My endurance was much better than the year before. You can read more in these columns on:
- A Dozen Mistakes Endurance Cyclists Make
- Anti-Aging Ask the Coach: How to Train for Endurance
- How To Do Endurance Training Correctly
- Ask the Coach: Questions on Winter Training for Endurance
- Tips for Base Training in the Cold
Wrong kind of intensity
Climbing Berthoud the average grade is about 5% and there are no pitches of more than about 6%. Although not steep, the climbing above 10,000 ft. is challenging. In August 2021 Elmblad and I had ridden our mountain bikes up the road to the top of the pass. In December 2021 I tried to climb it on my road bike, which didn’t have as low gears as my MTB. I needed more sustained power.
I hate any type of structured intensity training, e.g., intervals. I prefer mountain biking with random high intensity pitches of a few minutes. I rode dirt about once a week the summer of 2021, which wasn’t enough intensity.
Sustained power results from sustained efforts, which are much less intense than the short high intensity efforts riding my MTB on a trail. I live at 9,000 ft. in the mountains and the gravel roads from the house are about 6 to 8% and either up or down. This summer I rode different loops riding the uphills at the pace I could sustain for roughly 10 minutes, i.e., I rode in the sweet spot to build the sustained power I needed. You can read more in these columns:
- 6 Kinds of Intensity Training: Which One Is Best for You?
- Anti-Aging: Ride Like the Pros – Train in the Sweet Spot
- Sweet Spot Training for Every Rider: part 1
- Sweet Spot Training for Every Rider: Part 2
Not enough specificity
Because I was still recovering from surgery in 2021, I didn’t do many of my usual climbs. In 2022 I climbed:
- Lookout Mountain twice – sustained climb up 1,280 ft. in 4.6 miles (never in 2021)
- Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain twice – sustained climb up 1,120 ft. in 6.4 miles (never in 2021)
- Kerr Gulch once – steep pitches in a rolling climb of 1,090 ft in 5.3 miles (never in 2021).
- Olde Stage – progressively steeper 940 ft. in 6.3 miles (once in 2021)
- Jamestown three times – moderate climb of 1,250 ft. in 8.3 miles (once in 2021)
- Bow Mountain once – 440 ft. in 1.2 miles riding and walking. (never in 2021)
(Any road named “Lookout”, “Olde” and “Gulch” is a hard climb.)
I wrote this column on 13 Ways to Improve Your Climbing.
Lack of recovery
In 2021 Elmblad and I did the sustained 1,120 foot climb up Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain the day before I tried Berthoud. Before climbing Berthoud this year, my wife and I were on vacation for a week in Creede, CO. We kayaked three times and I only rode once. I wrote this column on:
Coaches plan a season of training using progressive phases. A rider improves more if the cyclist focuses on just one aspect of fitness at a time. The pros use this approach. The progressive phases are:
- Base phase – improve endurance
- Build phase – increase power
- Peaking phase – train specifically
- Taper phase – recover fully
For my clients I create a personalized month by month progressive training plan with these phases. Although I didn’t have a formal plan, my training progressed through the four phases.
You can read about my December 2021 mistakes and trip to the hospital and my 2022 successful climb of Berthoud in my column Anti-Aging: Back on Top.
In my eBook Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Peak Fitness, I’m is your personal coach. The eBook contains four specific programs to improve your fitness in one or more of the following ways:
- Improved endurance.
- More power.
- Faster speed.
- Higher aerobic capacity (VO2 max).
The programs are based on the individual programs I use with my clients. The specific week-by-week workouts are designed to make any rider a better, fitter cyclist. Achieve your goals and feel the satisfaction that comes from reaching your peak fitness. The 39-page Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Peak Fitness is just $4.99.
My Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond bundle of three eBooks includes:
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity. The kinds of intensity, determining the best one for you and how to incorporate intensity into your riding.
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Peak Fitness
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Fit for Life. How to get fit for life and have fun doing it.
The 100-page Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond bundle is $13.50.
My Your Best Season Ever 2-article bundle includes:
Part 1: How to plan and get the most out of your training
I teach you to train the same way I coach my clients:
- How to set goals
- How to look at your strengths and weaknesses
- How to build a plan including personalized training types and amounts for different seasons and months.
- How to create your personal workouts including:
- Exercising at the right intensities,
- Recovering fully to allow progress,
- Measuring your progress, and then
- Adjusting the plan.
Part 2: Peaking for and riding your event
Building on part 1, I show you how you can develop, test and employ a personal strategy for your key event of the season. I use as examples a hill climb, a time trial, fast club rides, a 100K and a 100-mile ride, which are easy to adapt to your riding. I explain how to:
- Analyze your event to figure out what’s required for success.
- Develop specific training objectives based on that analysis.
- Create and test a personal strategy for riding your particular event.
- Train for peak fitness for your individual event.
- Learn what you should eat, and when, leading up to and during the event.
- Select the optimum equipment, including how to get the most bang for your buck.
- Learn mental focus so that 100% of your energy goes into your performance.
- Taper so that you are fresh and on form on the starting line.
- Control how you ride your event for best performance.
The 71-page Your Best Season Ever 2-article bundle is just $8.98.
Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process, by Coach John Hughes, includes interviews with Elizabeth Wicks, Gabe Mirkin, Jim Langley, Andy Pruitt and eight other male and female roadies ages 55 to 83. They describe their exercise programs in terms of the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations. They talk about changing exercise goals over time. They emphasize the value of intrinsically enjoying an activity rather than doing it because it’s good for you. They describe many ways to adapt positively to the aging process. The final chapters are on Motivation and on Sticking With It Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in his previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s.
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.
I like the post mortem of that ride….although it still seems kinda weird.