In last week’s column Anti-Aging Training in Your 50s, 60s and Beyond I described the training principles that apply to all of us older riders (I’m 69). This week I’ll discuss how to ride an endurance ride in your 50s. What’s an endurance ride? Lon Haldeman holds multiple trans-continental records. His first endurance ride was 10 miles as a kid to the nearest town. And then 20 miles. And then 30 miles. An endurance ride is any ride long enough to be a challenge to you.
Doing a long ride becomes more challenging as you get older. My client Bob Willix, age 53, set an age group west to east record across North Carolina covering 556 miles in a time of 43:16. It was an epic ride and he broke the age group record by over five hours!
Although you won’t ride 500 miles in just two days Bob’s ride holds lessons for all roadies.
I chatted with Bob and his wife, Michelle (his co-crew chief) after the record ride. Bob started at 4 a.m. on October 10 pacing himself per the plan. Within 30 minutes it started to rain. Instead of the NC heat the rain kept him cool.
At mile 98 his front derailleur broke! He got down his back-up bike, which he’d borrowed from a friend. Bob’s bike had an 11-34 cassette and they couldn’t fit the wheel into his friend’s bike, which only had an 11-26. “I was climbing at 50 rpm.”
At mile 129 the road was closed because of a downed power line. While the crew detoured Bob grabbed his bike, politely walked through a woman’s yard, climbed over a fence and got back on a road. The crew reconnected with him 20 miles later.
After 135 miles he was out of the mountains and as planned got on his time trial bike with the disc wheel and aerobars. “What looked flat on the profile was really 400 miles of long rollers!”
From other long races Bob and his crew knew that he needed to eat 375 – 425 calories per hour. After 11 hours (3 p.m.) nothing tasted good and he stopped consuming anything except water and electrolytes. 15 hours (7 p.m.) into the ride the crew was eating chicken nuggets and waffle fries, which tasted good and he started eating a lot to catch up on his deficit. Four hours later he had an upset stomach from eating too much.
At 1:30 a.m. the road was closed with no detour because of a traffic accident. The crew spread out a yoga mat on the sidewalk and Bob fell asleep. Half an hour later the crew woke him up. “This was our first mistake only letting him sleep for 30 minutes. It took a long time for him to get going.”
By 5 a.m. he was really tired and he slept for an hour in the van. After he slept he was rolling pretty well but had only been eating 200 – 250 calories all night. “He was so far behind on calories that he wasn’t sharp mentally.” The crew stopped asking him what he wanted to eat. Every time he stopped for any reason the crew handed him food including applesauce and pancakes with syrup.
At 11 a.m. 440 miles into the ride, “I was tired, frustrated, traffic was ridiculous, the crew had obligations and I wasn’t sure if I could finish.” The crew talked together while he slept another 25 minutes. When he got up the crew told him they supported him whether he quit or continued. “This was the turning point. I stopped the pity party in my head, started riding well and eating everything. I could visualize the finish.”
At mile 500 hurricane Harvey hit with 40 – 50 mph crosswinds that were blowing him several feet across the road! He got off the TT bike with the disc wheel and onto the backup bike. He kept riding and for 10 – 15 miles actually had a bit of a tailwind. Then with the wind howling he had to cross two long bridges to the finish on the Outer Banks. Two hours later the bridges were flooded.
“My crew was loving, kind people who sacrificed everything for two days to finish.”
Before the ride. Reflecting on the ride Bob said the following were key in his training.
- Long enough rides.
I programmed 200- and 250-mile training rides. Bob said, “If I’d trained myself I wouldn’t have ridden up to 250 miles.”
- Practice details.
Bob and I weren’t sure that he could ride for almost two days without sleeping. Having him do a 500-mile practice ride without sleep would have been counter-productive. Instead I had him do two overnight rides after staying up all day. “Staying up all day and riding all night gave me the confidence to ride 24 hours without sleeping.” Bob also did seven specific heat training rides.
Over four months Bob worked on his mental skills four days a week. He started with learning to focus and calm himself and progressed to visualizing the ride. “The traffic was bad the entire way. Instead of listening to music on my ear buds I concentrated on relaxing and calming down.”
During the Ride
- Have a plan.
Bob and I developed simple plans: slow, medium and fast. These helped him to get his head around the ride before the record attempt. The plans were simple. In the medium plan he’d ride 15.5 mph in the mountains, ride about 17.5 mph when he got out of the mountains, ride 15.5 mph at night, 17.5 mph the second day and then 15.5 mph the second night. The plan included how far he’d have ridden after each hour. It also included the amount of time he’d periodically be off the bike. The plans helped guide Bob and his crew during the attempt. Because of everything that happened Bob was ahead of the slow plan and slightly behind the medium plan. This gave everyone confidence that they were doing fine.
15.5 mph was more than a mile an hour slower than his longest rides. We were concerned that if he went out at his normal speed his pace would drop off significantly later in the ride. From our planning we knew that starting at 15.5 mph was fast enough that he could break the record. His final training ride was at 15.5 mph to dial in the feel of riding that slowly.
- Ugly middle.
Every ride over a couple of hours has three parts. Initially a rider is fresh, feeling great and excited to be doing the ride. Then the rider gets to the ugly middle: fatigue is setting in and the finish is a long ways away. Finally the rider smells the barn and the rider’s mood and riding pick up. In the ugly middle Bob persevered even though it was no fun.
- Eat regularly.
Bob should have forced himself to eat every hour even though nothing was appetizing.
My four-article bundle Cycling Past 50 includes articles that expand on these two columns about training in your 50s.
Healthy Cycling Past 50 reviews the physiological changes that come with increasing maturity and describes the different types of exercise to slow the aging process. It includes three sample programs depending on your goals and how much time you have.
Performance Cycling Past 50 includes two specific performance plans: training for a fast 50-mile ride and training for a century.
Healthy Nutrition Past 50 describes what kinds of foods you should eat for healthy nutrition and details what your daily diet should be and what you should eat on rides.
Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 describes the benefits different modalities and how to do them in the winter: cycling outdoors, cycling indoors, cross-training and weight training. It includes two different 12-week plans and guidance on how to adapt each to your physical condition, time available and goals.
The 93 page bundle Cycling Past 50 is $15.96, a $4 less than the full price of all four articles. The Premium Member bundle price is a savings of $6.39 off the full price with coupon code.
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 nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.