For several years John Elmblad and I drove around Colorado following the US Pro Cycling Challenge. As I remember one year Jens Voigt launched a solo attack on the stage over Independence Pass (12,095 ft.). “Shut Up Legs!” Voigt probably was telling himself. “Shut up legs!” was his catch phrase, useful in all kinds of situations.
Voigt was known for his solo breakaways. Here’s why: “I should have had more confidence in myself, realized I was a better rider, and that I didn’t need to cover every crazy, early breakaway. That I could go with the moves at the end of a race, and finish with the bigger guys. So, I wouldn’t have just raced for breakaways but also for results.
“I had the physical strength; but sometimes it was easier to go for the breakaway because it was less difficult, technically, than sitting in and waiting for the moves to go. You take the pressure off by making the move yourself. I proved through my career that I was good enough to win stage races and perform with the better guys, but it took me a while to find that out, and I think I could have done that earlier.” [Cycling News]
Telling his legs to shut up was one of Voigt’s way of dealing with aging. At age 41 he took the overall mountain jersey in 2012 in the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Two years later he took the most aggressive rider jersey at age 43. That year he also set the hour record at 51.110 km.
In December 2021 as I tried to climb Berthoud Pass (11,300 ft.) I kept telling myself, “Shut up legs.” I was climbing by perceived exertion. I knew from mountain biking my legs could hurt more and I could be breathing harder than climbing Berthoud. Therefore I could maintain my pace up the final 300-foot climb to the top of the pass. Until I passed out. You can read about the failed climb, the trip to the hospital and my successful climb in August 2022 in my column Anti-Aging Back on Top.
In How Badly Do You Want It Matt Fitzgerald makes a strong case that perceived exertion, not physical factors, is the limiter on performance. You can read more in my column Anti-Aging Mastering Fatigue.
On Berthoud in December I misinterpreted / ignored my perceptions:
- I couldn’t talk out loud to myself. On an endurance ride if a cyclist goes harder than a conversational pace for very long, then sooner or later the rider will pay for it.
- I was gasping for air and my legs were throbbing just like mountain biking. On my mountain bike I only rode this hard for a few minutes and then the terrain eased at least a bit. On Berthoud I was in this hypoxic state much longer and the climb didn’t relent.
- I felt pressure on my eyeballs and my vision was narrowing. On the Coach Hughes 1 – 10 scale of perceived exertion this was an 8+ pace, which is riding as hard as you can for only a few minutes with your eyes bugging out.
- I was getting thirsty. I was somewhat dehydrated at the start. It was only in the 50s climbing Berthoud. I forgot the human body is only 20 – 40% efficient, which means the other 60 – 80% of the calories I was burning generated heat, not forward progress. I didn’t drink enough on the climb. As I got more dehydrated the volume of my blood decreased and it could carry less oxygen to my brain. You can read more in this column on Anti-Aging: 5 Signs You May Be Dehydrated
Instrumentation wouldn’t have saved me.
A heart rate monitor can be misleading. As a rider fatigues on an endurance ride the heart becomes inefficient. The chambers don’t fill fully and the heart doesn’t beat as strongly. To maintain the same level of effort the heart rate increases. This is called cardiac drift. If I’d worn a heart rate monitor on Berthoud and seen my heart rate increasing, I would have thought it was just cardiac drift and ignored the increasing heart rate.
If I’d had a power meter my power would have been declining, which I would have expected climbing.
Using rate of perceived exertion (RPE)
Pushing your body to the limit is very painful. However, unless you are trying for maximum performance painful riding isn’t necessary even in training.
You only need four levels of RPE on a 10-point scale whether you’re riding for fun and healthy exercise or training for an event (unless you are a racer):
- Digestion pace: How you ride after a big breakfast or lunch, an RPE of 1 – 2. This is the pace for active recovery rides.
- Conversation pace: You can easily carry on a conversation in full sentences, an RPE of 2 – 3. This pace builds endurance and trains the aerobic system to burn fat more efficiently.
- Hill climbing and headwind pace: You’re on a long, steady grade or riding into a wind. You’re working hard enough you can’t whistle but still talk in short sentences, an RPE of 3 – 4. At this pace you’re improving your cruising speed and training the aerobic system to burn glycogen.
- Sweet spot pace: You’re working just a little harder. You aren’t gasping for air; you can still talk in short phrases.
The RPEs overlap because power production increase progressively, not in discreet steps.
You can read more in my column on Riding by Perceived Exertion.
Sweet spot pace
Training in the sweet spot is the optimal way to increase your sustained power. The harder you ride the more overload on your body. Overload + recovery = improvement. So the greater the overload the greater the improvement. But this isn’t correct. The greater the overload the more recovery you need both during a hard ride and between hard rides. Riding in the sweet spot you aren’t going as hard and need significantly less recovery so the cumulative overload is greater and you improve more than if you’d gone harder. In the sweet spot your legs are starting to talk to you but aren’t screaming. You can read more in these columns:
- Anti-Aging: Ride Like the Pros – Train in the Sweet Spot
- Sweet Spot Training for Every Rider
- How To Do Sweet Spot Training
Bottom line: Perceived exertion can be a useful way to gauge your efforts as long as you interpret the signs correctly.
My eBook Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity explains what happens to your body as you age, and the physiological benefits of riding with intensity. Doing some hard riding slows the aging process and delivers an array of benefits at any age:
- Stronger heart.
- Greater lung capacity.
- More powerful muscles.
- More efficient training.
This doesn’t mean that you need to suffer like the pros, just that you should ride a little harder than you are used to riding. This eArticle tells you how. In 27 pages, I describe five progressively harder levels of training. For each level I give 3 to 5 examples each of structured and unstructured workouts, a total of almost 40 workouts.
Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity is just $4.99
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
- 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 eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process 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 my 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. The 106-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process 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.
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