I turned 70 this year and in an earlier column I wrote about Lessons from my Journey Through Life. The basic message is that chronological aging is unavoidable; however, you can choose how you live the journey and control physiological aging.
To mark my 66th year (2015) I challenged myself to climb at least 66,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies (I live in Boulder). To make the challenge more interesting I was only allowed to count a climb once. That winter the challenge was to cross-country ski at least 66 days. I exceeded both goals.
To mark my 67th year (2016) I challenged myself to climb both sides of each Colorado pass that’s at least 12,000 ft. high:
- Trail Ridge Road (12,183 feet) through Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest paved pass in the United States.
- Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet) was a particularly fun climb on the west side, which wasn’t paved.
- Independence Pass (12,095 feet) was the Queen stage in several of the Colorado Classic stage race.
- Mt. Evans (14,265 feet) isn’t a pass but it’s the highest paved road in the US.
Over the course of the summer I mastered all seven climbs.
That winter my goal was to participate in cross-country ski races totaling at least 67 kilometers. I started with the 10K Snow Mountain Classic in early January racing in temps in the single digits and a few weeks later skied the Stage Coach Classic 15K. Then Carol and I enjoyed traveling to the Chama Chili Classic 12K and the Crested Butte Alley Loop 26K – the 13K course loops through the alleys of Crested Butte. In March it warmed up so much that the snow wasn’t good for cross-country so I only raced 50K but we sure had fun that winter!
I couldn’t think of a fun road cycling challenge for my 68th summer (2017) so I set out to improve my mountain biking. By the end of the summer I’d ridden most of the intermediate trails around Winter Park, CO in the Rockies. I avoided the expert trails lest I fall and break bones.
Then in January 2018 I stupidly fell of a ladder and fractured my ankle. You can read about my recovery and riding goals for 2018 here. This past winter my goal was simple: get back in skiing shape. We skied the Ranch-to-Ranch 15K and then both got bad cases of the flu, which shot the season.
Carol and I both love hiking, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing. Carol loves downhill skiing and I love mountain biking. We’d tired of driving two+ hours from Boulder to the Winter Park area to play so in March we decided to sell our Boulder home and move to the Winter Park area. We spent April – July getting the house ready to sell, putting it on the market and closing the sale. In August we put many of our belongings in storage, moved into a small condo in north Boulder and found a great new home at 9,000 feet in Winter Park Highlands, the former Winter Park Honey. You can check out the location here. The last two months we’ve been working on the house and moved our furniture up last weekend. I’ve only ridden once or twice a week since March!
Can I Improve as I get Older?
The physiology is clear. Most people’s health and fitness start to irrevocably decline about age 50, and as we get older our health and fitness decline more rapidly. This is called the geriatric curve. In spite of the 66K of climbing in 2015, the seven 12,000 foot climbs 2016 were harder than the same climbs the year before. You can slow the rate of decline but you can’t stop it.
I’ve talked with my doctor who specializes in patients in their 50s and beyond. I’ve told her my goal is to stay as healthy and fit as possible into my 90s and then drop dead. This is called squaring the geriatric curve. You can read about it here.
I’m 70 and unfortunately have lost fitness over the last two years. The good news is that I have a lot of upward potential!
Improving This Winter
Snow Mountain Ranch opens for cross-country skiing in two weeks! We had our first snow in Boulder on Monday and I skied the last three days in Boulder parks. After nine months of dealing with house stuff I have a long way to go before I’m skiing well. My goal is to be able to ski for three to four hours. I know how to get back in shape.
- Build my base: Since March Once or twice a week I’ve ridden for 1 – 1:30 hours. From now to the first of the year I need to do endurance training on the bike and on skis when possible to build up to 3 to 4 hour outings. Tips for Base Training in the Cold.
- Increase my strength: Cycling my cadence is 80 – 90 rpm. Skiing my rate of turnover is much slower so I need more strength and power in my legs. Skiing also uses the arm muscles, especially the triceps. I’m going to the gym three days a week and also doing simple things like one-leg squats while brushing my teeth. Chopping wood is a great workout for my core and arms. And then there’s shoveling snow.
- Work on my balance: To ski my best I need to push off one ski, shift my weight fully to the other ski, glide and then push off, shift back to the otherski and glide. To help I practice tai chi most mornings. Moving from one tai chi pose to another involves a similar weight transfer.
- Do ski specific drills: I ski classic, which is also called the diagonal stride because of the particular rhythm of arms and legs. I practice this rhythm in the yard or down the hall and back. I also attach an exercise cord to an anchor with a handle in each hand and practice the arm motion and strengthen my triceps.
Other Ways to Improve Your Performance as You Age.
My column 5 Ways to Improve Your Cycling explains how to improve your muscle firing pattern, increase your pedaling economy, get a bike fit, train your upper body and learn how to relax – these all produce free power!
More on Squaring the Geriatric Curve
I designed and wrote my eBook Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process to help you flatten the geriatric curve 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 ($12.74 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
randy brich says
BTW: I recently read a book on aging from the biological perspective. Seems that survival genes become senescent with age. Interestingly, these same genes are also longevity genes. Ways to activate them include HIIT, cold, intermittent fasting and basically anything that gets the body out of the comfort zone that we slack into as we age.
Road Bike Rider says
Are you reading Lifespan by David Sinclair? I am also currently reading that book. I have an infrared sauna at home and also intermittently fast for 24 hours, twice per week. Dinner one evening, and then no meals until dinner the following evening. It’s pretty easy once you get used to it. (This is Lars.)
randy brich says
Yes. I read it about a month ago. But, can’t get into the fasting solution. HIIT no problemo’. Being chilled (I kiteboarded last Fri in 42F and 25-35mph wind), sauna at the local YMCA where I teach CycoTherapy a HIIT based weekly workout. Incidentally, my 50th HS reunion is next summer. Saw a bunch of the old gang at a funeral a couple weeks ago. Shocking how poorly conditioned the bulk of them looked.
Peter Wimberg says
Great article. I admire your perseverance and hope to mimic it. I’m only 57 and it feels good to say that.
Donald Waskiewicz Sr says
John, I am 81 and I still ride 5 miles everyday just to keep fit. I rode 20 miles a week for the past several years and raised it to 25 for this year because during a physical exam the Dr said I was really doing good for my age. Riding the extra five miles a week has ;meant a gradual wt loss of about 4 lbs per year. I feel great and when I see other men my age they look old. I still walk erect, and am blessed with good health. I plan to keep this up til whenever….
Ron Sowers says
I’ll be 73 ( !!! ) in January and only in RBR do I find the articles that are current to my riding. A big THANKS!
Kerry Irons says
I just turned 70 and my experience has been that while I obviously got a little slower through time, things showed more significant drop starting at about 65. From age 36 to 62, I lost about 0.4 mph in my average 10 mile TT time (stopped riding them after that because the TT series folded). I can still keep up with the reasonably fast Friday group ride, but I’m not one of the ones pushing the pace. It seems like my average speed on longer rides (60-100 miles) is holding up reasonably well but I have very little “head room” – the ability to jump to a significantly faster speed. I’ve made my peace with it and am really just wanting to keep as fit and strong as possible as time marches on.
“The physiology is clear. Most people’s health and fitness start to irrevocably decline about age 50, and as we get older our health and fitness decline more rapidly. ”
Sorry but I disagree.. There is actually very little evidence to support this opinion. This is because studies to do are among the hardest in science. They require long term longitudinal studies on a large cohort of individuals controlling that all other variables (e..g. nutrition,lifestyle) are not a factor.
As posted elsewhere I am a clear counter to this rule. I turned 60 this year and all my physiological markers are up compared to how they were at 50. Moreover they are not at a low level, I long stopped picking the low hanging fruit. My metrics are at the level of a Cat 2 rider (FTP 4.6w/kg VO2 69) and when I compare myself with others it’s real times I look at not those adjusted for age.
I do not believe I am an exception. Rather I believe I am typical of a large number, indeed the majority of folks who did some exercise when they were young, stopped for several decades, getting fat and unfit, and then restart riding again.
The training science and tools (e.g. Zwift) allow such people to improve their fitness despite “aging”. All the more so if they also lose some of the pounds they have gained over the same time.
I would make the prediction that if a study such as above were to take place then a test group that included individuals following a structured training and nutrition plan would outperform a group that did not. Further among this group the majority would end up fitter after several years despite “aging”.
The fundamental issue is your use of the word ” physiology”. That’s not what makes most lose fitness as they age.
It’s far more a question of psychology. If you believe you will lose fitness than you will lose fitness. If you rail against time then its a fight you can win, at least in the medium term. You may not be fitter at 80 than you were at 50 but there is every reason to be fitter at 51 than you were at 50, Or indeed 55. Or 60 as I am. All the evidence I have from my sample of 1 is that I can continue to improve, at least w/kg which is the most important measure for the rides in big mountains which I love the most.
FWIW a key piece of advice for those wishing to wage a war against “aging” is not to set passive goals such as a target distance or vertical gain. These can easily be achieved just by changing the gearing on your bike.
The important thing is to challenge yourself. Pick a ride you did this year and aim to equal or beat it in terms of TIME next year. (Strava makes this easy). Many world record holders look back on their events and say they could have gone even faster so there is no reason to believe it for you. If you trained a bit harder, lost a pound more, tapered correctly, paced differently, used a different gear or all of these and others then it should be possible to find 1 second somewhere.
As a general rule you get fitter by upping intensity not just doing more and this goal will encourage this attitude.
randy brich says
Intensity is the key that opens the fitness lock.
Would love to follow you on Strava. I’m Randy Brich Mesa
Tim Saunders says
Encouraging comments, and I am trying to join you. Have you used HIIT to achieve the enviable parameters?
Denis Hedges says
Am 86 just stopped time trials le jog when 80 solo 11 days Alpe du Huez 2 years ago rode fixed mostly until 83 now have 2 ebike Orbeas .Not unique many race in uk 70+Dont let the old man in follow Clint Eastwoods theory
Robin Willard says
Reading all the above I think it is about time that we should have more apps and sites for the plus 70 age group that is working hard to “Keep the old man out” I know myself for the last 20 years I look forward in great anticipation for that 5 year increment birthday and to go out and kick some but as the young punk in the division.We also as a group send visual message down the line what is possible with some commitment