Chronological aging is unavoidable; however, you can chose how you live the journey.
I was born in 1949. Starting when I was 30 each decade I chose a significant cycling event.
- Age 30 – In 1979 I rode my first of five Paris-Brest-Paris 1200Ks (750 miles) with about 10,000 meters (32,000 ft.) of climbing. I had to finish PBP in under 90 hours including time off the bike. I was one of the first Americans to ride PBP and I had to create my own qualifying rides 200K (125 mi.), 300K (187.5 mi.) 400K (250 mi.) and 600K (375 mi.). I finished in ’79 only because I didn’t know enough French to DNF and take the train back to Paris!
- Age 40 – In 1989 I won the inaugural Furnace Creek 508 qualifier for the Race Across AMerica in 30 hours 54 minutes including time off the bike. The 508-mile non-drafting race with 30,000 ft. of climbing goes through Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the U.S. There was one section of gravel where I was allowed to ride in the support van — I still remember soaking my feet in an ice bath. Although I wasn’t the strongest or fastest rider I won by minimizing my time off the bike. The photo is of my crew of Lee Mitchell and Roger Hardy in BikeVan, my support vehicle. I finished solo RAAM in 1996.
- Age 50 — In 1999 for my 50th birthday Muffy Ritz took me mountain bike riding on the famous Slickrock Train in Moab, UT. The trail is a 10.5-mile (16.9 km) loop, an expert ride and is quite challenging both technically and physically. I was also Director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association (UMCA) and editor of UltraCycling magazine.
- Age 60 — In 2009 coach Dan Kehlenbach and I were writing Distance Cycling: Your Complete Guide for Long Distance Rides. That summer I crewed for the Great Grand PAC Masters a 4-man team that set the age 75+ record in the Race Across AMerica. Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell, my longtime friend and crew chief, was one of the four racers. Fuzzy’s motto was “Do whatever it takes.” I continued leading the UMCA and editing UltraCycling. The photo is Fuzzy.
- Age 70 — In 2019 after breaking my ankle last year and hobbling for three months around my house with many steps I sold the house and this week moved into a third floor flat in Boulder, CO with an elevator! I’ll buy a home in the Colorado mountains with good access to climbing passes over 11,000 ft., great mountain biking and Nordic skiing.
What Have I learned so Far during this Journey
Frederick Buechner has written, aging is “like living in a house that’s in increasing need of repairs . . . Cracked and dusty, the windows are hard to see through, and there’s a lot of creaking and groaning in bad weather.” I just sold an older high maintenance home and moved into a very low maintenance condo (except for the broken garbage disposal I need to try to fix.) I can’t just sell my increasingly high maintenance body and buy a new one. Instead I’m doing these:
New challenges keep me motivated and active. I love road riding and at age 66 my goal was to climb 66,000 feet of passes in the Rockies not counting climbing during other rides. The photo is of my riding partner John Elmblad and me the day I passed 66K of climbing. For my 67th year I XC skied 67 days. For my 68th year my goal was 68K of Nordic racing. For my 69th year the goal was simple: get back in shape after a fractured ankle. This year the goal has been to sell the big house, simplify life and spend more time recreating and less time working. Now that we’re moved I’ll think about possible cycling and XC skiing goals.
Keep learning. Since I started coaching in 1994 and writing in 1998 I continue to study the professional cycling literature. Although I’m cutting back on my coaching now I will continue to write for RBR. I love the learning and the writing and I’m going to join a writers group when we move to the mountains. The learning and writing also keep my brain active, one of the keys to reducing the risk of dementia.
Ride, don’t train. I don’t own a heart rate monitor, power meter or sophisticated bike computer. My friend John E. and I ride year-round in Colorado and we have two rules: no passing anyone and always stop for a meal. This means we’re always riding at a conversational pace. Of course, if it’s frigid we may just ride to the café, have breakfast and ride back.
Ride less, recover more. In my 30s and 40s I could put in big miles with only a couple of recovery days a week. Now I rarely ride more than 100 miles in a week with only one or two climbing rides.
Adapt. I had breakfast with one of my old rock climbing buddies. Don told me he got an Ebike and he’s cheating. I said that’s not cheating. I started riding with racing gears. In my 50s I put on a big cassette with a mountain bike derailleur. In my 60s I changed it to a triple. At some point I’ll get an Ebike. Eventually I’ll ride my trike from the retirement center to Safeway.
Health maintenance. My diet is better and my health checkups with my doctor are more frequent than a decade ago. I’ve quit drinking. I now take care of my whole body not just cardio. I go to the Y to lift weights and work on core strength and flexibility. I do tai chi both for the calmness it brings and also to maintain good balance. I walk, hike, ski and snowshoe — good weight-bearing exercise to keep my bones strong — and also a heck of a lot of fun.
Avoid injury. John E and I have been riding together for 16 years so far. We now descend slowly enough that we can talk and enjoy the scenery instead of tucking to maximize our speed. For my annual wellness check the doctor asked if I’d fallen in the last year. I laughed and explained I’m an avid Nordic skier and mountain biker and love new challenges — sometimes challenges lead to falls. However, I’m cautious and attempt more challenging routes but if I’m not reasonably confident I can do a section then I’ll walk. This way the falls result in bruises not broken bones. (The broken ankle was from falling off a ladder.)
Have fun! I have a deal with my doctor. I’m going to do everything I can with her help to enjoy life to the fullest into my 90s and then suddenly drop dead.
My eBook 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.
The book explains how to get the most benefit from your endurance rides. It has sample training plans to increase your annual riding miles and to build up to 25-, 50-, 100- and 200-mile rides. The book explains why intensity training is important and the pros and cons of gauging intensity using rate of perceived exertion, heart rate and power. It includes how to do intensity exercise and different intensity workouts. It integrates endurance and intensity training into an annual plan for optimal results.
Anti-Aging describes the importance of strength training and includes 28 exercises for lower body, upper body and core strength illustrated with photos. It includes an annual plan to integrate strength training with endurance and intensity training. It also has 14 stretches illustrated with photos.
Anti-Aging includes an annual plan to put together all six of the aspects of aging well: cardiorespiratory exercise, intensity training, strength workouts, weight-bearing exercise, stretching and balance. The book concludes with a chapter on motivation.
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 $15.95 ($13.57 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
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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.