by Martin Sigrist
Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, we received an inspiring comment from one of our readers on the article by Coach Hughes, Setting Goals As You Grow Older. I traded emails with the commenter and asked if he would let us adapt his comments into a short article, and he agreed.
Below is his commentary.
I refuse to subscribe to the self- fulfilling stereotype that your performance must necessarily degrade as you get older. I know that in the long run I may be wrong, but in the meantime I am having a lot of fun and feeling great by proving otherwise.
My life was transformed in 2006 when I discovered power training and a friend showed me the mean max power (MMP) curve in WKO3. (WKO3 is software from Training Peaks.)
We were both in our late 40s, and he said his annual goal was simple. The current year plot should equal or exceed the best for previous years. Ever since then, that has been my overriding motivation. Training and competing are just means to the end of achieving a year on year MMP improvement. (Technology now helps with this, my Garmin shows MMP real time vs best, with color coding to show a new PB. Seeing this color on a ride is my biggest reward.)
This goal is perfect in terms of the SM and T aspects that you refer. Where we differ is that you and most others just assume that the A and R are impossible.
Well, that was 13 years ago and this year I am 60. Thus far I have hit my goal. Not 100% true, but every year I’ve moved a large portion of my MMP upwards. This year I’ve already hit new bests for sub 60s, 2-3 minutes and 3-4 hours and there is still plenty of time left before next April to do more.
Further, the absolute numbers are pretty respectable, Right now my FTP is 328W at a weight of 68 kilograms. So, a watts per kilogram of 4.8 and a VO2 max of 69. I don’t need to take contrived tests like “Athletic Maturity” to say how I am doing, because these numbers speak for themselves as does my position in events and Strava compared to others half my age.
(Here’s a Training Peaks explanation of terminology and metrics.)
For what it’s worth, my advice on how to stay fit when getting older is:
First and foremost an attitude of mind. If you believe you will lose fitness you will lose fitness. If you believe you can get better you will get better or, at worst, are more likely to maintain fitness.
Second. Train smarter. Professional cycling is demonstrating how the intelligent appliance of science can lead to performance that equals or outstrips that achieved by drugs cheats like Armstrong and Landis. The amateur can benefit in exactly the same way. I ascribe much of my success to the fact I was an early adopter of power based training and have a keen interest in staying up to date with what the best pro teams are doing and seeing if it works for me.
Third: Focus on mobility. After discovering MMP curves, the second biggest transformational moment in my life as an athlete was discovering the work of Kelly Starrett. Following a daily regime of his mobility workouts has made me feel years younger. One key benefit when it comes to cycling is that I can absorb, recover and benefit from increased workload and maintain riding positions that are both more efficient and aerodynamic.
And sorry, but also I hate the fact a common piece of advice to people who get older is to do longer and longer events like the PBP. These really are not tests of physical endurance. If you can ride 100 miles, then your body can ride 1200 km. Rather, they are tests of mind and the capacity to do without sleep. I speak from experience, I have done 2 LELs (London-Edinburgh-London) which are 200km longer than the PBP and run over much harder terrain and worse weather conditions.. Both were tough, but in wattage terms they were just very long rides at recovery pace.
Editor: When I emailed Martin to follow up, I mentioned Joe Friel’s well known cycling book, Fast After 50. He had some additional comments about that, below.
I’ve read Joe Friel’s book too and especially agree about the importance of keeping up the higher intensity work. That’s especially important round about now when the “off” season is looming. The hardest times I’ve had were when I just did LSD (long, slow, distance) through winter. It takes a long time in the spring to get the top end back. Much simpler not to lose it in the first place. For what it’s worth, I think this is one area where the pro teams have changed their approach too.
I think one thing that bedevils this area is that most data, including VO2 decline, comes from folks who have been riding bikes all their lives. It’s only to be expected they may find motivation tough to maintain over this whole time, though there are some exceptions that prove the contrary.
However there are many, including I guess the majority of your readers, who have started cycling seriously later in life. They will have a large amount of untapped potential and there is every reason in my opinion that focused training will release this at a rate that more than outweighs any marginal decline due to aging. This will apply all the more so if they are lucky enough to have more time and resources to support this training as they get older.
However this requires a positive mindset, and this is why I find it so frustrating that a dominant theme of advice aimed at 50+ers is to do ultra type events, training plans for which will do little if anything to improve your VO2 max or FTP.
Far better, in my opinion, is to focus on events that require you to build FTP and/or VO2. Or more simply just use the tools available now to plot a power duration curve and try to improve it across the board over time, like I do. The advantage of the latter is that it encourages you to train for and participate in new types of events in order to fill a gap.
The technology now even allows you to see the power curve for your current ride compared to your all time or season best on your Garmin, with instant feedback if you set a new PB (personal best). As a personal motivator, this is way better for me even than Strava.
In passing, I’d also mention that I think setting season goals in terms of power duration is far better than doing so based on finish time or race position. All my best results have come from assessing the needs of an event in terms of power profile, setting that as an A goal and then training for that. Hit this and the results naturally follow. Again, this is something the best pro teams do now as well.
All this being said I will say my experience is limited to events where the focus is on power duration of 5 minutes or more. I have tried criterium racing and done ok, but stopped after one crash too many especially as I realized I would never have the top end power needed to win a sprint. This is nothing to do with aging, as a teen I was more of a middle distance runner / swimmer.
But I do think there may be a more rapid decline of max power with age. So if your love is crit racing then, sadly, it may be necessary to change your goals. Still even there I’ve found improvements in technique and doing strength training can help keep this power up.
I’ve also attached a WKO4 screenshot which is my overriding SMART A
goal. It’s pretty simple:
- The light blue line is my best ever from previous year
- The green is my current year best below previous years
- Pink is current year best that’s an all time PB
- Red highlights a best that comes from the current workout.
It’s in w/kg (watts per kilogram), as this keeps me focused on weight as well as power.
I’ve got until next April to try to turn as much of the green to pink as possible. I’ve just started Zwifting again, which allows me to race without risk and I’m hoping this will help achieve this.
As mentioned, I have an app on my Garmin that shows the same information and it’s a great motivator, much better than Strava.
I read lots about training but have never seen this approach to setting real SMART A goals championed. To the contrary, just focusing on power numbers is often sneered at. The only thing that seen as important is real results in real races. My experience has been completely the opposite.
If you hit your A power goal the B results (and Strava results too) will come naturally as a result. This is not just my opinion, but is the bottom line of how Sky have come to dominate racing. It’s not just the money it’s the way they used the money.
If you set your A goal power to match the “B” event your are training for, then your training will be far more effective.
If your event is a disaster, you can still pursue your A goal. The first time I ever rode a sustained 300W for over an hour was when I punctured at the start of a road race. I ended dead last with no hope of getting back on, so I just rode angry trying to catch up regardless. I still finished last but got the best result of my year.
Hitting your A goal does not require any special equipment other than a power meter. So you can ride a TT on a road bike and still aim for your goal. Moreover you can far better evaluate the cost/benefit of any purchases you are tempted to make in pursuit of B goals.
Far from turning you into a numbers nerd, having this approach widens your horizons. I’ve taken part in events ranging from chasing road race points to 12 hour time trials driven partly by the desire to push up my power curve. That’s why the chart shows a big difference sub 30 second power, as I’m not road racing at the moment, which is one reason I’m looking forward to Zwift racing.
And as I’ve said, having a power curve as your A goal can be lifelong motivator that not only encourages you to ride hard, but also to pursue other things like nutrition, mobility and conditioning that don’t just add watts, but also make you feel great too.