Question: I’ve been racing for four decades, averaging about 700 hours of training each year. But now I’m 59 and sometimes feel the motivation is just not there. I heard that a 67-year-old finished El Tour de Tucson (111 miles) in 4:51. He had significantly reduced his on-bike training to 4 days per week and lifts weights the other 3 days. Do you think I can cut back my training that way and still ride well? — Bill S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: That’s a great question, Bill. And because I’m even older than you (70), I can provide an answer based onexperience. Sometimes it’s been bitter experience!
I think that 700 hours of training a year may be excessive if two conditions are present:
First, consistent intensity. If much of your mileage is done at around 75-85% of your max, it’s not surprising that you feel burned out and tired.
Much better: Make some training days very intense and the rest very easy. Riding at a medium-hard pace all the time spawns a sense of drudgery and mediocre performances.
Second, consistent activity. You may fall into overtraining if you don’t have a real off-season. That’s defined as exchanging time on the bike for other enjoyable aerobic activities (running, hiking, snowshoeing, swimming and so on).
Enthusiasm is the Real Gauge
But the real signal that you’re doing too much is your level of enthusiasm. If you plan to race (or ride in an organized event) but then don’t feel like doing it when the time comes, this conflict is a sure sign that you’re overdoing it. The best indicator of long-term overtraining is loss of motivation.
In general, our ability to recover from exercise decreases as we age. But studies show that we can retain most of our aerobic power as long as our training is intense. In some cases, older cyclists who ride extremely well are doing more high-intensity workouts than they did in their 20s.
That seems like a contradiction. How can we train intensely if we can’t recover as well? But the answer is simple: Make more time for recovery between hard workouts. Hence, the 4-days-per-week riding regimen of the Arizona roadie you mentioned.
Weight training is important, too. Past age 50-55 we encounter sarcopenia, a fancy name for loss of muscle volume. Resistance training helps us retain enough muscle to propel us down the road later in life.
If I were you, I’d hang up the bike for a while in the off-season and concentrate on weight training and different aerobic activities like those mentioned above. Find a cross-training activity or two that you really enjoy. (RBR’s eBookstore has a number of off-season training titles.) Then, when you begin riding again, limit the bike to 4 days per week.
On 2 of those days, do hard work (intervals or hilly rides). Make the other 2 rides very easy. Lift 2 days per week. Take one day off to rest.
Try this schedule for 6 weeks and see what happens. I bet you’ll be faster and more enthused. Keep it up and you’ll ride great in whatever events you choose to do.