Question: I’m 78 and a life-long rider. Four years ago farm dogs ran me down and, as a result, a fix of the femur required a pin. My goal after the recovery was to gain fitness and motivation to take on club rides and do a few metric rides. That has not happened, and I have tried training plans, i.e. climbing, cross-training and have not completed the plans due to the boredom of indoor training. My motivation is lacking. Is there still a way to get faster, with endurance?—Joe Cursey
Coach Hughes Replies: Joe, You are asking two common questions:
1. How to get and stay motivated. This is the same whether a roadie is generally trying to get fitter, or training for a specific purpose, or coming back from a layoff or an injury.
2. How to get faster with better endurance.
I’ll answer the first one this week, and the second one next week.
How to Get – And Stay – Motivated
After the various physical ailments that I covered last week, mental issues, especially motivation, are the next most frequent showstoppers. Motivation to start exercising. Motivation to continue working out. Motivation to push yourself through a tough workout. Motivation to finish a difficult ride. Motivation to not ride and get the recovery that you need.
Getting Generally Fit
Part of your question is how to “gain fitness.” There are many ways that you can improve your fitness without following a boring training program.
I haven’t trained at all this year. I just got back from a 90-minute MTB ride, which improved my endurance, increased my power riding on the steep sections when I pegged my heart rate, used my core and upper body as I controlled the bike and practically wore out my facial muscles from all the smiling!
We train for a specific purpose, but we ride for fun. If moving your body one way (“exercising”) isn’t fun, then try something else. Any form of movement using most of your body will help you build baseline fitness.
Vary your Cycling
I have two good friends who live on the central coast of California and 3 or 4 times a week ride north along the Pacific Ocean and back home. I used to live near them, and it’s a great ride — but several times a week?
Any form of exercise, if done repeatedly, can get boring. Try riding different routes than usual,. Or pick the most scenic route that you can find, ride slowly and take lots of photos. Or attempt something really challenging, like a long, steep climb. Ride as far as you can … walk a bit … and then ride some more. Or decide to ride every road in your county. Or add some gravel roads, which usually have much less traffic. Or drive somewhere not too far from home and ride a different route. Or … your imagination has few limits.
Vary your Aerobic Activities
Cycling is just one of many ways to get your legs moving, heart pumping faster and lungs breathing harder. Make a list of all the possible ways of exercising aerobically that you could try: road cycling, dirt road / path cycling, mountain biking, walking, hiking, running, in-line skating, swimming, etc. Think of the aerobic games that you could play: basketball, racquetball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, badminton, table tennis (Jim Langley’s favorite). Give (almost) everything a try — you might enjoy it! A friend, a lifelong cyclist, isn’t riding much — he’s playing Pickleball, a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis.
Develop a Plan
Set a Tangible Goal
Joe, one of the best ways to improve your motivation is to set a specific goal so that you can measure progress over time. “Getting faster with endurance” is a good goal, but it’s very general. You need something more specific. Here’s an example:
I’ve coached my good friend Elizabeth Wicks for many years and written about her accomplishments in previous RBR Newsletters. We’ve focused on Calvin’s 12-Hour Challenge. In 2013 she set the women’s age 65 – 69 mileage record of 172.7 miles. The next year had the strongest winds since the race began and she “only” rode 157 miles, setting the age 70 – 74 record. In early 2015 she set a S.M.A.R.T. goal:
- Specific – ride more than 157 miles, breaking her age group record. If possible, set a personal best of at least 173 miles.
- Measurable – in 12 hours including time off the bike.
- Attainable – she has the time to train.
- Realistic – as long as conditions are just okay (not even good) she can ride farther than 175 miles. She has the fitness and experience.
- Time-oriented – on a specific date, May 2
I coached her with a specific week-by-week training program that built up to her goal. The training program included benchmark goals month by month so that we could measure her progress.
After the race she sent me a message, “OMG, as they say. Perfect day – no wind, etc. Smoked it!! 182 miles.”
Joe’s S.M.A.R.T. goal for the next three months could be something as simple as building up to riding at least 7 hours per week by the end of November. Or completing a 100K (62.2 miles) by December 1.
A plan could be:
1. Software or a spreadsheet with workout entries and then results entered for every day of the week from September through November.
2. A list of weekly objectives from September through November.
#1 and #2 both work, depending on how much structure and detail you like. And there’s a third option — no plan, which could also work.
Option #1: Using Goals and a Detailed Plan to Motivate
Joe could develop a detailed plan with monthly objectives to reach his goal by the end of November:
- September: ride at least 3 days, totaling at least 5 hours a week.
- October: ride at least 4 days, totaling at least 6 hours a week.
- November: ride at least 5 days, totaling at least 7 hours a week.
After you’ve set your S.M.A.R.T. goal and objectives, you can coach yourself. Here’s what I provide clients:
1. 40% is a week-by-week plan
2. 40% is accountability
3. 20% is expertise on specifically what to do.
You can easily do #1 and #2 for yourself. Take your monthly S.M.A.R.T. objectives and divide those into weekly S.M.A.R.T. objectives. Every Sunday night look back at your week — did you meet your objective? Then in your training software, training journal or calendar, enter what you will do each day to meet the next week’s objective.
Option 2: Using Goals and a Simple Plan to Motivate
If Joe doesn’t like all that detail, he could use the S.M.A.R.T. objectives for each of the next three months but not go into a lot of detail.
Set Small, Simple Targets
Joe does need to bother deciding exactly what and when he’ll ride in the upcoming week, he just sets a specific target for the week. His September objective is to ride 3 days a week, totaling at least 5 hours. Each morning he checks the weather, reviews what else he plans to do that day, notes his energy level and then decides whether to ride. Mid-week he asks himself if he’s making progress toward 3 days of riding totaling 5 hours, and on Sunday night he scores himself for the week just ending.
Small Targets on Rides
Suppose you’re doing a ride that’s very challenging, for example a 100K (62.2 miles), which is significantly longer and/or harder than your usual rides. Or suppose you’re on the weekend 40-mile club ride and conditions are much worse than you expected, or you develop a physical ailment.
Don’t think about how long the ride is. Instead set small targets. Just focus on riding to the top of the next hill. Or to the next minimart where you can get a drink or something to eat. Keep setting small targets and you’ll finish the ride.
Who Needs a Plan?
When asked how to improve, the great Eddy Merckx didn’t say to set a S.M.A.R.T goal and follow a good training plan. He just said, “Ride more.” Here are some ways to ride more and get fitter without any sort of training plan:
Ride with a buddy
Every Wednesday or Thursday, my buddy John Elmblad and I ride, even in the Colorado winter. Each week we pick a day that works for both of us, chat about what will be fun and go do it. We have 2 simple rules:
- No passing anyone, which ensures that we stay at a conversational pace.
- Always have lunch or at least coffee — a nice reward, especially in the winter.
Go on a date
Arrange to meet your significant other for coffee or lunch – and ride to the café.
Find a club or group that you enjoy riding with and do some of their rides. This week’s lunch ride to Farmdale is on flat country roads, so you join the group. Next week is Hills and Dales – you skip it.
Mix it up
Ride to a someplace interesting, go for a hike or walk, and then ride home.
Build into everyday life
What do you do by car that you could do by bike? Commute to work and back? Run errands? Ride to a club meeting?
Rather than deciding each week when and where you’ll ride, just develop a routine, for example, to ride in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Live in the Present
Don’t think about any future goal(s). Joe wants to build up his endurance to ride 100K (62.2 miles). Forget about it! Just focus on riding 20 miles today. Then the next time he rides, just focus on riding 22 miles.
On June 30, 1989, a truck ran a stop sign, hit me and crushed my left knee. I started my recovery on the trainer building up to a half hour. When I could finally ride on the road again, I started with a 4-mile (6.4-km) round trip. My next goal was to ride my shortest (11-mile, 17.7-km) training loop. And then 16 miles (25.8 km) out and back. Over the course of a year I built up to a century, step by step.
Motivation Tips for All Riders
Whether you sit down every Sunday night and write a detailed plan, or just set a weekly goal or make it up as you go along, these tips will help:
Form a habit
Research shows that if you stick with something for three months, it becomes a habit. It’s easier to stick with just one thing for three months than to try to make multiple changes. For example, for now just focus on the riding and forget about all the other things I recommend, like stretching, weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, diet, etc. Make riding your habit, and after (at least) three months, add another area in which to improve.
It’s easier to stick with it if you have positive reinforcement. It could be as simple as a screen saver on your computer that reads, “I’ll enjoy riding today!” or “More miles!” or “7 hours a week by Thanksgiving.” Share with your significant other what you’re trying to do and why, and ask him or her to give you an “attaboy” when you do well. Sharing with your significant other also reduces potential conflicts about how you use your time.
Promise yourself simple rewards. For example, if you do your riding for a week, then treat yourself and your significant other to a nice meal out. If you do your riding for a month, buy that cool jersey.
My eArticle Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling explains in more detail how to get and stay motivated, set goals, develop a plan and set benchmark objectives.
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.