It depends on how much riding you did over the fall and what your objectives are. This week I discuss how a 76-year-old woman trains for speed. Next week I’ll describe how a 62-year-old man should train for climbing power.
Elizabeth Wicks (just turned 76) Trains for Speed
I’ve been coaching Elizabeth for years. Several weeks ago I wrote a column Wicks 75-year-old rides 7500 miles. At the end of September she’d ridden 5302.3 miles. To reach her goal she rode big miles last fall:
- October 1503.6 miles
- November 867.7 miles
- December 426.7 miles
Elizabeth specializes in long-distance events. The lessons of how I incorporate speed work into her training apply to all roadies.
Since she turned 70 she’s ridden:
- 2014: Calvin’s 12-hour – 157 miles, National 24 Hour (my first 24 hour) – 239 miles, Mid Atlantic 24 hour – 260 miles.
- 2015 Calvin’s 12-hour – 182 miles, National 24 Hour – 291 miles
- 2016 – Calvin’s 12-hour – 171 miles. (Windiest year in race history), PAC Tour Northern Transcontinental – 2697 miles
- 2017 – Sebring 12-hour – 160 miles
- 2018 – Worked on coaching biz, didn’t train so skipped events.
This year’s she’s considering these races:
- Maryland Endurance 12-Hour May 3
- National 24-Hour in June 20-21 in Michigan
- The Mid Atlantic 24 is August 15 in North Carolina
- World 24-Hour Championship in October in California if she has the funds to travel across the country.
Her current training goal is to increase her speed. These are ultra-distances races and she’s aged up to a new age group (one of the benefits of aging!)
It’s important to build a good endurance base before any kind of intensity workouts. Endurance riding prepares the muscles, tendons and ligaments for harder workouts. Without a sufficient endurance base a roadie risks injury. At a minimum a rider should have at least two months (three or four are better) of endurance riding before serious intensity training. Elizabeth has built a huge base over the last year including last fall and is ready for hard riding.
This winter she’s doing two challenging workouts a week — from her experience we know that three would be too many. One is an intensity workout and the second is either another intensity workout or an endurance ride weather permitting. She lives in Massachusetts.
Peter Sagan’s Winter Intensity
Elizabeth’s initial intensity workouts are similar to Peter Sagan’s. All of his intervals are based on his aerobic threshold. You’re probably familiar with the anaerobic threshold, which is the point at which the production of lactate exceeds the body’s capacity to clear it. The aerobic threshold is the classic conversational pace, the pace he can sustain for hours of racing.
Even at rest your body is producing small amounts of lactic acid. The aerobic threshold is where the blood lactate concentration starts to rise above the level at rest. Up to this threshold your body produces power almost exclusively from your slow-twitch muscles, and energy is produced almost exclusively from fat. Pro riders spend the bulk of their time training at or below this threshold.
Sagan rides three kinds of intervals:
- Long intervals of 4 – 6 reps of 10 minutes close to but below his aerobic threshold.
- Hill intervals are climbing 2 or 3 hills a little harder but still below his aerobic threshold. Each hill is about 10 – 20 minutes long, and he rides at the effort at which he’d climb in the Alps or the Pyrenees in the Tour.
- Short, harder intervals are blocks of 12 repetitions at or slightly above of his aerobic threshold, which he rides on short hills. The goal is to introduce a small amount of intensity.
If his intervals are at a brisk conversational pace, how hard is he riding between intervals? Not very hard at all!
Aerobic Threshold Workouts
Elizabeth has been doing aerobic threshold workouts on rolling hills and on her trainer. Here’s her typical trainer workout:
- 15 minutes of warm-up including drills, e.g., one-leg pedaling, spin-ups in a moderate gear increasing the RPMs by about 10 RPM / minute until she reaches her maximum or accelerations over a minute increasing her RPMs to maximum. She does all of these at a conversational pace.
- 20 to 45 minute main set of tempo
- 5 – 10 minutes in Zone 3 [pace riding into a headwind or on a long climb, 88 – 94% of anaerobic threshold (AT), 76 – 90% of functional threshold power (FTP).]
- 3 – 5 minutes in Zone 2 (conversational pace, 76 – 87% of AT, 56 – 75% of FTP). The time in Zone 3 is about one-half the time in Zone 2.
- 5+ minute cool-down.
The number of repeats depends on how long the main set is. As she gets fitter the Zone 3 interval and Zone 2 recovery increase in length and the number of repeats increases.
Sweet Spot Workouts
The basic training principle is overload + recovery = improvement. The harder you ride the more overload on your body so that should make you fitter faster. However, the harder you ride, the fewer intervals you can do and the more recovery you need between hard days. The sweet spot is the intensity at which the combination of intensity and recovery produces the maximum total overload. The sweet spot isn’t very hard. It’s the top of Zone 3 and the bottom of Zone 4 (still able to talk in short phrases, 93 – 97% of AT, 88 – 94% of FTP).
We’re currently experimenting with how much sweet spot she can handle in one workout. We started with 3 – 6 repeats of [5 min SS and 3 min EZ]. She did 6 repeats. We’ll keep increasing the lengths of the SS and EZ riding (maintaining an approximate 2:1 ratio of SS and recovery) until she can only do 3 repeats. Then we’ll stay at the same length SS and EZ riding and increase the number of repeats until she can do 6 repeats. Then we’ll increase the length of the SS and EZ with just 3 or 4 repeats and build back up to 6 repeats.
Sweet Spot training is the optimum way to improve sustained power, which makes her faster, so most of Elizabeth’s intensity training will be in the SS. In addition on Saturday’s there’s a group trainer workout she enjoys. It includes some higher intensity riding, but it’s more fun with a group so some weekends she does the group workout.
Next week I’ll describe how a 62-year-old man should train for climbing power.
My eArticle Intensity Training: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power to Maximize Training Effectivenessdescribes the human power train: how your fuel is stored and burned, how power is then generated and how to improve your pedaling economy (analogous to improving miles per gallon.) The eArticle explains intensity training made simple including the pros and cons of various ways to gauge intensities. It includes a dozen different types of intensity workouts and over 50 sample workouts depending on your goals. The 41-page eArticle Intensity Training: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power to Maximize Training Effectiveness is $4.99.
My eArticle Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity describes more specifically why and how anyone 50 and older can incorporate intensity training. The 27-page Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity is $4.99.
The three-article bundle Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond includes:
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Peak Fitness – 41 pages
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Training with Intensity 27-pages
- Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond: Fit for Life – 40 pages
The bundle is $13.50 – 10% off list price for each eArticle.
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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.