Question: I am training for a ride at high elevation in August, with 4,500 feet of climbing over 50 miles. I’m 77. Is my age a factor in doing something like this? I have always cycled but lately have not been at my best. – Joe C.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Joe, that sounds like a great ride. I hope you enjoy it!
Your performance at altitude will depend on several factors.
How much higher is the event compared to where you live? If you’re going from sea level to 9,000 feet, the altitude might exact a substantial toll on your performance. But if you’re only going a few thousand feet higher than your home, the effect will be minimal.
Age isn’t a big factor if you’re healthy and have logged enough miles to handle the distance and climbing involved. Fitness trumps age in almost all situations. Of course, we slow down as we age but finishing an event like you describe should be well within your capabilities if you prepare well.
If your ride has 4,000+ feet of climbing, the more climbing you can do in training, the better you’ll do on event day. Don’t worry about climbing speed but concentrate on keeping a fast, supple cadence and work on pacing up the climb(s) so you have something left at the top.
Pacing during the whole ride is crucial, too. As at sea level, going out too hard means you’ll slow down and may feel miserable before the finish. But if the event is at high altitude (say, over 5,000 or 6,000 feet, if you are from sea level) it becomes even more difficult to recover on the bike from hard efforts.
Racers who go to altitude from sea level learn quickly that once they go anaerobic for any length of time, they’re probably not going to recover during the rest of the event. Any rider has only so many matches to burn during a ride or race – and this effect is multiplied by altitude (meaning, your match book has even fewer up high).
So start at a sustainable pace, don’t blow up on early climbs and keep something in reserve for the last 10 miles!
Good luck on the ride!