Question: Does a person have a finite number of really hard efforts in his athletic career?
I was a competitive swimmer at the age of 10, moved on to weightlifting and then began to ride. Now, in my mid 40s, I find it very difficult to work at the levels that I attained previously. It’s like my body just doesn’t want to train really hard anymore. The mind is willing but the flesh is definitely not. What do you think? — Tim S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: That’s a good question, Tim. I suspect that exercise physiologists would argue that there isn’t a cap on the number of times you can go hard (however “hard” is defined) in your life. They’d probably say that “going hard” repeatedly is a function of rest, recovery and fitness. You have to add psychological factors, including motivation. After all, going hard is, well, hard. If you know you’re about to suffer, you really have to want to suffer!
That said, I think what you’re experiencing is a real phenomenon. Here is my theory:
When we’re young and new to cycling, we have a relatively high max heart rate (thanks to youth) and our lactate thresholds are at a relatively low percentage of max HR. So, we reach our “redline,” the point beyond which exercise feels hard, fairly quickly. We suffer when we try to go a lot harder — but we have maybe 25 beats left to get to max HR. That’s why youngsters can sprint and climb short, anaerobic hills so well.
But as we get older, our max HR drops about one beat per year. If we keep riding, our lactate thresholds edge up until we can ride at 90-93% of max HR before real pain sets in. Because our max is lower, there aren’t many beats between it and LT. In my case, at my age, it’s less than 5 beats. When I try to dig deep, there isn’t any place to go.
You’re younger, so there’s a wider gap, but it’s closing every year and it’s much narrower than when you were a competitive 10-year-old.
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I also believe that another component is psychologically being able to continuously do with a hard efforts. That certainly has affected me as I have aged.
At 73 the question is, do you want to be healthy, or fast?
Kerry Irons says
My experience is that the gap between riding tempo (hard effort but sustainable) and going hard (too hard to sustain) continues to decline. My times for century rides have not dropped that much as I have aged, but my ability to up the pace significantly gets less and less.
Pete Lampley says
I wonder how many maximum efforts each one of us may have in the tank before we begin to close in on real cardiac damage such as a-fib, a flutter, or any of the other cardiac arrhythmias so many older endurance athletes are now experiencing. I wish now I had backed off of much of the intensity I placed on my system through a lifetime of running, triathlons, and hundreds of cycling events. I still ride but with much caution each time I go out.
Isn’t this simply an issue of age? To expect the same level of performance at 68 that we had at 40 just is not realistic. I’m fighting this issue now as I’m working to recover from an illness that caused a loss of muscle tissue. So I’ve got it double. Knowing what I “could do” from what I “can do” now is frustrating but it is what it is so I work with it.
Robert Ray says
Fred’s observation that as we age, the difference between max Heart Rate and Lactate Threshold gets smaller resonates and reflects my own observations at a relatively young 63. I can reach LT and keep it going, but trying to keep up with younger racing sprinters or a break – there’s not much room between the two, and I get dropped. The issue is then, what next.? During races some quit, I put my head down and TT the rest of the ride, and often pass some of those that dropped me, but aren’t prepared for the “long haul”.