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.