My longtime friend John Lee Ellis, age 67, completed his sixth Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) this summer. PBP is a 750-mile (1200 km) continuous ride from the outskirts of Paris to Brest and back, which must be completed in 90 hours or less. The 90 hours includes all stops for rest stops, meals, sleep, mechanicals, etc. Ellis finished in 83 hours 9 minutes. So far he has ridden 22 1200Ks.
In my eBook Anti-Aging Ellis writes, “With the passage of years, other things happen to which you may have to adapt. ‘Graceful degradation’ may not be the most correct phrase. But it’s a way of thinking: You can find new goals in the spirit of what you’ve done a decade or two ago.”
You can control your general preparation, training, equipment, etc., but you can’t control the outcomes of rides, which depend on factors outside your control such as the weather. Your objectives should reflect this. They should be S.M.A.R.T.
The objectives should be phrased in positive terms. For example, “lose two lbs (one kg) every month,” rather than “stop being so fat.” Focusing on a positive future rather than a negative current self-image improves your motivation.
For example, a rider’s objectives for October through December might be to average four hours a week of cycling, 90 minutes a week doing upper body, lower body and core strength exercises and stretching, and cutting calories by 500 / day. The objectives are:
- Specific – exactly which activities
- Measurable – defined amounts of time, calories
- Attainable – based on the rider’s training history and current fitness
- Realistic – given the rider’s work and family life, averaging a total of 5:30 hours a week is realistic
- Time-oriented – October through December
As you age the goal ride may change but it’s still specific and measurable, e.g., instead of riding the Fall Harvest Century you may decide to ride the Fall Harvest 100K.
Fortunately chronological age isn’t the primary determinant of what you can do as the calendar years roll by. Your “Athletic Maturity” is more important. Athletic Maturity is a way of gauging how well you measure up to the health maintenance objectives of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) According to the ACSM, the benefits of regular exercise include “improved cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility and balance. These are important factors in functional ability. In addition, participation in regular exercise can also positively affect pain control, self-confidence and sleep patterns.” Moreover, appropriate regular exercise will help maintain healthy weight and strong bones. Note that the different benefits come from different types of activities, i.e., not just cycling.
The greater your athletic maturity the more you can do now and in the future. You can evaluate yourself on the Athletic Maturity Quiz.
Flexibility With Goals
My long-time friend and client Elizabeth Wicks turned 75 this year. Back in January we agreed on two SMART goals for her:
- In July complete an arduous ride from Albuquerque, NM to Kalispell, MT through the Rocky Mountains, 19 riding days 1,760 miles 80,000′ of climbing.
- In 2019 75 rides of 75 miles or more.
She was riding well until May when she developed crotch problems. She wrote me, “I rode with the debilitating pain starting on May 22, including some long rides, until I couldn’t stand it any longer, June 10. “ She was off the bike until July 22, and missed the Rocky Mountains tour. Last week she rode her 32nd 75-mile ride. To reach her goal of 75 rides of 75 miles she would have to average about two rides a week of 75 miles by the end of the year. Wicks wrote, “I’ve been having so much fun riding these days!! I won’t make my goal of doing 75 75-milers, but just may do 7500 miles for the year. I have to do just under 200 miles a week till the end of the year.”
Wicks’ two goals were SMART and she didn’t reach them because of a factor outside here control. I’ve known her for 16 years and she would have reached her goals except for the injury. She was smart and changed her goal.
I’m coaching Wicks again this year and will write future columns about her.
Adapt When Necessary
I had breakfast last week with my friend Don. Don and I went through rock climbing school together and then taught climbing. Don was very fit and loved rock climbing, hiking, ice climbing and snowshoeing. He has two new knees and can’t do those activities any more. At breakfast he said, “I bought a bike but I cheated – it’s an ebike.”
I told him that he didn’t cheat – he adapted. In my 40s I had double chain rings with a racing cassette. In my 50s I put on a long-arm derailleur and an MTB cassette. In my 60s I put on triple chain rings. At some point I’ll get an ebike. And when I move the to retirement home I’ll get a trike with a basket so I can ride to the grocery store.
Use my column on the Athletic Maturity Quiz to gauge your athletic maturity on nine factors.
My column Improving Your Athletic Maturity describes five ways that you can improve your athletic maturity starting this fall.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond.
It includes columns by Ellis, Wicks, Jim Langley, Fred Matheny, Gabe Mirkin and seven other older riders.
The book explains how to get the most benefit from your endurance rides. It has sample training plans to increase your annual riding miles and to build up to 25-, 50-, 100- and 200-mile rides. It explains why both endurance and intensity training are important. It describes the pros and cons of gauging intensity using rate of perceived exertion, heart rate and power. It includes how to do intensity exercise and different intensity workouts. It integrates endurance and intensity training into an annual plan for optimal results.
Anti-Aging describes the importance of strength training and includes 28 exercises for lower body, upper body and core strength illustrated with photos. It includes an annual plan to integrate strength training with endurance and intensity training. It also has 14 stretches illustrated with photos.
Anti-Aging includes an annual plan to put together all six of the aspects of aging well: cardiorespiratory exercise, intensity training, strength workouts, weight-bearing exercise, stretching and balance. The book concludes with a chapter on motivation.
Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook is $15.95 ($13.57 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
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 over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
Bob Spencer says
This is a good article. I appreciate that you show how to make objectives. That skill applies to many parts of life in addition to bike riding, but many people do not understand how to make an objective. Some people do not want to be tied to an objective, but prefer “continuous improvement”. Either way, it’s important to be able to specifically evaluate how you are progressing.
Personally, I’m like an old cow. I like to repeatedly ride the same route. That way, I can measure differences such as my heart rate going up the same hill. I also find that other activities affect my riding. I can measure how diet differences produce different riding abilities. Recently, I’ve discovered that after digging long rows of potatoes, my heart rate going up the same two hills has decreased significantly. I never achieved that much improvement from just riding. I have also discovered that using multiple hills can be the same as hiit and doing that improves my overall times.
It’s a good feeling to see a measurable difference from one day to the next.
While well meant this article still subscribes to the self- fulfilling stereotype that your performance must necessarily degrade as you get older.
Personally I refuse to accept this. I know that in the long run I may be wrong but in the meantime I am having a lot of fun and feeling great by proving otherwise.
My life was transformed in 2006 when I discovered power training and a friend showed me the mean max power (MMP) curve in WKO3
We were both in our late 40s and he said his annual goal was simple> The current year plot should equal or exceed the best for previous years. Ever since then that has been my overriding motivation. Training and competing are just means to the end of achieving a year on year MMP improvement. (Technology now helps with this, my Garmin shows MMP realtime vs best, with colour coding to show a new PB, seeing this colour on a ride is my biggest reward)
This goal is perfect in terms of the SM and T aspects that you refer. Where we differ is that you and most others just assume that the A and R are impossible.
Well that was 13 years ago and this year I am 60. Thus far I have hit my goal, not 100% true but every year I’ve moved a large portion of my MMP upwards. This year I’ve already hit new bests for sub 60s, 2-3 minutes and 3-4 hours and there is still plenty of time left before next April to do more.
Further the absolute numbers are pretty respectable, Right now my FTP is [email protected] so a W/kg of 4.8 and VO2 is 69. I don’t need to take contrived tests like “Athletic Maturity” to say how I am doing, these numbers speak for themselves as does my position in events and strava compared to others half my age.
FWIW my advice on how to stay fit when getting older is
First and foremost an attitude of mind. If you believe you will lose fitness you will lose fitness. If you believe you can get better you will get better or, at worst, are more likely to maintain fitness.
Second. Train smarter. Professional cycling is demonstrating how the intelligent appliance of science can lead to performance that equals or outstrips that achieved by drugs cheats like Armstrong and Landis. The amateur can benefit in exactly the same way. I ascribe much of my success to the fact I was an early adopter of power based training and have a keen interest in staying up to date with what the best pro teams are doing and seeing if it works for me.
Third: Focus on mobility. After discovering MMP curves the second biggest transformational moment in my life as an athlete was discovering the work of Kelly Starrett. Following a daily regime of his mobility workouts has made me feel years younger. One key benefit when it comes to cycling is that I can absorb, recover and benefit from increased workload and maintain riding positions that are both more efficient and aerodynamic.
(Sorry but also I hate the fact a common piece of advice to people who get older is to do longer and longer events like the PBP. These really are not tests of physical endurance. If you can ride 100miles then your body can ride 1200km. Rather they are tests of mind and the capacity to do without sleep. I speak from experience, I have done 2 LELs which are 200km longer than the PBP and run over much harder terrain and worse weather conditions.. Both were tough but in wattage terms they were just very long rides at recovery pace)
Kerry Irons says
I know this comment is more than a year old, but having my 60th birthday WAY in the rear view mirror, I can tell Martin that he can fight it all he wants but the age related decline he thinks he can deny is still going to happen. For me, it became more noticeable after age 65. While I still ride a lot and my overall times for long rides haven’t declined that much, I know beyond doubt that I am losing a step. I describe it as “losing headroom.” I can ride the same steady pace I always have (or close to it) when the pace jumps I don’t have the ability to jump like I used to. I’m 71 and a long way from wanting an ebike but I know that the decline is here.