1. Experiment of one
We’re each an experiment of one, i.e., your training should reflect your personal goals, riding history, current fitness, weekly and monthly schedules, etc. – not a cookie cutter program you’ve read some where. I’m recommending these training rules in response to a reader’s question. You can adapt these rules for your own training.
Karen writes, “I just turned 67 and would like to do a half century (or longer?). I am not a heavy-duty cyclist, but I love challenging myself. I’m about 5’ 5” and 105 lbs. (Little, but I like to think strong!?) The ride is the Door County Century on September 12, 2021. The ride is mainly rolling hills and flat. There is one STEEP climb right after the first rest stop. I walked it along with many others. A rider told me that year that if I did the 75-mile route I would not have to climb that hill. Tempting. I did the 50 in 2018 with a friend in 4.5 hours with the three rest stops. I hope to do it again this year by myself.
2. Have a goal
You’ll train more effectively and will ride better if you have a specific goal instead of just riding. Your goal can be specific like Karen’s or more general like getting fitter. I wrote this column on 7 Keys to Effective Goal Setting.
Karen: “I started riding in 2008. That year I bought a hybrid, but traded it in for a road bike in 2009 and never looked back! I love my bike; a Cannondale Synapse. Last year from April through December I rode 827 miles. In November and December I was on my indoor stationary bike. I have been off the bike this winter due to some hip flexor issues, but PT is helping and I just started riding again this week for 20 minutes three times a week. I also re-started walking about 45 minutes three times a week.”
For any older rider exercising consistently year-round is the most important component of effective training. Karen, you were off the bike because of an injury. Now that you’re back you should continue ride or walk six days a week.
Karen: “My issue is a combination pudendal nerve and hip flexor; most likely tied together I plan to take my bike in this weekend to get a new seat and bike fit. Hopefully that will help!”
4. Get a bike fit
For any older rider a good bike fit is important because your body changes over time. A current fit will reduce discomfort on the bike and reduce the risk of potential injuries. A good fit will also improve your power and speed without training any more or harder!
Karen: “Being on my bike is truly my “happy place”, but I noticed last year that my stamina is just not as good, and I don’t recover from rides as well. Would you be able to give me some training tips?
5. Vary purpose by time of year
Instead of just riding more miles every month you’ll get fitter if you ride different kinds of miles at different times. In Karen’s case:
- Now to May – regain some cycling fitness by riding most days with a goal of riding for about an hour.
- May to July – build your endurance base by ramping up the miles. As a rule of thumb you should ramp up to 2/3 to 3/4 the distance of your event, i.e., about 35 to 40 miles for the 50 miler (or 50 to 55 miles for the 75 miler). Depending on how you’re riding in May and June you can decide whether to do the 50 or the 75.
- August – peak for the ride by doing several 35- to 40-mile rides (50- to 55-mile rides) practicing pacing and testing your nutrition.
- September – cut back on your riding so you’re fresh for the 50-or 75-miler
6. Ramp up the miles appropriately
Here are three rules of thumb:
- Week to week increase weekly volume by 5-15%.
- Month to month increase monthly volume by 10-25%.
- Year to year increase annual volume by 10-25%
Newer riders should stick to the lower percentages. Riders with lots of miles in your legs can use the upper percentages. For Karen because of your years of riding you probably can increase your miles in the middle of each range.
7. Vary the intensity
Different types of rides produce different results.
- Long conversational rides increase endurance.
- Brisk (but not hard) rides increase cruising speed.
- Slow rides (so slow you’re almost embarrassed to be on the bike) improve recovery so you ride more effectively.
I wrote this column on Why Increasing Intensity Is Good for All Roadies
8. Beware of overtraining
As you increase your riding be careful not to overdo it. Avoiding overtraining is much easier than recovering from too many miles. These are the two key symptoms of overtraining:
- Your performance falls off. If you aren’t riding as well this actually means you’ve been doing too much, not that you need to do more.
- Riding isn’t your happy place and you don’t want to train.
In addition to following the ramping rules here are ways to avoid overtraining:
9. Vary the difficulty of weeks
In general every other week should be progressively more challenging with more or harder miles and the alternate weeks not quite as hard.
10. No garbage miles
Riding more and more miles won’t necessarily make you better. Have a purpose for each ride.
11. Three or more recovery days a week
You only get fitter when you allow your body to recover. You still need to ride consistently but two or three of the rides should be easy active recovery rides and take one or two days a week off the bike. I wrote this column on 9 Recovery Tips for Older Riders. I’ve also written an eBook Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance.
12. Take rest weeks
Similarly every two or three months take just a week off the bike except for a few recovery rides.
Karen: “I need fueling and diet ideas too.”
13. Eat to ride
You don’t want your fuel tank to run dry so you need to eat a couple of hundred calories every hour I wrote these columns on What Should a Beginning Rider Eat and Drink pt. 1 and What Should a Beginning Rider Eat and Drink pt. 2. I’ve written an eBook Nutrition for 100K and Beyond. Sports drinks, bars and gels are no better than real food. The pros eat plenty of real food during races. In this eBook I describe what the pros eat and how to make your own riding nutrition Eating and Drinking Like the Pros. Homemade nutrition is tastier and cheaper than commercial products.
Karen: “Last time I had someone to train and do the ride with, this year I don’t. I worry about going out for long rides by myself, even though I want to. I don’t know if that’s being realistic or foolish. I have a friend my age, who went over her handlebars and broke her jaw and wrist. So, there’s that.”
14. Overcome self-limitations
Anxiety about a potential accident is quite understandable as is worrying about long rides. Especially as one get’s older a rider can improve more by investing an hour in mental practice than another hour on the bike. I’ve written a series of columns you might find helpful.
- Learning to Focus
- The Importance of Progressive Relaxation
- Learning from Our Mistakes
- Improving Performance Through Positive Thinking
- Why You Need a Training Plan … Or Don’t You?
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes chapters on how to meet the ACSM’s recommendations on aerobic, high intensity aerobic, strength training, weight-bearing exercises, balance and flexibility. I include sample weeks and months for different amounts of exercise. I give you plans to build up to 100 km and 100 mile rides. I include a plan to increase over two years your annual riding from around 4,000 miles (6,500 km) to over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) a year. You can easily modify the plan for different annual amounts of riding.
I discuss the importance of recovery and how to gauge if you are getting enough recovery. I combine the different kinds of training into programs balancing training and recovery. The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
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.