Your excellent article on Pez today is about a subject very close to my heart. The reason being that next year I hit the terrible ‘six oh’. As you may know Joe Friel wrote an excellent book entitled “Cycling past 50′. He has the same opinions as yourself in that physically we are all capable of maintaining high athletic performance into very old age.
For 27 years or so I stopped all cycling and in fact any regular athletic sport while I toiled away at a high stress corporate job with extensive international business travel. I was appalled one day when I suddenly realized that I was about to turn fifty. So I decided to ‘get a grip’ of myself and get back on my bike. My motto ‘flying through fifty’. It was about that time that I dug the bike out and then had a major wake up call. My first ten mile ride nearly killed me but I stuck with it. Then I found the CCB, joined their club rides and got dropped on every ride. A former Cat1 and ‘Belgian-pro’ rider absolutely wasted – the former cycling me had disappeared.
Now about ten years later I race and train regularly. I can usually hang in with our elite riders on even the very fastest evening training bashes, and long distance rides are not a problem. Today I would say that there are two major challenges for the older rider. The first you touched on at the end of your article and that is rest. I find that I can now put in some very serious efforts while training or racing. As a young lad I would be able to get out and do the same the following day. Not now. If we do a serious race simulation training on Tuesday evening then on Wednesday I will be able to hang on to the paceline for a while but it will not be too long before the legs scream to stop. So rest is of paramount importance. The challenge is that I still do not have the idea rest formula. Do I not ride for a couple of days, do I go for easy spins, do I need to take naps or sleep longer at night? Identifying the appropriate rest model is very difficult.
The second major challenge for the older rider is mental acceptance of age and extreme physical activity. Speaking for myself I usually want to pack it all in at least once per month! It’s too hard; getting up early for races is just too unpleasant; 99% of other guys my age don’t do this (they are starting to take life gently); going out and getting wet and/or cold is too unpleasant; the family thinks that I am weird and you cannot party, drink or stay up late!! In other words all sorts of negative thoughts flow through your head. When you are out, and especially on challenging rides, it takes a lot of will power to really suffer. The natural inclination (for me) is to think that I did all this as a young man so why go through it again? So pushing myself to extremes is an incredibly tough mental challenge.
Graham (2nd from left) with fellow members of the CCB Super-G (super-geriatric >55) squad
Having discussed the bad stuff one then wonders why we do it. For me it is a question of objectives. No longer do I aspire to ride world class races. My goals are to be fit, lean and capable of matching most riders no matter what age. When you get it all together there is nothing better than being out on the open road and being in control of your riding experience. Hills, sprints, long intense paceline rides – no problem. One may be getting older but the body is a magical thing. Look after it, train it and the years really do melt away. Just avoid looking in the mirror and seeing that wizen face stare back beneath a rapidly receding hairline!
When my father was my age he was a couch potato. In contrast I will be riding up the Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez, etc. and clocking up a great many miles this year.
In your article you talked of the lack of research into aging and the attendant challenges of doing such research. Maybe one way to at least initiate such research would be to survey people like my self to find out what experiences, challenges and rewards they encounter. I would love to know how other 50+, 55+ 60+, etc. cyclists deal with the march of time. If nothing else it would help us all realize that the challenges related to continued extreme physical exercise are shared by us all.
Thanks to Graham and check out the CCB’s great club website at
www.ccbracing.com. Got any experiences you’d like to share about how cycling has changed or not changed for you through the years? Send them to Stephen Cheung at firstname.lastname@example.org!