Train­ing and rac­ing to suit your age

Older rac­ers come in many dif­fer­ent vin­tages and types — with widely vary­ing goals and train­ing needs. Masters coach Tom Daly identifies four vet­eran racer archetypes and de­vises fo­cused guide­lines for each

Cycling Weekly - - WELCOME -

It’s com­monly as­sumed that as we age our per­for­mance wanes and we grow less com­pet­i­tive. Not so! More and more riders are recog­nis­ing that it’s nei­ther ec­cen­tric nor il­lad­vised to re­main a racer decades af­ter our prime years have passed. Train­ing for op­ti­mum per­for­mance should, of course, be ad­justed to suit your age. The dif­fi­culty is, there is no one-size-fits-all ad­vice: older riders are an es­pe­cially di­verse bunch, with a huge range of life­styles, sport­ing back­grounds, goals, and states of health and fit­ness. The first ques­tion to ask your­self is, what kind of older rider are you?

As a coach spe­cial­is­ing in max­imis­ing the per­for­mance of vet­eran riders (www., I am es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in hu­man sto­ries — ev­ery en­quiry that comes my way has hopes and am­bi­tions at­tached. It’s my job to find their best path­way to­wards bet­ter per­for­mance.

To il­lus­trate the di­ver­sity among older riders, I have de­picted be­low four masters cat­e­gory archetypes — the main dif­fer­ent types of older rider. Draw­ing on case stud­ies — four CW read­ers — I’ll show how the route to peak per­for­mance de­pends on each in­di­vid­ual’s unique set of traits and mo­ti­va­tions. Of course, no rider fits a sin­gle ‘type’ per­fectly — but we do have key themes in com­mon. Let’s meet our will­ing par­tic­i­pants and see what we can learn from them.

1 The Old dog

Ev­ery­one knows an ‘old dog’: the type of rider who has been rid­ing for years and is de­ter­mined to stick to the same old­school meth­ods. They spin the small ring till spring and then gain form by train­ing and rac­ing hard — all the time. The old dog’s main mea­sure of com­mit­ment is hours in the sad­dle per week and miles per year — as many as pos­si­ble.

As the old dog be­gins to de­cline with age, they fi­nally face the prospect of be­ing ‘over the hill’. Some want to stay in the game and won­der if it is time to learn new tricks and get to grips with ‘modern meth­ods’. Con­trary to the proverb, they can be taught new tricks.

ALAN Dun­lea, 44, is A tool­maker from Co. Clare, ire­land

I’m not a typ­i­cal old dog, as I’ve only been cy­cling for four years, but I iden­tify mostly with this type, as I go hard and fast for as long as I can with­out any con­ces­sion to my age.

I used to smoke and play golf un­til a buddy per­suaded me to go for a spin, and I quickly fell down the cy­cling rab­bit hole. I started ca­su­ally rid­ing with my wife and friends, pro­gressed to get­ting ham­mered in club rides, and then to be­ing dropped in fourth-cat races. I spent ev­ery night dur­ing the next win­ter kick­ing my­self up and down hills and fall­ing in the door cramp­ing up. I started get­ting points the fol­low­ing sea­son — my best re­sult was third in a stage of a three-day, and I was up­graded to third-cat.

My only strat­egy is to suf­fer. In a break, I’ll be the id­iot do­ing the turn the other guy missed, and it’s a club joke that I’m the don­key for hire in the bunch. My short-term aim is to get up­graded to sec­ond-cat; in the longer term, to win an M50 Na­tional Cham­pi­onship. I’d also love to win at least one race.

Coach’s com­ment

With age­ing be­gin­ning to bite at 44, Alan’s rapid pro­gres­sion will slow. If he con­tin­ues in his cur­rent mind­set, the point will come when he starts go­ing back­wards — sooner than nec­es­sary. If he is se­ri­ous about achiev­ing a race win, he needs to get coach­ing ad­vice and train with more struc­ture and speci­ficity ap­pro­pri­ate to his age. Sim­i­larly, in rac­ing, he needs to act less on im­pulse and more on in­tel­li­gence — to take more shel­ter and then make his ef­forts re­ally count at key mo­ments. If you iden­tify with Alan, con­sider do­ing the fol­low­ing:

Un­der­take a strength train­ing pro­gramme, work­ing on and off the bike to pre­serve de­clin­ing mus­cle mass and de­velop sprint-spe­cific strength.

Re­duce vol­ume, and en­sure your re­cov­ery is age-ap­pro­pri­ate, al­low­ing you to hit the num­bers in ev­ery key work­out. Ta­per prop­erly for tar­geted events. Race strate­gi­cally, tak­ing as much cover as pos­si­ble from other riders to pre­serve your­self for the sprint.

Train­ing and rac­ing to a plan may di­min­ish your sense of spon­tane­ity and fun but will in­crease your chances of strong re­sults — it’s your choice!

2 The New­bie

The typ­i­cal new­bie masters rider has a back­ground in sport that was dis­rupted by the de­mands of a so­cial life, ca­reer, grow­ing fam­ily, or in­jury. They were drawn into cy­cling and quickly fell in love with it but soon wanted to get faster, of­ten as­pir­ing to hang on to the front group.

The new­bie be­gins to tar­get events: a cen­tury or a trip to the Alps, ea­ger to im­prove by leaps and bounds. Mean­while, they feel bom­barded by con­flict­ing and con­fus­ing ad­vice from friends, mag­a­zines and the in­ter­net, end­ing up feel­ing help­less: “A mate told me I’d save 20 watts per tyre if I changed from brand A to brand B.” They seek a clear, struc­tured path­way to get­ting faster in the lim­ited time avail­able.

AMANDA karls­son, 50, is A po­lice of­fi­cer from Glouces­ter­shire

I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered my­self sporty and com­peted at se­nior county level in squash and hockey. Later, I cir­cuit-trained and ran un­til back surgery put a stop to it. So I bought a sec­ond-hand bike in 2014 and joined a women’s cy­cling club to keep fit. I

grad­u­ally gained in con­fi­dence and mileage and, af­ter com­plet­ing Ride Lon­don in 2016, I de­cided to try rac­ing.

I’m com­pet­i­tive and, turn­ing 50, keen to test my­self against oth­ers. I bought a race bike and got a coach but was still lapped four times in my first event at Shrews­bury cir­cuit in 2017. I was dis­ap­pointed and lamented the poor avail­abil­ity of fe­male masters rac­ing. Even so, I per­se­vered and tried fourth-cat. Even­tu­ally, I stopped be­ing dropped and even­tu­ally won points and got up­graded.

Win­ter train­ing on the turbo last year seemed re­lent­less, and a col­league sug­gested I try New­port Velo­drome. Ev­ery­thing was new and scary: gate-starts, sprint tac­tics and 42-de­gree bank­ing. But the thrill and the chal­lenge was ad­dic­tive. I switched to a track coach, in­vested in a bike and all the kit, and did the Bri­tish Cy­cling Na­tional Masters Track Cham­pi­onships in June, which I re­ally en­joyed. Now I’ve de­cided to fo­cus on prepa­ra­tion for the World Masters Track Cham­pi­onship in Manch­ester in Oc­to­ber 2019. I’d love to give it that one good shot, and I want to stay track rac­ing into my 60s and be com­pet­i­tive at na­tional level.

Coach’s com­ment

Amanda’s en­try into com­pet­i­tive cy­cling is sim­i­lar to that of many masters riders who take up cy­cling for fit­ness for other sports, or to re­cover from in­jury, and quickly fall in love with it. Amanda’s te­nac­ity is an ex­am­ple to oth­ers seek­ing to im­prove per­for­mance: if you want to move to the next level you have to be pre­pared to take a kick­ing, move on and learn from it.

If you iden­tify with Amanda, con­sider do­ing the fol­low­ing:

Ex­plore dif­fer­ent as­pects of cy­cling to dis­cover what en­thuses you most.

Use dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mances to pos­i­tively re-eval­u­ate your di­rec­tion and make progress.

Seek the com­pany of ex­pe­ri­enced, sen­si­ble riders to men­tor you.

“A col­league sug­gested New­port Velo­drome. It was ad­dic­tive”

Find a sup­port­ive coach who re­spects your masters as­pi­ra­tions, to struc­ture your train­ing.

Re­mem­ber, it takes a num­ber of years for a new­bie older rider’s body to be­come fully con­di­tioned — iden­tify a long-term goal, plan well in ad­vance and work strate­gi­cally to­wards it.

3 The Type-a

The typ­i­cal Type-a rider is ac­com­plished, re­fuses to set­tle for medi­ocrity and is in a hurry. They set am­bi­tious goals, of­ten tar­get­ing high-pro­file ‘bucket-list’ events. This type of rider is con­fi­dent and ap­plies tar­get-fo­cused, strate­gic ap­proaches, of­ten in­vest­ing heav­ily in coach­ing, aero fi­ness­ing and equip­ment. Many are high­achiev­ers in their work life, and work­ing me­thod­i­cally to­wards a goal, through a struc­tured plan, comes nat­u­rally to them. They are easy to coach once they buy into the strat­egy and com­mu­ni­cate well, ask­ing per­ti­nent ques­tions and giv­ing good feed­back. How­ever, if rel­a­tively new to the sport, they can be vul­ner­a­ble to in­jury from be­ing in too much of a hurry and not giv­ing their bod­ies time to adapt.

Paul Davies, 43, is a fi­nan­cial ad­viser AND an­a­lyst from the Peak District

Sport has al­ways been im­por­tant to me. I’ve clocked up three black belts in mar­tial arts, won an Amer­i­can foot­ball schol­ar­ship, raced Xterra [off-road triathlon] to World Cham­pi­onship level and achieved top-10 in Na­tional Masters Cy­clo-cross and top-15 in MTB Marathon — among other things.

My work is de­mand­ing but I can make space for 15-20 hours train­ing a week when needed. My last big event was the Wines2whales three-day mtb race in South Africa in 2016. I came 12th out of 650 starters, in spite of lots of me­chan­i­cals and badly in­ter­rupted train­ing from arthri­tis. I’ve been ham­pered by joint in­juries from my younger years, which came to a head in 2017 when I had to have both hips re-sur­faced, a spe­cial­ist pro­ce­dure. It was a dark time for me but my re­hab goal was to go back to the Wines2whales in Novem­ber 2018, which I did, fin­ish­ing 10th in the vets cat­e­gory and 45th over­all out of a field of 604 rac­ers. I was happy with that af­ter 9.5 hours of rac­ing.

I’m very tar­get-driven and worked with highly ex­pe­ri­enced physio and re­hab spe­cial­ists, build­ing my form grad­u­ally. I used Manch­ester Velo­drome for very spe­cific work­outs. My 20-minute power came back to around 400 watts. Work­ing with a lead­ing sports psy­chol­o­gist was very help­ful — I got back to a happy place, rid­ing my bike and aim­ing to com­pete at the top level.

Coach’s com­ment

Many Type-a riders dis­cover cy­cling in their masters years and, like Paul, quickly be­come very fo­cused and am­bi­tious. Paul is es­pe­cially high-achiev­ing; many oth­ers take on very tough sportive-type events such as the Ma­jorca 312 Gran Fondo or the Mar­motte. Type-as who are over-60s typ­i­cally have to work around some med­i­cal or biome­chan­i­cal is­sues.

“Type-a riders set am­bi­tious goals, tar­get­ing high-pro­file events”

If you iden­tify with Paul, con­sider do­ing the fol­low­ing:

If you are rel­a­tively new to cy­cling, learn how to avoid hurt­ing your­self — your body may be rel­a­tively un­con­di­tioned. In­cor­po­rate the nec­es­sary ‘scaf­fold­ing’ into your plan: strength, flex­i­bil­ity, bike-fit, and weight man­age­ment.

Be re­al­is­tic about your sched­ule. Can you re­ally man­age 15 hours of train­ing? Work with a coach to build an op­ti­mised pro­gramme, planned around your work and life de­mands.

Along with the phys­i­o­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, re­fine your nutri­tion and pac­ing strate­gies — this is crit­i­cal for less ex­pe­ri­enced riders tak­ing on long, de­mand­ing events.

4 The Now-or-never

Now-or-never riders have un­til now never fully com­mit­ted to their sport, and have been left with a nag­ging ques­tion: ‘what if?’ There are myr­iad rea­sons for hav­ing left it so long: ca­reer, fam­ily, or per­haps just lack of ap­pli­ca­tion. Some are plagued by feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy and self-doubt, fear­ful of not match­ing up to their own or oth­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions and feel­ing like a fail­ure.

The re­al­i­sa­tion hits: it’s now or never. They want to give it one last go and make an all-out at­tempt to be­come a ‘proper ath­lete’ and fi­nally see how far they can get.

Al­i­son salt­house, 59, is A civil ser­vant from shropshire

I had my first now-or-never mo­ment aged 53, when my dad died; I re­mem­bered that he’d had a stroke aged 50. I bought a hy­brid bike to get in shape, but was shocked when I found my­self out of breath af­ter half a mile.

I found a group of so­cial cy­clists and met a guy who took me out for three-, then five-, then 10-mile rides. I en­tered my first sportive — 13 miles — and that was the real be­gin­ning. I pro­gressed to do­ing some big sportives and tried moun­tain bik­ing and BMX. I had al­ways dreamed of be­ing good at some­thing sporty, so I tried a crit but got lapped by girls young enough to be my daugh­ters.

In 2015 I dis­cov­ered the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of track cy­cling, which trig­gered my sec­ond now-or-never mo­ment. I had found my sport and re­alised I could have one last chance of be­ing a com­pet­i­tive sportsper­son. I ini­tially found it hard to get a coach — many seemed put off by my age and lack of a sport­ing back­ground.

It has been an up­hill strug­gle but I per­se­vered and now have a coach who be­lieves in me. I am faster, thin­ner and stronger. This year I com­peted in the LVRC Na­tional Track Cham­pi­onships and came fourth in the 500TT and Match Sprint. I be­gan to be­lieve I can achieve.

Next year I am aim­ing to podium in the 60-64 group at the World Masters Track Cham­pi­onships to cel­e­brate my 60th! It’s been hard, of course, but for the first time in my life I love telling peo­ple my age and am look­ing for­ward to be­ing that year older and in an­other Masters cat­e­gory.

Coach’s com­ment

Al­i­son is a text­book ex­am­ple of how a now-or-never cy­clist can even­tu­ally live the dream. She started grad­u­ally, ex­plored var­i­ous as­pects of the sport and dis­cov­ered which dis­ci­pline en­thused her the most. Next, she found ex­pert guid­ance and then set clear goals. It is still early days for Al­i­son but, by avoid­ing in­jury or ill-health, she can look for­ward to steady im­prove­ment and chas­ing world-class dreams into the 60-64 cat­e­gory and be­yond.

If you iden­tify with Al­i­son, con­sider do­ing the fol­low­ing:

Un­der­take weight train­ing to re­build the strength crit­i­cal for your tar­get event and which may have been di­min­ished by decades of in­ac­tiv­ity.

Train specif­i­cally for your tar­get event, e.g. high-cadence speed in­ter­vals.

Pri­ori­tise your weak­nesses, such as stand­ing starts.

Ad­just the load-re­cov­ery cy­cle in a way ap­pro­pri­ate for your age and the in­ten­sity of your train­ing.

Karls­son‘s found her métier in track rac­ing

‘Type A’ Davies over­came in­jury to per­form at a high level

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