Saturday, May 26, 2012

Training for the Elderly Gentleman

Even though I never had a regular exercise routine, I found that, through my 40s, I was always able to get into shape fairly quickly when I needed to.  When my 50's rolled around, it took much longer than it used to to get into shape and worse, something I had never experienced before started happening.  As I exercised, I improved for a while, but then started getting worse, and the harder I tried, the worse I got.  I did some research and discovered I was suffering from over-training.  In addition, my weight was creeping up.  I would try various diets, some with good effect, but like so many others have found, as soon as the diet was over, all the weight would come back with an extra 5 or 10 pounds as a bonus, and none of my exercise seemed to help control my weight at all. And so, in 2008, I restarted cycling after almost 30 years away from the bike.  I focused on riding regularly and slowly to avoid over-training, gradually increasing mileage with no particular plan in mind.  For the first few months, I averaged two rides a week, with with the longest rides being 28 miles.  By 2010 my rides had edged up to 38 miles and I found I had lost 20 pounds, taking me from "obese" on the National Institutes of Health's BMI calculator to merely "overweight" and more importantly, this 20 pounds seems to be staying off.

Zombie Cyclist three months after restarting cycling
I started reading, looking for a challenge to inspire me to increase my riding, and randonneuring promised a combination of camaraderie over competition, endurance over speed, and an emphasis on self reliance that I found appealing and I planned a training program to prepare me to riding a 200 km brevet.  My initial training was too ambitious; I found that the gap between a 38 mile ride and a 50 mile ride is, in fact, very significant for a man in his 60s.  So I researched training programs, found that I should be keeping mileage increases to a maximum of 10% a week, working up to a training ride of about 90 miles to be able to complete a 200 km (124 mile) ride.  I restarted training at the 38 miles I had been riding routinely and increased it by 10% a week to to 41, then 46, then 50 miles.  At that point, I decided I would like to ride in a 200 km brevet that was being held 6 weeks in the future.  I projected my 10% increases forward and found that I came up short on miles.  So, despite a fear of over-training, I risked two 20% weekly increases to 61 and 74 miles so that the remaining increases to 90 miles could all be limited to 10%.  This plan worked; I was able to complete my 200 km qualifier.

Zombie Cyclist at the arrivée of his first 200 km brevet
What didn't expect is that I am still suffering the symptoms of over-training weeks after that ride.  My training research suggests that this is normal, that I need to take a break, not no cycling, but easier cycling, to recover from the ride.  I will let you know how it goes.

Everyone is different, of course, and we are each different people at the different times in our lives.  In my research, I read many stories of cyclists who "never train" but ride 1200 km brevets with ease.  I think I might have been one of those people, even into my 40s.  However, I am not now one of those people, and you might not be either.  I hope some of the things I found in my experimentation will encourage you to find something as enjoyable and as effective for you as this return to cycling has been for me.

Books I have read:

"The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling" by Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. and Ed Pravelka.  Although I looked at a large number of training programs, they all were fairly similar, and I ended up building mine based on those in this book.

My training schedule:

 2/12 383876
 2/19 2017314117126
 2/26 463783
 3/4 192241
 3/11 2781752
 3/18 20502898
 3/25 8176182138153
 4/1 742094
 4/8 202482838172
 4/15 20171790838190
 4/22 171790836168
 4/29 17201717126197

This schedule is somewhat irregular in order to accommodate life. I divide the speed of the rides into three color-coded groups. Those rides colored yellow represent my weekly long ride, the ride whose mileage I tried to increase each week.  I ride this long ride "at pace", which is the fastest I can ride comfortably and indefinitely.  Currently, pace is  a 14 to 15 mph average speed as calculated  by my bicycle computer.  Those mileages colored blue were also ridden at pace. Those mileages colored green were ridden slower than pace, typically 11 or 12 mph. Those mileages colored red were ridden as fast as I could go either 1 minute intervals at 20 mph or 17 mph for an hour.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


 In 1961, four Junior High School kids in Modesto, California purchased newly popular 10-speed bikes, began riding together, and formed a bicycle club named The Modesto Roadmen.  I was one of those kids and rode with the Roadmen through High School.  We rode, we toured, we raced in Amateur Bicycle League of America-sanctioned races, and we acquired new members.  A hundred or so miles through the Sierra Nevada foothills was the usual weekend ride and once a year we would do a week long tour of the mountain passes over these same mountains.

Modesto Roadmen, 1966
When I left Modesto to go to college, I joined the Berkeley Wheelmen and continued racing.  When I started Graduate School, my biking decreased dramatically and became much more erratic, though I did manage a ride from Boston, Massachusetts to Montreal, Quebec to visit my then girlfriend, now wife of 37 years.  As my career advanced, my bicycling decreased, until, by 1980, it was virtually non-existent.  In 2008, 60 pounds heavier with high blood pressure and the fitness of a couch potato, determined to remove the barriers that were keeping me from riding, I took my 60's era Bianchi Specialissima out of the garage and into one of the fine local bike shops in Houston, Texas and had them overhaul it at a cost roughly four times what it had originally cost.  The bike shop assured me that the restoration was worth every penny, that I had a valuable antique, the envy of the cycling community.

My Bianchi, 2008

I rode my bike home from the bike shop, a distance of 5 miles, and arrived home covered in sweat and with aching legs.  However, both my enthusiasm and curiosity had been aroused and I kept riding and reading, trying to figure out what had happened to this sport I had loved and how I could rejoin it.  As I learned about contemporary cycling, I purchased a new bicycle, a Surly Crosscheck, discovered the sport of randonneering, and in 2012, less than four years later, I completed a 200 kilometer brevet ride.  Thus the title of this blog; the cyclist who returns from the dead, the zombie cyclist.

I was inspired to write this blog to organize and preserve my thoughts and experiences in this part of my life, to document my view of modern cycling from a 40 year vantage point, and to record my experience of a man in his 60's trying to regain enough fitness to return to active cycling.  I will post to this blog once a week.