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.


  1. Congrats on finding randonneuring, and completing your first 200km! on a vintage bike, nonetheless.

    yes, the longer riding you do, it is nice to change it up and sometimes take a break. 200k is a stretch when you first start getting into distance riding. You have read the primers on it, and some people are different, but proven systems like building and tapering work.

    I personally don't put more weekly miles in that what the actual ride is, but that is me. I am fearful of 'burning out' from riding too much, so I try and make the riding I do count the most. intervals and hills, after my body has become acclimated with riding for hours on end. I don;t know what the terrain is like for you for your brevettes but training on hills, even when I am out of shape and sick will make the brevette seem easier. And 40miles of hill training is probably equivalent to 80 miles of flat terrain. it works your whole body.

    but that is just things I have picked up. I am by no means fast or great, I also experience the suffering of long rides. and I have even abandoned some.

  2. Thanks for the comment, bikeville! I'm afraid I need to clarify a point, I did the 200K on a modern Surly Crosscheck, not the Bianchi. I did recently take the Bianchi out on a 90 mile training ride, however. At the moment, it is equipped with modern clincher wheels (built for a 5 speed cluster) and clipless pedals, but I am restoring the original wheels and will at least periodically ride it in its original state. Thanks for the training suggestions. Houston, where I train, is flat, flat, flat. The brevet was rolling hills. Finding hills to train on is a continuing struggle.