I’m actually 73 but I feel like I’m 50 again!
Sitting in my office I see my training journals going back to 1973 I feel morose about how much fitness I’ve lost due to aging.
I won three qualifiers for the Race Across America (RAAM) and finished solo RAAM from San Diego, CA non-stop to Savannah, GA, in 11 days 15 hours. I rode seven 1200K (750-mile) randonnées under the 90-hour cut-off. I finished the Leadville, CO 100- mile mountain bike race from Leadville (10,151 ft.) to Hope pass (12,508 ft.) and back.
Then the fallow years while we remodeled and old our home in Boulder, CO, moved temporarily to a condo and finally settled in Tabernash, CO.
What happened to my fitness? Why does a one-hour ride around the neighborhood wear me out? I live at 9,000 ft and the 5.8-mile ride is on gravel roads with 800 feet of climbing. But I still think I should be capable of more.
In my racing days my titanium Merlin had double chain rings and a 12/28 cassette. When I stopped racing, I changed it to triple chain rings with the same cassette. Five years ago, I acquired a touring bike with lower gears, wider tires and a rear rack. Last summer I changed the Merlin to a 12/40 cassette. I still enjoy riding the Merlin to climb passes in Colorado.
For new adventures this week I bought a Specialized Levo Comp eMTB.
As my riding has changed, I’ve changed my bikes. Changing technology is one of the ways of accommodating for the changes with aging. I’ve written two related columns:
Less Pain, More Gain
Years ago, I took a client for a bike fit Andy Pruitt, Director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Pruitt asked him how he liked his narrow light weight saddle. “Isn’t very comfortable.” Pruitt put on a saddle that fit him although it weighed more. “Much more comfortable!” Pruitt pointed out my client would ride more and get fitter even though the comfortable saddle was heavier.
My 53-lb. eMTB is analogous. The Merlin weighs only 24 lbs; however, there are only three paved roads here and one of them is US 40 so I have primarily ridden my Trek 30 lb. mountain bike. On the flats and gentle climbs, I ride without assist from the motor — great training on the 53-lb. bike. The bike has three power levels and I select the appropriate one for the harder climbs. With the eMTB I can ride much farther with more climbing than on my Trek.
Better for the Environment and Lower Operating Cost
In our county USPS doesn’t deliver the mail; we pick it up at the post office. Our post office is in Fraser, the closest town with grocery and hardware stores, other services and the Icebox, my local bike and ski shop. (It’s called the Icebox because it drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the winter here.)
Since we moved to the mountains four years ago, I’ve been driving eight miles to Fraser three or four times a week to get the mail and do the shopping and eight miles home. The ride to town and back isn’t much except we live two miles up a sustained gravel climb. The round-trip ride is 16 miles and has about 1200 feet of climbing mostly on gravel at the end of the ride. Riding to town and back is too hard to do often. Now I can ride the eMTB to Fraser, do my errands and ride home including climbing back up to 9,000 ft. I’m fortunate to have a trail most of the way instead of riding on US 40. Once a week I’ll drive in for the weekly grocery shopping.
Riding More with the eMTB
Instead of sitting in the car running errands I’m on my bike, riding more days a week enjoying the scenery and having a lot more fun. According to the American College of Sports Medicine frequency and consistency every week are more important that total volume.
I used to drive my Trek MTB to trailheads. Now I ride my eMTB – more time in the saddle. This morning I climbed the steep gravel road to the Vista Ridge trailhead. I used level two assist so I was riding in the sweet spot, not sub-barf. Level three assist would have made the climb easy but I wanted a sweet spot workout. Riding in the sweet spot is the best way to build sustained power. I’ve written two columns:
Options of Intensity
Multiple studies describe the benefits of intensity training for older adults. Riding around the neighborhood on the Trek MTB the terrain dictates two intensities: climbing at sub-barf and coasting to the next climb. Now I have more choices about how hard to ride. I ride by perceived exertion. On Vista Ridge I used just enough power to compensate for the 53 lb. bike so my perceived exertion was the same as on my Trek. Riding home, of course, the 53 lb. bike flew! I wrote this column on: Training by Perceived Exertion.
With the eMTB I can use more assist and do a much longer endurance ride. Or I can forget I have the assist and do a power ride. Or I can use enough assist to keep the grin on my face.
I’ve written four columns on anti-aging and intensity:
The Physical Activity for Americans, 2nd ed. from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends older adults should do multi-component exercise involving several different types of physical activity. Road biking is great aerobic exercise and includes some balancing. Mountain biking requires more balance, builds leg strength and works the upper body. I wrote a column on Anti-Aging: Value of Multi-component Physical Activities. I also wrote two columns on:
Mountain biking is more mentally active than road cycling. I have to pick the best line through the trail so I’m constantly problem-solving, Because I’m focusing on the trail and the line, I’m not worrying about stuff. Mental activity is one of the most important factors in reducing the risk of dementia.
Because of the greater variety of terrain and the challenges of the trails I enjoy mountain biking more than most road cycling. I’ll still love a good climb on the Merlin but I’m more motivated to go mountain biking and as a result I stay fitter.
Experiment of One
I bought an eBike because it’s a hell of a lot of fun! And it provides the above benefits. But it may not be the right decision for you. I’ve written a related column on: Anti-Aging: E-bikes, Fun and Fitness.
My Cycling Past 50 Bundle includes:
- Healthy Cycling Past 50 – what happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years.
- Healthy Nutrition Past 50 – what to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
- Performance Cycling Past 50 – how to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
- Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 – how to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging.
The 94-page Cycling Past 50 Bundle is $15.96.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process has individual chapters on each of the types of exercise the American College of Sports Medicine recommends: cardiovascular both endurance and intensity; upper, lower, and core strength; weight-bearing; flexibility and balance. I include interviews with Gabe Mirkin (recommendations from an M.D.) Jim Langley (importance of goals), Andy Pruitt (importance of working on your skeleton, posture, balance, muscle mass), Muffy Ritz (recommended activities for older people, especially women), Malcolm Fraser (recommendations from an M.D.), Fred Matheny (importance of strength training), Elizabeth Wicks (motivation) and five other male and female riders ages 55 to 83. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is available for $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 over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.