Riding Faster After 50

We’ve podcasted on the topic of master's training three times before including on Masters CTL, Master’s Recovery, and the Seven Habits of Successful Masters Cyclists. In this episode, Coach Frank touches on those again, but dives down even deeper and discusses 3 actionable adjustments you can make to your training as a 50+ athlete. 

This podcast commemorated the Big Cat’s 50th birthday last year. You can still celebrate with coupon code 25podcast to get 25% off any training plan subscription for the next 3 months!


Ned Overend podcast about his training adjustments


Podcast Transcript:

The title of today’s podcast says it all - we are talking about training after you are 50 years old.  We’ve podcasted on masters training 3 times before for: Masters CTL and Master’s Recovery and the Seven Habits of Successful Masters Cyclists. In this pod I’ll touch on those again and dive down deeper  for the 50+ crowd. And three actionable adjustments you can make to your training as a 50+ athlete. 

Today’s podcast also commemorates my birthday and its not just any birthday, its my 29th… again. 

Haha , no its the  big 5-0!  Yes I’ve reached 50 years of age and thought it would be fitting to broach the subject of trying to ride fast after 50 years old.  Joe Friel wrote the book and now, today, the BigCat is doing the podcast. 

And since I’m turning 50, you can celebrate by using 50podcast to receive 50% off any training plan good thru July 15th @ midnight. Celebrate my birthday by FtFP’ing, Crying in the DoJo and making it turn green. Birthday cake counts towards winning in the kitchen too in this instance, hahah

If you have found this podcast after July 15th, not to be left out: use 25podcast as our evergreen podcast listener training plan 25 % discount. 

And now, back to our podcast: I can safely say from my own personal cycling performance and power data there is an enormous difference in performance (& watts)  & training between the ages of 40 and 50.  Even 45 and 50. For me personally about 2 years ago at 48 I really began to notice the decline.  That was around the same time I noticed that I needed to take off my prescription lenses to read my phone and see my power readout on my bike computer. Aka bi focals.. 

Today I am going to podcast about being fast after 50 from my own coaching experience and hopefully my future cycling performance. I am in the unique position of having power data from my prime 20 years ago and power data from yesterday and FasCats its less.  Truth be told about 100 watts less at the FTP level or about 25-30%. Ouch.

Not to be a debbie downer but if you are listening and over 50 and feeling discouraged about your age, let me cheer you up because there are several aspects of your training that you can make to fight father time. They are (what I’ve preached before)

  1. Sleep - without good sleep you won’t adapt to your training and your recovery will be compromised
  2. Nutrition - power to weight ratio is as important as your watts. 
  3. Train Less
  4. Recover More
  5. Stress Less 
  6. Intervals: Less - quality over quantity
  7. Lift Weights

In fact, now that I just said those seven I realize this podcast overlaps a LOT of the same topics I covered in last week’s podcast about how to ride faster!.  It's the fundamentals. So if you are not 50, keep listening,  you will be one day. Apply these training fundamentals to however old you are now. Like I mentioned, I’ll wrap up the podcast with 3 real world workout examples so you can put into practice to what I’m preaching.  We’re actionable like that over here at FasCat.

The term ‘master’ in competition denotes ages 40 and higher but in my own and coaching experience it’s at 50 years old that age related decline really takes its toll.  Your hair is turning gray, wrinkles in your face appear and your muscles are less defined. Annnnnd unfortunately your power declines too. 

According to researcher Hirofumi Tanaka and Douglas R Seals 1:

“Peak endurance performance is maintained until approximately 35 years of age, followed by modest decreases until 50-60 years of age, with progressively steeper declines thereafter.”

There’s good news tho! Noticed the word ‘peak’. I attribute that to peak power outputs not necessarily your ability to ride long.  You’ve built up mitochondrial density from your years and years and miles and miles of riding. 

Tanaka goes on to say to my point: “In contrast, exercise economy (i.e. metabolic cost of sustained submaximal exercise) does not change with age in endurance-trained adults.”

Your endurance does not necessarily decline - many 50+ athletes can increase their endurance over time with training.  The tortoise beats the hare again. So sure you FTP may not be as high at 55 years old as it was when you were 40, 45 but if you’ve been training consistently chances are your endurance hasn’t decreased but your top end has. 

This is why gravel and fondos are popular for the older cyclist whereas they are eschewing criteriums, time trial and xc racing like they used to. 

 I know that is the case for myself and a LOT of the 50+ athletes I’ve coached and am coaching: they can still belt out a century and a 5 hour ride.

And while that is true, what I can’t do that I used to be able to, is back that up the next day (usually a Sunday) with a similar hard ride.  IOW you can still do a long ride but nowadays your day after is shorter and easier than your 35 year old self. 

What do you do? Embrace it and adopt a new approach to training as a 50+ masters.  

Why is age related decline happening: Hormones & VO2 max declines with age.  

But its not a switch at 50 because since you’ve been about 28-32 years old for men and 34-36 years old for women (your physiological primes as an endurance athlete) your body has been making less and less testosterone & estrogen about 1% less each year. And females actually don’t begin to experience that decline until they are slightly older, 34-36 years of age. That’s why Kristin Armstrong can win her third gold medal at the age of 43 and Amber Neben is representing the US at the Tokyo Olympics at 46 years old. But I digress …..

Now I mentioned hormonally - what am I talking about? Its actually your endocrine system - hormone production and function as well because hormone receptors become less sensitive. Males are making less and less testosterone and females are making less and less estrogen. Therefore the rate of recovery is slower and therefore the need to adopt training volumes and workouts that match your body's ability to recover. 

How much less? Well going back to my endocrinology text in graduate school , serum testosterone levels fall about 1.6% each year as you age or 16% in a decade. 

So less muscle repair from training means an increased recovery times. What used to take you one night of sleep to recover from now takes you two. Loss of muscle mass and a gain in fat mass. Fun stuff!

VO2 Max declines with ages but cycling is still anti-aging

Have you ever looked around at your non cycling friends? 

The good news: cycling is anti-aging:

There is good news for 50+ ‘ers - in my experience this is the age in which a lot of cyclists’ kids have grown up and life gets a lot less hectic. Simpler if you will.  50+ athletes are often financially stabler (with the exception of paying for college!) and generally their careers have entered a less demanding phase. 

I say simpler but realize that’s not the case for all masters 50+ cyclists.  To some extent simpler is a choice. I have noticed a LOT of successful masters cyclists lead a simpler life by choice.  

Simpler = less stress and more time to train

You know that friend or teammate who’s got a great job, supportive spouse and has found their groove with their training and racing + work and family? Yea - try to be like that teammate.  All in context tho because often times those life choices are decades in the making - so you millennial listener take notice ! I jest…

But I want to touch on more time to train as a fast after 50 athlete.  Because as we have just mentioned unfortunately that is not the right approach: rather its more time to recover!

Yes, instead of finishing your 1.5 hour ride and rushing back to the office or off to pick up the kids hopefully now at this point of your life - you are able to hit the kitchen and then the couch.  That is what we mean when we say have time to recover. And then not have to stay up late for work or kids and be able to capitalize on a good night’s sleep. And possibly have some money to spend on a massage or a pair of Normatecs - space legs as we call them. 

And you have time to do your yoga and your Dr. Eric Goodman Foundation routine - because taking care of your hip mobility and back will pay off in spades. 

Then the benefits of having more time compound because you are less stressed and cortisol - the stress hormone - that’s one hormone that unfortunately does not decrease with age.  Anway, by having more time you are less stressed, producing less cortisol and consequently recovering better!

Annnddd with more time, you should allocate some of that to winning in the kitchen to practice better nutrition. We do know that older athletes need a greater portion of the macronutrients to come from protein and because we are riding less, less from carbohydrates (1kJ = 1 calories of food) 

So its not all doom and gloom once you hit 50 for your cycling - there’s lots to look forward to an embrace.  Can you tell I’m giving you my very own pep talk? 

Okay - so you now know the deal with age related decline in endocrine function & VO2 max, what to do with more time and how to lead a less stressful life, but what about what you are here to hear ? Let’s talk about adjusting your training to your age. I’ll give you 3 examples: 

First before I do many of you are familiar with the 3 ways we design training volume in our training plans.  Our advanced level plans are 100% off the table for anyone over 50. Truth! 

Go listen to any of the podcasts former world mountain bike champion, Ned Overend has given (read his book too) but Ned has 50+ training figured out: he does less.  And FasCats you should too.  The next three examples emphasize quality over quantity and training less.  When you were 25-30- and even 35 you could do multiple epic rides per week, tons of intervals and generally take your recovery for granted.  But nowadays as an over 50 athlete - you can’t get away with that anymore. 

The three examples are as follows and are captured in our basic and intermediate level training plans.  Basic having 4-8 hours of training each week and intermediate having 8-12 hours of training per week.

If you are over 60 and still holding down a job orare  beginner cyclist - do our basic level plans

If you are over 60 and have been training for 2+ years, have 8-12 hours each week to train ANNNND (very important) the time to recover, you will find our intermediate training plan challenging yet highly productive and effective. 

If you are in your 50’s and have the time (8-12 hours per week) then our intermediate will be better for you than our basic.  Only choose the basic if you are new to cycling, new to training and/or only have 4-8 hours of training each week to train. If you are on the fence ping us your question on the website and we do offer free swaps if you find one level is not working out for ya. 

Okay, onto the 3 scenarios: 

Big picture:

  1. Ride Duration: 2 hour rides in the 20’s and 30’s become 60-75 minute rides during the week.
  2. Intervals: 2-3 sets of intervals become one set.
  3. Total weekly training hours: 12-16 hour training weeks become 8-10 hours total with maybe a 12 hour week once in a while as long as regular rest weeks follow. 

Let’s unpack those more:

#1 - Ride Duration - Two hours seemed like a short ride two decades ago but nowadays it's all about balancing out your recovery - a 60-75 minute ride is manageable to recover from. It's sustainable for 3 days in a row and fosters consistency and progression.  If I try to do three 2 hours rides in a row these days, I’m knackered! So CTFO and ride less.  Take that time and spend it on…. Yes, you guessed it recovering more.  What is more? Better nutrition, less stress and more time on the couch to be honest. We cyclists need to be sloths - lazZee with a capital Z.  

# 2 - Intervals! No one, not even pros ever ask if they can do more intervals but everybody asks if they can ride longer. Well this one will be music to everyone’s ears because doing less intervals means you can emphasise the quality of what you do rather than completely whack yourself.

For example - the standard VO2 workout for the 20-30 something cat ¾ athlete is 2 sets of 3 x 5 min On 5 minutes OFF.   If you are in your 20’s and trying to go pro you’ll be doing maybe 3 sets and maybe even another interval workout the next day. But on the other side of the spectrum, 50+ will do 2 sets of TWO x 5 min On 5 minute off, for 20 minutes total. And if you  are a 50+ new to cycling and training I’ll simply prescribe 3 x 5 minute on 5 minute off.  By doing less you’ll be able to recover from the workout and move onto your next workout.  By sticking to the way you used to do VO2”s you’ll be wrecked the next day and be demotivated to do VO’2 the next time your training plan says so.  And that’s not FtFP’ing. 

One thing astute listeners may be thinking is, ‘isn't’ that less training, and will it take longer to get faster?” Yes, that is true. 

Ned Overend talks at length how what used to take him 6 weeks now takes him 8-10-12 weeks.  That’s just the way it is as a Fast After 50 athlete. You can’t cram the training into your legs and get away with it like you could in your 30’s.   Be consistent and patient and when you are - you never know - you may be able to achieve and eclipse your power numbers from your 30’s. Caveat caveat caveat… 

Similar to VO’2 - if you were belting out 2-3 hours of sweet spot work in your 30’s do 45-60-90 minutes of total sweet spot work in your 50’s. Do less in a single day workout but do more of the workouts in order to try to achieve the same results (as your thirties)

# 3 Total weekly volume - I touched on this earlier with our basic, intermediate and advanced level plans and I’ll also relate it to training camps.  In your 20’s and 30’s you could rip out a 20+ hour training camp over 4-5 days and be fine.  As a 50’er you’d have to ride really REALLY slow to do 20 hours - with a LOT of that being junk miles. So instead think in terms of a good quality 12 - 16 hour week as long as you use the time off the bike for massage, nutrition and being a sloth + getting maximum sleep each night. 

Side note - you could do a 12-16 hour week in order to apply a final overload in your otherwise regular 8-12 hours training weeks in order to peak, but don’t do 12-16 hours weeks regularly. I really think 8-10 hours of training consistently and regularly is ideal for 50+ athletes. Any more and recovery declines and power goes down along with motivation and then comes the inconsistency - the yo-yo training. 

CTFO and do 8-10 hours per week year round and I promise you you’ll be faster, and happier with the rest of your life because you are better balanced. 

Now if you are over 50 and still crushing it at work, i.e. working 40-50 hours of a j.o.b. - I think our basic level 4-8 hours per week is ideal for your work-life recovery balance.   Then if you take a cycling vacation or do a training blocks and are not working - then you bump up your hours.  

But year round on average 4-8 hours, plus a 40 hour per week job and still be able to function at home in your family life and get 8 hours of sleep - yea that is the alot so bump down your hours in your situation. 

FasCat covers riding faster after 50.  I’d like to thank Joe Frield for pioneering this subject and bringing it to the forefront and thank you for listening. Its truly an honor that you do. Don’t forget to use my 50% off birthday discount code 50podcast and do so before July 15th, 2021. 

Leave us a review on iTunes (google fascat itunes) if you like the pod and feel free to suggest further podcast topics while you’re there. Lastly, remember to ‘work hard, ride fast, have fun and as always FtFP” Peace out everybody! 

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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