There is a terrible, wide spread rumour that your metabolism slows down as you age and you can’t do as much physically (and getting fat is inevitable). The truth is most people just do less as they get older, they don’t push themselves as hard and avoid new activities, which encourages lethargy and weight gain. There is no reason to stop or even slow down as you age, and that’s especially true when it comes to your passion for road cycling.
In fact, there are examples of elite professional riders who are just as strong, if not stronger on the bike as they age, like Chris Horner, a late comer to the sport, turning pro at 26 years old, who won the Vuelta a España just a month shy of turning 42. Other stand out examples includeFirmin Lambot, winning the Tour de France at age 36, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli who won the women’s French time trial at age 52, and Jens Voigt who broke the Hour Record in Switzerland at age 43, with further wins in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge at age 41.
For those who come into cycling later in life your potential to improve with age is high. It takes around five years (full time) to become professional at anything, be that a mental skill or physical performance, so up until that five-year mark you will see improvements are increased skill with practice and dedicated time to your task, until you reach your peak.
That’s great news for those who are passionate about cycling but may have put it on the backburner in favour of climbing the corporate ladder or spending time raising a family. You might find that those later years are when you have the time and financial freedom to reach your cycling excellence, and that may mean outsprinting some of the younger members of the field beyond your supposed ‘prime’.
For those who are already active on the bike, keep it up. To maintain your fitness include interval training on your ride, this is also a great way to shed excess weight (or keep it off). On a 40-minute ride do six to eight short burst sprints of 2-5 minutes each with a cool down in between. Go as fast as you can, which means you will see your sprints increase as your fitness improves. Doing this three times a week is a perfect fitness fix for any age. Include a twice weekly core workout where you complete some strength training using weights and you will find that you feel younger and fitter than your years.
The most important thing to fitness is consistency. Staying on the bike for longer means protecting yourself from injury. Take the time to warm up and cool down properly, especially when you are older and might be less physically active between rides. Rest when you are sick or the weather is against you, if you are not feeling up for it, go for a massage.
It’s up to you to train smart and go at a pace that feels great and is healthy for you. If you do get injured (either on or off the bike) be sure to come back to your usual ride rate and distance slowly. When you suffer an injury your body is more fragile. The risk or reinjuring, prolonging the damage or causing injury by over compensating in another area is high. While you might feel that the best method is to power through the pain, remember that pain is there for a reason; to alert you to a problem. Taking the time to heal means you are investing in long-term performance and more time on the bike.
Be consistent to with your activity through the seasons. If you cycle less in winter go for an indoor swim or take spin classes to keep you active all year round.
Sprints might not be your forte as you age. If you are new to the sport you might find your accelerating performance allows you to race well in all events, however, if you have already reached your peak and are looking to continue riding into your later years, you might prefer a switch to longer events.
This doesn’t apply to masters events, however, when you are pitting against people of similar age, then sprints are fair, compared to if you were competing against a 24-year-old bunch.
Sleep well, eat well, exercise and relax. Your body needs efficient fuel so eat the right type of foods, high in fibre, antioxidants and natural vitamins and minerals, that means staying as close to nature as possible. Make sure you get exercise off the bike as well, to work every muscle group and shift weight and pressure on different body parts.
Enjoying time on the bike into your 40’s, 50’s, and beyond? That’s freedom!