4 Things Athletes Need to Know in their 40s, 50s, and Beyond

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By Chris Carmichael

I am a cyclist in my mid-50s and I spend a lot of time riding with athletes up to 30 years younger and 25 years older than me.  People ask me about the impact of age on endurance athletes, and here’s what I tell them:


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Your potential declines, but your ability to maximize your potential doesn’t.
Numerous studies show that an endurance athlete’s VO2 max declines gradually, typically starting sometime in your 30s. For many athletes this decline only starts to become noticeable in the late 40s or early 50s. What doesn’t seem to decline is your ability to operate at a high percentage of your maximum potential. One of the goals my coaches and I have is to push an athlete’s power at lactate threshold to a higher percentage of that athlete’s power at VO2 max. For example, rather than having a threshold power at 75% of VO2 max power output, we aim to get it to 80% of VO2 max. Even as your VO2 max is slightly declining due to age, with training you can sustain or improve the percentage of that VO2 at which you can operate.

Wisdom cancels out some of the advantages of youth.
If young athletes behaved like older athletes, they could be even stronger and faster. Remember the old adage that youth is wasted on the young? It’s generally true in endurance sports. Older athletes tend to have the means and patience to eat fresher and more nutrient-dense foods. They’re more willing to go to bed earlier if their coaches tell them they need more rest. Many older athletes are more comfortable with their career and family lives, which translates to lower levels of lifestyle stress. And older athletes know themselves better, have more confidence, and are often better at listening to the signals their bodies are sending them. In other words, age gives some people the wisdom to be better at being athletes.

Don’t worry about what you can’t change.

I’m almost 54 and I don’t complain because in my view growing older is a privilege denied to many. I’m not as light or as powerful as I was 30 years ago, but I’m doing pretty well for being a husband, father, and business owner. There’s no fountain of youth, so I work hard to keep this 53-year-old body as fit as I can. And I push myself to my limits in training and competition because I enjoy and crave the sensation of giving everything I have – even if what I have to give isn’t as much as it used to be. To be an athlete is to delight in the sensation of pushing yourself, and that’s something that age cannot take from you. So, don’t worry about whether you’re maximum potential is declining because of age. If it is, it is. What you can control is what you do with the physical potential you have.


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Make hay while the sun shines
The longer I’m involved in endurance sports, the more I realize that life is both short and unpredictable. Knock on wood, I’m still in one piece and healthy enough to take on challenges like La Ruta, Trans Andes, and the Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge Race Experiences. And I hope to stay as healthy as CTS Athlete Frederic Schmid, who became the first 80-year-old to finish the Leadville 100 in 2013. A while ago the New York Times published an article asking whether cycling was a safe sport. Falling is part of being an athlete, and although my view is that the benefits of being an athlete outweigh the risk of being injured, I’m not naïve about the risks. Whether by age or accident, the scope of what we can do will eventually diminish or disappear. So I’m not putting anything off to later, and neither should you.

Next up for me is La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica, which was the race that started this whole CTS Endurance Bucket List, because I was looking for an epic physical, mental, and emotional challenge when I turned 50. This year we’ll be taking more than 20 athletes to race La Ruta, our biggest team to date! Sharing incredible cycling experiences with motivated and successful athletes is a great way to add life to my years!

17 Responses to “4 Things Athletes Need to Know in their 40s, 50s, and Beyond”

  1. AL LOTZ on

    I will be turning 66 in Nov. 2014, and I am still very healthy. I realize I can’t ride like a 20 year can, but I am still able to push myself. I just did my first Gran Fondo on August 10, 2014, in Snowmass/Vail Colorado. It was the most difficult ride I had every done but I completed the 44 mile ride all in the mountains. , So yes, you can enjoy your later years in life, but you got to keep moving forward and training and never giving up.

    Reply
  2. Michael Childs on

    Excellent article. Make hay will the sun shines like 43 year old Jens Voigt setting the hour endurance record today at 51.115 km!

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  3. Garrett Fonda on

    I turn 69 in 10 days and I have a group of friends who will do my birthday ride with me–a mile for every year. My friends are all 15 years or more younger so I just try my best not to embarrass myself. Still fun after all these years.

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  4. Steve on

    At 66 I’m doing rides again that I stopped doing a decade ago thinking I was too old. Obviously it wasn’t true though I give a lot of credit to my new bike designed for the older biker and with better gearing for hills.

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  5. Larry Wilson on

    I read almost every article. Thanks for this one. Started following your website a year ago. I am 62 and started riding 3 years ago. I would love to attend one of your camps, so I am saving up in hopes of getting to one. I have one question though. Because of my starting out late, is there any reason that I couldn’t catch up to the guys my age that have been riding for years? Of course unless I don’t do the work. I have downloaded 4 of your training workouts. Going to the Huntsman World Senior Games in October. I ride 5 days a week. Thanks again for the encouragement. Larry W

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    • Colin Campbell on

      Larry W, I know several riders who started late in life, and have done very, very well. Certainly one reason is that they were blessed with big engines (good hearts and lungs), but another is that they “saved” their bodies from some of the damage that affected people who were active young and stayed active. You may find your toughest competition is from people like you who started later in life!

      I am 70, have a basketball-damaged knee, lack cartilage in the knees and elbows, have some arthritis in my shoulders and elbows (and maybe elsewhere), etc. That’s what a life of sports and fitness training can “give” you. But I’m still riding and enjoying.

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      • Larry W on

        Colin
        Thanks so much for the encouragement, I started out on a $400. used road bike to see if I would enjoy it or not. I haven’t looked back from that point. I can’t ride enough now with work and all. One guy at work that rides a lot and for many years, tells me you are what you are and can’t improve on that other than staying in shape. I don’t believe that. I have been getting better stronger faster each month. I will work hard to find out what my body’s max output is at this point in life.
        Thanks again for your encouragement Larry W

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  6. SteveT on

    At 56 years old I unfortunately had to go through the agonizing pain of a double hip replacement wiping out my entire 2014 season. What I learned from this experience is I will never take one day of riding for granted again and will cherish each day on my bike once 2015 gets here. My goal from here on out is to realize my potential as a cyclist and become as fit as possible to avoid the operating room again. My other goal is to complete a CTS hill training camp because as I approach retirement I want to experience as many epic rides as I can until I can no longer pedal. Thanks so much for the CTS newsletters for keeping me motivated.

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  7. Gary Benkendorf on

    59 here and crank out on my intervals faithfully using my power meter weekly. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you CTS for your existence. Congrats to Jens Voight for his spectacular Hour record. It took a Masters rider to get the younger Pros to step up. Now we wait.

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  8. Lanier Gordon on

    I am 54 and have been riding since 1982. I love to ride and that feeling I get when you can just keep pushing is what keeps me motivated. My co-workers think I’m crazy but that’s fine with me. Cycling is not a hobby but a lifestyle and I am fortunate to be able to ride and not take it for granted. I ride faster and stronger now than when I was in my 30s! Life can change at the drop of a hat so live each and every day to the full. Congratulations to Jens Voigt, and Frederic Schmid. That is what I call inspiration. We “older” guys are living proof that you can better with age. The reason why we’re all still riding is because we feel the same way now as when we took our very first ride. We do it because we have passion for the sport. “La passione e tutto.”

    Reply
  9. Joe on

    thanks for this blog statements. Simple. I’m a 67 yo M … I want to tattoo label all my hurts and pains, etc. These are my reminders to keep moving. Rode my bicycle across America last summer. Praying to complete my bucket lists. It’s more of a barrel.

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  10. Larry on

    72 – cycling for 20 years, but decided to train and push myself harder this last two years – 270 miles last week mostly outdoors but also some intervals on turbo. I noticed a few weeks ago that I was getting faster and that holding around 20mph on flattish roads for ten miles or so was possible (an improvement of perhaps 2mph on last year) I’m not really sure what to put this down to, though I have done quite a bit of sweet spot training. The important thing is I still love my cycling.

    Reply

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