5 Things Athletes Need to Know in Your 40s, 50s, and Into Your 80s!


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.

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

I’m in my 50s 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 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.

Training won’t kill you (probably).

Over the past few years there have been a succession of articles, mostly in mainstream running and triathlon publications, but also in cycling publications that suggest athletes are at increased risk for heart problems. The general idea is that while some exercise is good, lifelong athletes have overdone it and we’re going to exercise ourselves into an early grave. I’ve covered this topic twice in full-length articles here and here so I’ll just summarize in this post. The cardiologists and electrophysiologists we’ve consulted remind us that the incidence of arrhythmia increases naturally as people get older, the Baby Boomer generation represents a large population over 50, there are more athletes over 50 than there used to be, and we have better diagnostic tools and wearable monitors than before. Essentially, the medical professionals we talked to said there is plenty of evidence to show that exercising  – including strenuous exercise – is beneficial for health and longevity. There is not enough evidence, yet, to say there is a causal link between exercise and the development of arrhythmia in older athletes. You have a lifetime of experiences – positive and negative – and underlying genetic factors that come into play. If you have any signs or symptoms of arrhythmia (a racing heart, fluttering heartbeat or skipped beats) you should see your cardiologist. Don’t panic, though. A physician who specialized in electrophysiology pointed out that experiencing an arrhythmia isn’t a sure sign of a life-threatening or long-term problem. Even a perfectly healthy heart can skip a beat or race briefly and return to normal rhythm. Athletes are also more attuned to their bodies and sometimes notice arrhythmias before a sedentary person would.

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 Haute Route Alps and  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. In 2015, at 82 years old he won US National Championships in cyclocross, cross-country mountain bike, and road racing!



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.

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35 Responses to “5 Things Athletes Need to Know in Your 40s, 50s, and Into Your 80s!”

  1. Janet Sanderson on

    I’m an 80 year old woman who started racing at the Senior Olympics in 2001. I now have 8 state records in Michigan. I have been to six National Senior Olympics. Placing in the top eight in all of them. They consist of two races, a 20k and 40k and two time trials, 5k and 10k. This summer I got two gold in the races and two bronze in the time trials. I have no plans to stop riding my bike. Senior Olympics are a great place for 50+ ages to race. Every state has them. The Nationals are held every two years. You must qualify in your state to attend the Nationals. In 2017 they will be in Birmingham, AL

  2. Charles Hufman on

    Great article and what an encouragement for all of us “old” guys and gals. I’m 55 and started riding aprox 5 yrs ago. I went form a simple little hill to riding the kokopelli
    trail (150 miles x 3 days) to completing the Race the Train; a ride that entails two mountain passes from Durango Co. to Silverton on a MTB with a 40lb pack and jeans. biking basically saved my life and I’ve lost weight and i believe i am in the best shape of my life. good Lord willing I will keep pedaling to a brite sunset.

  3. Ray Scott on

    I am 71 and have been cycling since 1971 (44 years). I took all 3 gold medals in last years Senior Olympics. I broke the state record for the 40k road race by over 5 minutes taking gold. I plan to ride in the Hincapie Grand Fondo the end of October. The training advice from Chris has been invaluable to me and has made me a better cyclist.

  4. Richard Finch on

    Great article. Just turned 61 this year but with job loss (16 years with a bike shop that closed last year) and taking full time care of an 88 year old (24/7) this cut into my cycling time. I need a coach to chew me out but funds are really limited so I just push myself a lot harder than I should on my short rides and pat myself on the back on big ring climbs (I know, I know, small rings and spin…LOL) and every time I managed to pass someone (me competitive?!), then go way to fast on the downhills before my first beer. Every ride is fun and I never take anything for granted. Somehow, someday I am going to climb the alpe d’huez…count on me to give you a call for some advice before then.
    Best wishes to all the staff and great job on the articles!!!

  5. Ed Crandall on

    Everything in moderation, is what I’ve been told for many years, and at 71 I have not taken that advise and have biked rather hard for 31 years…I’ve learned however, when to rest and when to ride; and yes, I have had a heart operation (5 by pass), cancer, and the whole bit…It depends on how you what to live your life and how your behavior effects others important to you.

  6. Don on

    I am 66 and elite level racing cyclist for my age. Its judging the amount of and understanding the benefit of rest that’s so important. Employing the power of rest is key to relative high performance for our age group.

  7. Carolyn on

    Thanks to everyone who commented on this article. I am a71 year old female. I Crossfit and bicycle, and feel stronger than I ever have. Used to be a runner but now biking seems to be of more benefit and certainly more enjoyable. There are many days when I think I should just quit trying, so reading all these responses is so motivating and encouraging!

  8. Art kleimer on

    I will be 74 in January. Started riding and doing Ride the Rockies with my son 3 years ago. I plan on doing it every year till I am 120. It beats sitting on the couch and withering a way. Life is meant to be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. I also appreciate my coach Noah who understands me and always has the right balance of encouragement push and kindness.

  9. Phil Holman on

    I’m 65 and got 3rd and 4th respectively at masters nats in the TT and RR this year. I can still TT at 26+ mph on a flat course which isn’t any slower than what I did when I was 40. Don’t stop challenging yourself just because you are older. Great article.

  10. Jar on

    60 yrs old and former marathoner and former tri athlete but completely my 1st 100 this year and most miles ever.
    Can’t do everything I once did but having a lot of fun doing what I can and doing it as hard as I can

  11. Rob Payne on

    I’m a cyclist as well as a personal fitness trainer. Recently, I attended a workshop on how to train this I ever growing segment of our population.

    Your spot on! Age need not be a “retirement sentence”, as you said with age comes wisdom.

  12. Joseph G. Neuwirth, Ph.D. on

    At 73 yrs I am still riding and racing. I took 1st in Road Race at Georgia Senior Olympics this past year and second in TT. I attended Carmichael Climbing Camp at Asheville in 2005. Great experience with some kick-butt instructors. I have also taken up mountain bike single trail riding and so far have broken my hand and eversion sprained my ankle. I’m thinking about sticking to road biking. Hey, you need to check out Carmichael Training.

    • Link lindquist on

      At age 86 I completed the Triple Ascent of Mt Ventoux in one day, this September. I have maintainded my position for the forth year as the oldest person to meet this challenge out of over 7,000 cyclist. I have set a goal to do this when I am age 100. You just have to have a goal to keep you going. Nothing beats cycling like cycling in Provence,Fr. Have cycled there for 14 years and it gets better and better every year. LINK

      • Don M on

        That is astonishing to me, congratulations. At age 70 I rode up Ventoux once a couple of years ago, so I know that I’m not on track to emulate your effort. Were you at elite level in your youth? What is your ftp? I would be fascinated to know.

  13. 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.

    • Larry on

      Interesting looking back ..!! Still improving. I tested myself on a private 20 miles out and back rolling route TT last Tuesday. I finished in one hour and 29 seconds -19.84 mph average. My Garmin 1000 said 144ms elevation gained. With elevation corrected it said 336 Ms gained. I’m not sure what to make of that .??

  14. 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.

  15. 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.”

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

    • 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.

      • Larry W on

        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

        • Ben reiter on


          I started riding at the age of 56. I never did any endurance sports and just played friendly softball and some tennis. I was never very good. I trained for 3 years with CTS and attending a camp and by 60 I was easily keeping up with the young Hammerheads and even entered some races. The races combined 50’s and 60’s and I had no trouble at all keeping up. Unfortunately I lost a little enthusiasm and cut back my training and almost instantly deteriorated. I am riding a but more now at age 64 and still can keep up with the fast group; though no longer near the front.
          You can do it!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.


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