cyclists over 65

Training for Cyclists Over 65

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CTS Coach Tracey Drews coaches cyclists of all ages, but over time has specialized in coaching senior cyclists, especially cyclists over 65. Many of the athletes she coaches range in age from 70-90 years old, and several compete – and win – age group events and USA Cycling National Championships.

Cycling and strength training are perhaps the best combination of exercises for aging athletes. Cycling is easy on joints because it’s not weight-bearing and you can use gear ratios to reduce the required force per pedal stroke. These factors allow senior athletes to ride longer, including periods of moderate to high intensity, than they might be able to sustain for other cardiovascular exercises. Strength training helps senior athletes retain muscle mass and counteract sarcopenia, as well as maintain bone density (or at least slow the decline).

In the piece below, Tracey reveals the traits and habits that keep cyclists over 65 going, and highlights some of the inspirational athletes she works with.

I have been fortunate since 2006 to work as a CTS Coach with many of the most talented and brightest coaches I know. I have also had the privilege and honor to coach and guide some of the most talented, health-conscious, competitive and durable athletes I know. “Durable”, you ask?  I say that because no matter their chronological age, cyclists over 65 are all about squeezing every bit of “life” into their years. Chris Carmichael addressed this in the following post: 5 Ways to add Life to your years. All those things still hold true today. However, I would like to add a few more to the list and highlight a few of my athletes who embrace these techniques.

“Just don’t stop”

At 89 years old, Fred Schmid still races a full calendar, including almost all the USA Cycling National Championship events, sans track and BMX. He sets a full race calendar every year to ensure he is focused and organized on a series of goals for his training. One of his primary goals, though, is not specifically to compete. The overarching goal is to “just not stop”.

frederick schmid

In 2022, Fred was finally able to add the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb, a 27.2-mile uphill bike challenge starting at 7,000 feet and ascending to 14,130 feet above sea level, to his list of accomplishments. This has been an elusive goal for Fred. For several years he was thwarted by unsafe weather conditions and equipment issues. This year was Fred’s opportunity to “grab the brass ring” on the event, all because he would “just not stop”.

Surround yourself with youth (relatively speaking)

Over the course of Fred’s race career, he has won 38 USA Cycling National Championships (and counting). Besides a genetic gift he chooses not to waste, and his mantra to “just not stop”, Fred has something else going for him. He has Whitney, a youthful 70-something training partner, as well as very supportive and youthful wife, Suzanne.  Which leads me to another way senior athletes add life to their years. They surround themselves with relatively younger athletes.

Every time Fred goes on a training ride with Whitney he is challenged physically and mentally. He revels in the camaraderie and conversations as they recover between harder training efforts. Suzanne, in my humble observation, is Fred’s secret weapon. When not racing herself, Suzanne helps organize their travels to and from events. She even acts as a soigneur on event days, including driving the chase car during Garmin Unbound 200 for the last several years! She organizes Fred’s doctor appointments when they are home in between events, and even finds time to ride with Fred on recovery days!

Step out of your comfort zone

Jan Lewis, 78, is a perfect example of the next way to add life to your years… try something new and step out of your comfort zone. Jan became a CTS Athlete in 2009 to prepare for a cross country cycling trip in 2010, which she successfully completed. She enjoyed the cross-country ride so much she went back a few years later and completed three more trips! During the time we’ve worked together, Jan has completed numerous multi-day rides in the US and abroad. Not only does she enjoy the riding, but also cultivating lasting friendships and memories.

jan lewis

As we were setting goals for 2022, Jan said she wanted to “mix it up” and step out of her comfort zone. She wanted to race! And thus began Jan’s “racing career”. She started out with time trials (lowest risk) and then progressed to age group road racing through the National Senior Games program. Jan medaled in both of her inaugural road races in Fort Lauderdale this year! Jan elevated her passion for cycling and kept it fresh and exciting by stepping out of her comfort zone.

cyclists over 65 jan lewis

Find new ways to do what you love

At 82, Bob Cole found a way to continue riding bikes. This is in spite of shoulder surgery and low back problems that left him with severe arthritis and the inability to ride in an upright posture. Bob exemplifies my third way cyclists over 65 can add years to your life: changing your focus and find another way to do what you love.

Prior to 2012 when Bob became a CTS Athlete, he had completed a solo, unsupported 19-day, 1500-mile bike ride on a Sears 10-speed bike; spent one year commuting by bike 48 miles round trip to work each day; completed a one-day 200-mile charity ride, and completed the Assault on Mt Mitchell (102miles/10,000ft) road.  It is no wonder Bob’s shoulders no longer wanted to support him!

cyclists over 65 bob cole

Yet, Bob still wanted to train, ride and race bikes, which he now does with his recumbent road trike and a fat-tire mountain trike.  He competes annually in time trials in the local senior games program and participates in numerous charity rides on the road trike. But his new thrill is his mountain trike, better known as “Fatty”.  He has been able to explore all the mountain bike trails in and around southwestern North Carolina, as well as compete in gravel races in South and North Carolina.

Handle medical challenges proactively

My final exemplar for high performance senior cyclists is Sue Henkhaus, who recently turned 70.  Sue was sidelined for several years because of multiple surgeries on her left foot. At the behest of her husband, Ron, who is an avid competitive cyclist, Sue became a CTS Athlete in April 2021 to incorporate cycling into her extensive rehabilitation program. Although initially limited to indoor cycling and Zwift, Sue quickly gained the confidence and fitness to consider riding outdoors again after the long absence.

Just as she gained momentum for the transition to outdoor riding, a long-ago diagnosed cardiac disorder required immediate attention. In May 2022, Sue received a cardiac stent. Barely missing a beat (pun intended), Sue was back on the bike within five days of the procedure with a bolstered energy level and dramatically improved VO2 max.

cyclists over 65 sue henkhaus

Sue is an example of my final way cyclists over 65 can add life to your years… meet medical challenges head-on and get back as soon as you can to what you enjoy most.  Since May, Sue has completed one metric century and several outdoor rides with Ron, her two cycling sons, AND her ten-year old grandson.  This “Cycling Matriarch” has no intentions of slowing down and has set a stellar example for the youngest generation to follow.

Takeaways (for athletes of all ages)

For every Fred, Jan, Bob and Sue, there are additional cyclists over 65 out there with similar stories. They’re adding life to their years and inspiring others to do the same, so if you need motivation at any age, remember:

  1. Just Don’t Stop
  2. Surround yourself with youth
  3. Try something new and step out of your comfort zone
  4. Change your focus and find another way to do what you love
  5. Meet medical challenges head-on and get back as soon as you can to what you enjoy most

By Tracey Drews,
CTS Premier Coach

 


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Comments 24

  1. Enjoyed this article but was a little disappointed in how many women over 60 commented! I am a former racer and a bit confused about my aging process at 64 with this sport. Yes we should keep going, but to what extreme? Am I putting too much stress on my heart by trying to keep up with younger men?? What is too much, what is too little? I never see CTS guiding in the aging and cycling approach! I would love to have some feedback so that I am not doing harm to my body or my heart! Should I just maintain tempo or can I push it for 70+ miles??

    Sincerely Dolores

  2. Enjoyed this article but was a little disappointed in how many women over 60 commented! I am a former racer and a bit confused about my aging process at 64 with this sport. Yes we should keep going, but what extreme? Am I putting too much stress on my heart by trying to keep up with younger men?? What is too much, what is too little? I never see CTS guiding in the aging and cycling approach! I would love to have some feedback so that I am not doing harm to my body or my heart! Should I just maintain tempo or can I push it for 70+ miles??

    Sincerely Dolores

  3. I am having an almost impossible time trying to find out what I should be doing as a ‘base’ currently, after getting back into riding after an almost 20 year layoff (which I regret more than almost anything else in my life, and that’s saying A LOT!).
    (Sadly, the antithesis of your “Just don’t stop” adage above. 🙁 )

    I can get NO answers anywhere as to what I should be doing now, as everyone just assumes you already have that ‘base’ done and under your belt, and therefore ONLY wants to talk about the ‘sexy’ parts of training, i.e.; HIIT, various intervals, VO2 Max training, FTP, etc.

    Being somewhat ‘old school’, telling me to just stay in whatever current-speak effort ‘zone’, at so and so watts, does me NO GOOD at all!

    I need a gear ratio and cadence for guides as to base training, since I was always told to almost NEVER grind/push/’windmill’ huge gears as soooo many do nowadays (especially triathletes), not even in time trials!
    Right now I am doing 2-3 hour rides in the small ring (34) with a 12-25 cluster, trying to hold a steady ~100 RPM cadence.

    I also just cannot afford a power meter setup right now, although I probably can swing a heart rate monitor.

    I started racing as an intermediate (12-14 yr. old class) in 1970, and competed that year at the National Championships on road (Central Park), and track (Kissena Velodrome).

    Then National Cycling Coach Oliver Martin made up a flow chart for ALL riders (road, track, crit, cyclocross, etc.) to follow for their base, to be done on a LOW gear ratio (like 47×22 or so) fixed gear, on mostly flat roads.

    Then, once that approximately 2K mile phase was complete, everyone diverged into different forms of intervals, sprint training, etc. according to their chosen specialty.

    Like everything else, MUCH has changed since 52 years ago (who the hell knew that there would be soooooo many confusing acronyms/letter abbreviations for basic exercise/endurance physiology functions and ‘metrics’ way back then? Watts, FTP, CTL, LT, etc., etc. were NOT used for the prep, training, or execution of Merckx’s hour record in 1972!!).

    I agree with John above about the primary care physicians ONLY catering to the ‘usual’ for our age groups; sedentary, COPD victim, heavy alcohol use, cardiovascular wrecks (due to their OWN faults/lifestyles, NOT genetics), and therefore do not expect anyone our age to be doing high intensity, maximal heart rate training of any sort, EVER.

    You DO have to explain to them just how hard you intend to extend/exert yourself, but they most likely would not believe you anyway (or think you are not capable of such, given the majority of their patients’ conditions).
    But even when I did, mine flat out REFUSED to write me a script for the EXERCISE stress test that I requested, just to make sure that the old pump is still up to the tasks.

    They, and even the vast majority of cardiologists out there, just DO NOT ‘get it’, and seem flabbergasted when you are not ‘the norm’ for them.

  4. Loved reading and taking it all in. Great takeaways! I’m 66, avid cyclist at least until 4 years ago. Started off low back fusion, year later hip replacement and have had both knees replaced in past 9 months. Been a long recovery, but I’m looking forward to the 2nd half. Active Agers Rule

  5. Wow! So glad to see all the positive responses. The reason I chose to go with a CTS coach is the history they have with training older athletes. Keep these types of articles coming.

  6. Enjoyed and found these stories refreshing and inspirational and much needed. As a 75 year old male who doesn’t want age to impede being active and as a cyclist who finds local roads intimidating due to narrow shoulders and many drivers and pickups with trailers cutting corners and having had a rear view mirror hit me last year I needed a kick start to get back on the bike.
    Specific advice on ride intensity, duration, HR zones and specific body weight training to get fully back in shape would be welcome in future articles.

  7. After riding 120 miles at the Maryland Endurance Games last year (was 77 then), I crashed later in the summer and in the spring this year, and broke bones. My left leg had suddenly given out both times. Initially my problem was diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome, and hip bursitis, and cautions about overtraining came my way. But one doc smelled a rat, and sent me for MRI’s, leading to diagnosis of severe and complicated spine problems with sciatica. I could neither walk nor stand. But I got back on my trainer, and now use it every day because it reduces the pain so much. Soon I plan to train in flat places outdoors, and am registered for the TT at Huntsman, and for the 6-hour at Borrego Springs. Thank you for your helpful advice. I agree that the best is “don’t stop”, and “adapt.”

  8. I’m a 66 year old former national champion who still likes to go out on daily training rides with the Cat 1&2 35 year olds, but I have learned several things over the last several years: a) long time high levels of heart exertion (80%+ of Max HR) are not good for you at this age and can lead to plaque build up in your blood vessels from their trying to deal with constant high blood pressure — so consider much more base level riding mixed with less frequent high intensity intervals; b) add an overall core and body strengthening program — it may add weight but you will feel so much better and it gives you something to do on your off days; c) consider adding in rowing or jogging as alternative ways to train your leg muscles with a bit less cardiovascular strain; and d) focus on diet, as a bad diet at this age is much harder to overcome. With all of that my FTP and Strava scores are better now than they were 20 years ago.

  9. I am 83, Began riding seriously in 1975 and learned track riding at age 67. Still riding track TT events. You do need to keep moving, accept help where it is needed (in healthcare especially), keep fueled properly and stay positive. Love what you are doing and do what you love.

    1. The scary part is that many of the Masters upper age bracket class trackies are now riding back to back 70 second (or BETTER!) kilos for their 2000 meter Pursuit event.

      That is quicker than most U.S. National ‘elite’, under 35 year old athletes could muster for ONE kilo TT back when I started, and even for years after that.

      Yes, a lot of it is aero equipment/kit benefits, and advanced training methods/weight training, etc. (and more time to accomplish the latter), but still, Masters track racing is FIERCE!!

  10. I’m a 79 year old in Virginia. We have a group of over 65 cyclists. We don’t race competitively but do lots of fairly hard rides together. Our annual “birthday ride” has been in October for several years & we do an 80 miler. I’m planning to do it this year because it really will be an 80 miles for 80 years. My 52 year old son will be joining us “old folks”.

  11. I’m 63 and thought I was in great shape. Last year I noticed tingling in my fingers and a slight dead feeling in my armpits at the start of my rides. After a physical, stress test, and initial calcium coronary scan, doctors said all looked great. At the urging of a friend I changed cardiologists who advised the only way to know for sure what I was feeling was to get an angioplasty. Results of that were shocking, as I ended up one week later with open heart surgery and six arteries bypassed. I was back on the bike in six weeks, intervals in three months. The moral here, if something doesn’t seem right, follow up until you get to the bottom of it.

  12. Be a shark. The shark dies if he/she stop moving!! Ride with the young-uns, even if it’s sitting in. You forget your age, mostly. 🥴🤗 Impart you knowledge to the next generations. High praise from a younger ride catching up to me after the sprint, “you really know how and which wheels to follow”. I’ll take it.

  13. Loved the article, as I do all the info from c.t.s. As a former competitive runner, tennis player and cyclist; it is articles like these and first person accounts that keep me going. Diagnosed with ALS, 11 years ago; it has caused me to change what I do and adapt to what I can continue to do and cycling is one I can still do and compete. Adaptation, has been my mantra. Can’t push the pedals anymore? You should see me pulling through the road races and time Trials. Diaphragm getting weaker? Change my position in the drops, to breath easier. I’ll be back at the Massachusetts Senior Games, 2022. Now in the 75-79 category and looking for the gold again. Thanks for the article!

  14. I’m a 60+ ‘non-athlete’ who enjoys breaking a good sweat on the bike (multiple dual-centuries, full ironman finisher). Exercise is the only real ‘fountain of youth’, but it must be tempered with sound medical advice and realistic expectations & goals. Before starting any new or significantly more strenuous program, it would be wise to get a good medical exam- including being VERY frank with your provider about HOW STRENUOUS you plan to be. Sadly, most providers these days tailor their medical advice (& fitness expectations) to couch potatoes unable/unwilling to get even the basic AHA recommendation of 150min/wk of rather modest intensity exercise (e.g. walking 2.5m/hr or biking UNDER 10 mph). Of course providers are concerned about the potential risk of older folks exercising too hard, but the ongoing risks of NOT getting good exercise are even greater.

  15. At 77, cycling is my go-to daily activity either on the road or doing intervals in the gym on a stationary. While I compete in the SC Senior Games, it would be great if there was website that catered to 65+ cyclists that listed races and events country-wide. Finding these events is the most challenging part of cycling for me, the riding is easy!!

  16. Good article. I think another step could be added for people like me approaching 65.

    6)Learn from older athletes.

    Your article names a few but there are many more I have found on Zwift and Strava and most are happy to share their success and failure’s.

  17. Keep moving! At 73 in a couple of weeks, and cycling for 50+ years, interspersed with running, you just have to keep moving. Adequate rest is the key too. Better to take a day off after a hard effort than face a couple of mediocre ones after. Almost all my rides here on the Downeast Maine Coast (all winter too) are solo due to lack of opportunity – usually an hour to an hour and a half rolling terrain at good tempo pace – perfect, well exercised but not too tired to do other stuff. Summer it’s a blend of road cycling, and long day trips up to 35 miles or so out on the ocean in my recumbent pedal/prop drive catamaran – designed by John Howard’s brother (if you are old enough to read this column, you know who John is). Assuming this post accepts links, one such journey accompanied by a pair of strong competitive kayakers to Monhegan Island can be seen here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0iG0ehgLGEnrUu This is some of the most beautiful terrain you could possibly pedal through!

    1. Yes, I DO know who John Howard is, having been in races with him, and his teammates; John Allis, Stan Swaim, Dave Chauner, Doug Dale, Bill Humphreys, etc., et al. 😉 🙂

  18. Two years ago at the MA Senior Games I watched a guy shuffle up to a bike in a walker, get on and race in the 70 – 74 division.

    P.S. I’m 68, from the NY area, willing to travel, and don’t see many opportunities to compete a/g senior bikers. Where should I look?

  19. Good article.

    However, both this article and a previous one on determining heart rate zones, and perhaps many others in this series, avoid the post-COVID, or perhaps better termed “long COVID”, impacts on training. While we hear generic warnings from medial experts to “take it easy”, we also see many athletes, albeit younger, jump back into rigorous training and competing.

    But so far I’ve not heard, from CTS or other sources, how training plans, evaluation, and competition should be changed to in light of the health outcomes from the global pandemic.

  20. Thank you for the great, informative, and encouraging article. I am a 73 y.o. former marathoner, former triathlete and currently a seasoned aqua bike competitor. Been thinking about transitioning to cycling only. Looking to see what is available in my area.

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