Helping You Ride Stronger, Look Better, and Feel Great!

How to Keep Up With Younger Athletes on Long Rides

Today’s question is about how to keep up with the fast pace when riding with younger people, as you get older…

Hi Coach,

I’m a MTB enthusiast. One item I haven’t found much info on and is of particular interest to me concerns keeping pace with younger people. I’m pushing 60 and go mountain biking with a group of individuals much younger than me (some are 15 to 20 years younger). Except for the first 5 or so km, I always find myself behind due to lack of stamina and lack of strength. What can I do to build up resistance and strength so that I can stick with the group throughout the outing which usually lasts three hours and covers over 40 km?

I live in Italy and have an Italian wife. I eat three balanced and varied meals a day which probably include a bit too many carbs, but pasta is the national dish, so what can I say. I supplement my protein intake with a daily protein supplement (GNC whey isolate). I am not fat (around 155 lbs and tall). Last year I weighed around 75 kg but after starting a special diet (I have eliminated three main ingredients from my intake: sugar, wheat products, and dairy products from cows,) the weight went down and has stabilized at its current level.

My training consists of both indoor (fitness center) and outdoor (MTB cycling) activities. In the the fitness center, (twice a week, but on occasion three times per week) I concentrate on upper-body and abdominal exercises. Lower-body exercises are performed only when cycling is a non-starter due to weather conditions. My cycling includes lots of hill and mountain climbs. My trips average around 35 to 45 kms and the ascent averages about 800 to 900 meters. A few times a year the trips last around five hours and include 1400 to 1700 meters of ascent. My cycling is a group activity and we go out to enjoy ourselves, as well as train. The group pushes but also stops to rest and take photos occasionally. I typically go out once a week in the late fall, winter, and early spring periods. During the other warmer periods, two times a week is the norm. When on vacation, three times a week is normal.

Thanks,
Nonno Nathan

Hi Nathan,

Great question. I still remember starting out with the local mountain bike group. I was one of two teenagers, and the group spanned a wide age range, having a few riders in their 50’s and 60’s. One of the guys is 64 now and still putting the hurt to plenty of local 30-40 year olds on the road and trails!

It’s good to have a goal (keeping up with the younger guys,) but as far as training and improving, just focus on being the best you can be. Outside of the professional ranks, age is just one of many factors.

=> Speaking of the pros, Jens Voigt made a good point earlier this year about turning 40 and still racing in the pro peloton. So even amongst the pros, “the harder you train, the better you get” is still valid.

So let’s talk training…

Finding Your Limiters

The first step is to figure out just what your problem areas are. You mention two limiters, stamina and strength. Specifically, you fade after the first few miles… but still have 20 hard miles to go!

Analyzing Your Current Training Plan

The next step is to take an objective look at your current training. Here’s what looks good:

You do long rides. It sounds like the duration of the rides doesn’t bother you, so your endurance at lower intensity should be fine. No need to go on more long rides each week.

You ride hills. Even with low gears, you have some serious mountains to deal with. Naturally, there must be some fairly high intensity riding in here.

Your updated diet seems to work well. It provides good nutrition for energy, workout recovery, and overall health. (If you want to explore your diet some more, this advice may be applicable.)

Full-body strength from your upper body and ab workouts. This must be preventing fatigue – tired arms, aching lower back, etc. – which is common on long mountain bike rides even for young guys.

Group rides are fun. If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?

Two Questions To Ask Yourself

It sounds like you already do some serious training on and off the bike. The fitness center training (weight lifting, I assume) and outdoor mountain bike rides, which include good hill climbs, make for a well-rounded routine.

This workout regimen probably puts most men to shame! It sounds like your nutrition is going well, too. That said, two questions jump out at me.

1. Should you only be doing group rides?

It sounds like you only do group rides, and when you go, the rides are pretty long. So it’s more of you going with the group rather than fulfilling your individual training needs.

Say you’re on the group ride. It’s probably tough and feels real hard, at least on the climbs. But since the ride is long and tiring, your actual power output isn’t that high. Whereas if you rode for 45 minutes total, with some hard efforts from 30 seconds to 3 minutes long, you’d feel just as tired but would have accomplished a better workout.

2. What are the other guys doing the rest of the week?

Since part of your goal is to keep up with these guys, you should know how they are training. Maybe they are out training 5 days per week on their bikes, rather than 2-3. If they’re younger, training more, and training smart, it will be hard to compete with that.

If they’re training more but not training smart, you have a much better shot at competing with them. But stay realistic – some guys will have more time and resources to dedicate to training, so you have to expect them to end up in better shape.

Chronic Group Ride Syndrome

Symptoms include frequent group rides followed by no improvement in fitness levels.

I hate to say this, but I see it plague riders ALL THE TIME. A lot of middle age men are out riding to have a good time, but they want to get fitter, so they can do better on group rides.

Unfortunately, in virtually every case, they need to cut back on group rides and do some shorter rides on their own, focusing on hard efforts (whether structured interval training or fartlek style.)

It’s a “catch 22” because getting fitter means cutting back on group rides, but cutting back on group rides takes the fun away, so there’s not much reason to get fitter anymore!

Finding the right balance will be different for every individual. Generally it’s one of three strategies:

  • Adding more rides each week so you can do solo interval workouts.
  • Substituting one group ride each week with a solo training session.
  • Taking 1-3 months off from group rides to do your own training camp before resuming regular group rides.

Most likely, the best benefits in your case will come from reorganizing and altering your current workouts. In other words, a compromise between getting the necessary workouts while still getting out for a fun group ride each week.

What You Might Be Able to Improve

Here’s what I might put into your action plan:

Focus on technical skills.

Your years of experience can be put to use like this. The more skilled you are and the more fluid your riding style, the less energy you expend. This means more energy when it really matters. (And the older you are, the more important it is not to waste any energy.)

Be careful how fast you start out.

Whether it’s the beginning of the ride or the beginning of a long climb, don’t push too far past your comfort zone. A lot of people push too hard at first and go into the red zone. If they stay under that limit, they can ride for hours with ease, but if they pass the limit, their ride is painful, as if they can’t recover from that one extra exertion.

This tip is really about using your brain.

Fit in some short, solo rides focused on hard efforts.

Like I mentioned earlier, you’re probably missing high intensity workouts. Try one solo ride per week with any sort of interval training scheme (i.e. 30 seconds hard, 90 seconds rest, repeat.)

Do these when you’re fresh for best results. Don’t do them the day after a long group ride! And preferably do these as uphill intervals since that’s the type of terrain you’ll be riding when it counts.

These hard efforts actually help your endurance, too, since they will push your redline higher. So on your long rides, you can go faster without hitting it, and thus feel fresh for the whole thing.

Rest

Training intensity and volume is determined by how much rest you can get. As you get older, you need more rest for a given workout. You may get plenty of rest now, but I’m listing it because it’s so important (and I simply don’t know how well rested you are on any given day.)

If All Else Fails…

If you’re still stuck, here’s a good rule of thumb – turn to Joe Friel!

Consider his book, Cycling Past 50. It’s from 1998, but hey, there were 50+ year old cyclists back then, so I don’t think it would be outdated. I’ve never read it, but it’s only $13 and has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.com.

I previewed it in Google Books, skimming the first four chapters, and it looks like a long, technical book. I guess it’s very similar to The Cyclist’s Training Bible, but with less intensity and duration in the training suggestions, and discussion of common limiters faced by aging athletes, which is probably the best part.

If you’re still having trouble, it might be worth a read. Something could jump out at you.

But hopefully you can start improving sooner rather than later! Good luck!

More articles you will probably enjoy:
Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on LinkedIn0Email this to someone

Leave a Reply

coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

usa cycling certified coach


pn1 certified coach
Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
Coach Levi's Mom
Hometown, PA