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Intelligent Cycling Training for Senior Cyclists

How Seniors Can Get and Stay Motivated

Consistency is the key to fitness for an older cyclist. Here's how to stay motivated!

by Coach John Hughes

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

As a Senior Cyclist How to Get and Stay Motivated.

Joe, a senior RoadBikeRider reader asks, “I'm 78 and a lifelong rider. Four years ago farm dogs ran me down and as a result a fix of the femur requiring a pin. My goal after the recovery was to gain fitness and motivation to take on club rides and do a few metric rides. That has not happened and I have tried training plans, i.e. climbing, cross training and have not completed due to the boredom of indoor training. My motivation is lacking. Is there still a way to get faster with endurance?”

You are asking three common questions. I'll answer these in three related columns:

  1. How to get and stay motivated
  2. How to train for endurance
  3. How to train to get faster

As a Senior How to Get Generally Fit.

Part of your question is how to “gain fitness.” There are many ways that you can improve your fitness without following a boring training program.

Don't train
I haven't trained at all this year. I ride my mountain bike a lot, which improves my endurance, increases my power riding on the steep sections when I peg my heart rate, uses my core and upper body as I control the bike and practically wears out my facial muscles from all the smiling!

Have fun
We train for a specific purpose, but we ride for fun. If moving your body one way (“exercising”) isn't fun then try something else. Any form of movement using most of your body will help you build baseline fitness.

Vary your cycling
I have two good friends who live on the central coast of California and 3 or 4 times a week ride north along the Pacific Ocean and back home. I used to live near them and it's a great ride — but several times a week?

Any form of exercise, if done repeatedly, can get boring. Try riding different routes than usual. Or pick the most scenic route that you can find, ride slowly and take lots of photos. Or attempt something really challenging like a long, steep climb. Ride as far as you can, walk a bit, and then ride some more. Or decide to ride every road in your county. Or add some gravel roads, which usually have much less traffic. Or drive somewhere not too far from home and ride a different route. Your imagination has few limits.

Vary your aerobic activities
Cycling is just one of many ways to get your legs moving, heart pumping faster and lungs breathing harder. Make a list of all the possible ways of exercising aerobically that you could try: road cycling, dirt road / path cycling, mountain biking, walking, hiking, running, in-line skating, swimming, etc. Think of the aerobic games that you could play: basketball, racquetball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, badminton, table tennis (Jim Langley's favorite). Give (almost) everything a try — you might enjoy it! A friend, a lifelong cyclist, isn't riding much — he's playing Picklebar, a racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis.

Develop a Plan.

Set a tangible goal
Joe, one of the best ways to improve your motivation is to set a specific goal so that you can measure progress over time. "Getting faster with endurance" is a good goal but it's very general. You need something more specific. Here's an example:

I've coached my good friend and client Elizabeth Wicks for many years and written about her accomplishments in previous RBR newsletters. We've focused on Calvin's 12-Hour Challenge. In 2013 she set the women's age 65 - 69 mileage record of 172.7 miles. The next year had the strongest winds since the race began and she “only” rode 157 miles setting the age 70 - 74 record. In early 2015 she set a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

  • Specific — ride more than 157 miles, breaking her age group record. If possible, set a personal best of at least 173 miles.
  • Measurable — in 12 hours including time off the bike.
  • Attainable — she has the time to train.
  • Realistic — as long as conditions are just okay (not even good) she can ride farther than 175 miles. She has the fitness and experience.
  • Time oriented — on a specific date, May 2.

I coached her with a specific week-by-week training program that built up to her goal. The training program included benchmark goals month by month so that we could measure her progress.

After the race she sent me a message, “OMG, as they say. Perfect day — no wind, etc. Smoked it!! 182 miles.”

Joe's S.M.A.R.T. goal for the next three months could be something as simple as building up to riding at least 7 hours per week by the end of November. Or completing a 50 mile ride by December 1.

A plan could be:

  1. Software or a spreadsheet with workout entries and then results entered for every day of the week from September through November.
  2. A list of weekly objectives from September through November.

#1 and #2 both work depending on how much structure and detail you like. And there's a third option no plan, which could also work.

Type #1: Using Goals and a Detailed Plan to Motivate.

Joe could develop a detailed plan with monthly objectives to reach his goal by the end of November:
  • September: ride at least 3 days totaling at least 5 hours a week.
  • October: ride at least 4 days totaling at least 6 hours a week.
  • November: ride at least 5 days totaling at least 7 hours a week.

Coach Yourself
After you've set your S.M.A.R.T. goal and objectives you can coach yourself. Here's what I provide clients:

  1. 40% is a week-by-week plan
  2. 40% is accountability
  3. 20% is expertise on specifically what to do.

You can easily do #1 and #2 for yourself. Take your monthly S.M.A.R.T. objectives and divide those into weekly S.M.A.R.T. objectives. Every Sunday night look back at your week — did you meet your objective? Then in your training software, training journal or calendar enter what you will do each day to meet the next week's objective.

Type 2: Using Goals and a Simple Plan to Motivate.

If Joe doesn't like all that detail he could use the S.M.A.R.T. objectives for each of the next three months but not go into a lot of detail.

Set small, simple targets
Joe doesn't need to bother deciding exactly what and when he'll ride in the upcoming week, he just sets a specific target for the week. His September objective is to ride 3 days a week totaling at least 5 hours. Each morning he checks the weather, reviews what else he plans to do that day, notes his energy level and then decides whether to ride. Mid-week he asks himself if he's making progress toward 3 days of riding totaling 5 hours and on Sunday night he scores himself for the week just ending

Small targets on rides
Suppose you're doing a ride that's very challenging, for example a 100K (62.2 miles), which is significantly longer and/or harder than your usual rides. Or suppose you're on the weekend 40-mile club ride and conditions are much worse than you expected or you develop a physical ailment.

Don't think about how long the ride is. Instead set small targets. Just focus on riding to the top of the next hill. Or to the next minimart where you can get a hot drink. Keep setting small targets and you'll finish the ride.

Who Needs a Plan?

When asked how to improve, the great Eddy Merckx didn't say to set a S.M.A.R.T goal and follow a good training plan. He just said, “Ride more.” Here are some ways to ride more and get fitter without any sort of training plan.

Ride with a buddy
Every Wednesday or Thursday my buddy John Elmblad and I ride, even in the Colorado winter. Each week we pick a day that works for both of us, chat about what will be fun and go do it. We have 2 simple rules:

  1. No passing anyone, which ensure we stay at a conversational pace.
  2. Always have lunch or at least coffee — a nice reward especially in the winter.

Go on a date
Arrange to meet your significant other for coffee or lunch and ride to the cafè.

Organized rides
Find a club or group that you enjoy riding with and do some of their rides. This week's lunch ride to Farmdale is on flat country roads so you join the group. Next week is Hills and Dales — you skip it.

Mix it up
Ride to a someplace interesting, go for a hike or walk and then ride home.

Build into everyday life
What do you do by car that you could do by bike? Commute to work and back? Run errands? Ride to a club meeting?

Rather than deciding each week when and where you'll ride, just develop a routine, for example, to ride in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Live in the present
Don't think about any future goal(s). Joe wants to build up his endurance to ride 50 miles. Forget about it! Just focus on riding 20 miles today. Then the next time he rides just focus on riding 22 miles.

On June 30, 1989 a truck ran a stop sign, hit me and crushed my left knee. I started my recovery on the trainer building up to a half an hour. When I could finally ride on the road again, I started with a 4-mile (6.4-km) round trip. My next goal was to ride my shortest 11-mile (17.7-km) training loop. And then 16 miles (25.8 km) out and back. Over the course of a year I built up to a century, step by step.

Motivation Tips for All Riders

Whether you sit down every Sunday night and write a detailed plan, or just set a weekly goal or make it up as you go along, these tips will help:

Form a habit
Research shows that if you stick with something for three months it becomes a habit. It's easier to stick with just one thing for three months than to try to make multiple changes. For example, for now just focus on the riding and forget about all the other things I recommend like stretching, weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, diet, etc. Make riding your habit and after (at least) three months add another area in which to improve.

It's easier to stick with it if you have positive reinforcement. It could be as simple as a screen saver on your computer that reads, “I'll enjoy riding today!” or “More miles!” or “7 hours a week by Thanksgiving.” Share with your significant other what you're trying to do and why and ask him or her to give you an “attaboy” when you do well. Sharing with your significant other also reduces potential conflicts about how you use your time.

Promise yourself simple rewards. For example, if you do your riding for a week, then treat yourself and your significant other to a nice meal out. If you do your riding for a month, buy that cool jersey.

Anti-Aging — 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process. 106 pages from

Examples of Older Cyclists

Elizabeth Wicks broke the senior women’s age 65 to 69 record at Calvin’s 12-Hour Challenge in 2013 and the W70-74 record in 2014. I coached Wicks. Here is her 2013 training program.

Peter Lekisch was the first 60-year-old rider to finish the solo Race Across AMerica in 2001 in 12 days 20 hours 50 minutes. I had the pleasure of coaching Peter. Here is his training program.

More Information for Senior Cyclists

Gaining a Mental Edge Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling. 17 pages for $4.99 from

Cycling Past 50: A 4-article bundle of 98 pages for older cyclists for $15.96 ($4.00 savings) from The bundle includes:

  1. Healthy Cycling Past 50: What happens as you age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into your daily life to stay healthy and active for many years. Includes three balanced exercise programs for older cyclists. 20 pages for $4.99 from
  2. Off-Season Conditioning Past 50: How to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of growing older. Includes two 12-week programs for older cyclists. 26 pages for $4.99 from
  3. Healthy Nutrition Past 50: What an older cyclist should eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance. 20 pages for $4.99 from
  4. Performance Cycling Past 50: How older cyclists can train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging. Includes 9 week and 12 week programs. 17 pages for $4.99 from .

Cycling Past 60: A 2-article bundle of 47 pages for senior cyclists for just $8.98, a 10% discount from The bundle includes:

  1. Cycling Past 60, Part 1: For Health: If a senior exercises correctly, you can slow the effects of aging; if you exercise incorrectly, you can speed up aging. Includes three well-balanced exercise programs for senior cyclists. 24 pages for $4.99 from
  2. Cycling Past 60, Part 2: For Recreation: Builds on the information in Part 1 and uses the concept of “Athletic Maturity” to design six more rigorous programs for more athletically mature seniors. Pages for $4.99 from

Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond. A 3-article bundle of 100 pages for seniors for just $13.50, a 20% discount from The bundle includes:

  1. Fit for Life: The article shows how you can exercise in different ways to be fitter for life as a senior and have fun. It provides a variety of exercise options available to you to strengthen your body's functions that keep you alive and help to keep you fit for life, including the aerobic, skeletal, muscular, neural, core and balance systems. 40 pages for $14.99 from
  2. Peak Fitness: The article contains four specific programs for seniors to improve fitness in one or more of the following ways: Improved Endurance, More Power, Faster Speed and / or Higher Aerobic Capacity (VO2 max.) 41 pages for $4.99 from
  3. Training with Intensity: The article describes five progressively harder levels of training for seniors and gives 3 to 5 examples each of structured and unstructured workouts for each level of training, a total of almost 40 workouts. 27 pages for $4.99 from

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