Coach Hughes: Endurance Ride Training for Older Cyclists
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Senior Cyclists

Training for Older Cyclists: For 100 to 200 Mile Endurance Rides

How much a senior cyclist can improve depends on the right training program!

by Coach John Hughes

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging — 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process, of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Z, a senior RoadBikeRider reader asks, “This is a general question, but first a statement. Often the physiology journals report on 12 week training periods with reports of X % improvement compared to the control group.

“About 7 years ago I completed a local century in about 9+ hours, which included off-bike time. I prepared with attempts to ride faster. I attempted this with most of my riding at "greater than race pace" and a weekly long ride of 40 - 50 miles.

“Two years ago, I rode the same century in 7.5 hours with about 20 - 30 minutes off the bike and 40 miles of drafting with 1 other rider. I prepared for this century with much more early season leisurely riding and did not participate in the mid-course time trial.

“I would really like to do a 300 K, or a double century, without being "wiped out for the rest of the summer.

“How much improvement is realistic for me, a 60 year old male; a person who only began cycling 6 -1 0 years ago, and exercising 20 years ago?

John, you are asking excellent questions. Because many RBR riders are century riders I'll answer both how to train for a century and how to train for a 300K / 200 mile ride.

Scientific Studies.
Scientists publish studies that an experimental group improved by X% more than the control group because the experimental group did ABC and the control group didn't. ABC could be a specific training program, or a special diet, etc.

The subjects get paid for participating so often the participants are college students who need money. All the study really says is that if college student who is similar in age, weight, gender, general fitness, etc. to the experimental group does the ABC then on average s/he will improve about X%.

From this we can extrapolate that if you are the same age, weight, gender, general fitness, etc. and if you do ABC you'll get better results than if you don't. (But this is only valid if the experiment is truly a controlled double-blind experiment - often companies claim with no actual scientific evidence that if you use their product you'll improve by X%.)

Older Cyclists' Training Programs for Endurance.
For the slower century you trained with a lot of fast rides and for the faster century you trained by putting in more early-season “leisurely” base miles.

You've figured out that you can improve. How much you can improve depends on a proper training program.

Base training: You start by laying a base of endurance miles at a conversational pace. This base period should be a minimum of two months for a century rider and three to four months is a better base for an aspiring 300K / double century rider. The goal for the end of base training is to comfortably ride 4 - 5 hour half-century if training for a full century or a 7 - 8 hour century if training for a double century. You'll be tired after it, but within a few weeks you should be capable of doing another century.

Then a roadie can start building up to a century or 300K / double century. The training goal is to complete a final long ride that is 2/3rds to 3/4ths the duration of the planned century or 300K / double century.

I roughly estimate that when you double the distance then your speed will decline by at least 10%. If a rider did a half-century in 4:00 hours then the full century will take about 8:30 - 9:30 hours. Because you rode a 7:30 century you probably do a 300K on comparable terrain in about 15:30 - 17:00 hours and a double century in about 16:30 - 18:00 hours.

Assume a century takes 9:00 hours. Then the longest training ride should be about 6:00 - 6:45 hours. I plan training by time because a flat century might take 8:00 hours and a hilly one 9:00 hours.

Assume the 300K will take you 16:00 hours, then your longest training ride should be about 10:45 - 12:00 hours. Assume the double century will take you about 17:00 hours, then your longest training ride will be about 11:45 - 12:45.

Build training: How should a rider training for a century ramp up from a 4:00 hour half- century to an 6:30 hour final training ride? How should you ramp up from your 7:30 century to 12;30 hour final training ride? You can safely:

  • Increase your long ride by 5 - 15% each week.
  • Increase your weekly volume by 5 - 15%.
  • Increase your monthly volume by 10 - 25%.
Recovery is critical building up to these longer rides! A couple of your weekly rides should be easy active recovery rides. So they get enough recovery I use a pattern of alternating harder (longer ride) and easier (shorter ride) with clients. I also include a 1-week full recovery break in the middle of the training program.

Sample programs: Here are 11-week programs of weekend rides building to a century or a 300K / double century:

WeekCenturyDouble Century
  HoursHours
#14:00 Half-century 7:30 Century
#22:00 ride3:45 ride (about half of the preceding week)
#34:45 ride9:00 ride (20% more than week 1)
#42:30 ride4:30 ride
#5 Full recovery week 1:00 - 2:00 ride.
#65:30 ride10:45 ride
#73:00 ride5:15 ride
#86:30 ride12:30 ride
#93:00 ride6:00 ride
  TaperTaper
#101:30 ride3:00 ride
#11Century300K / Double Century

Taper: You can't get any fitter in the last two weeks building up to a long ride - you can only get tired! The purpose of the taper is to recover fully so you are fresh. Only do a couple of short rides in week 10 and the short weekend ride and then a couple of short rides the week of the century or 300K / double century.

Intensity: In addition to the weekly long ride and two recovery rides do:

  • 1 brisk ride the weeks of the longer weekend rides - you should still be able to talk in short sentences but not whistle.
  • 2 intensity rides the weeks of the shorter weekend rides - you should be breathing hard and your legs should be talking to you, but you shouldn't be gasping and your legs shouldn't be screaming.
14-week schedule with more recovery: You want to do your big ride “without being wiped out for the rest of the summer.” The 10-week program will get you fit enough to complete a 300K / double century - but you may not want to even see your bike for several weeks! Taking more time to ramp up will make the 300K / double century more fun and allow you to enjoy riding the rest of the summer. Instead of doing a progressively longer ride every other week do it every third week: *
WeekCenturyDouble Century
  HoursHours
#14:00 half-century7:30 century
#21:303:00 ride
#32:45 ride5:00 ride
#44:45 ride9:00 hour ride (20% more than week 1)
#5 Full recovery week with just a 1 - 2:00 hour long ride.
#6 2:004:00 ride
#7 3:15 ride6:00 ride
#85:30 ride10:45 ride
#92:30 ride3:00 ride
#10 4:00 ride7:30 ride
#116:30 ride12:30 ride
  start of 3 week taper, 1 week longer than 10 week program
#124:30 ride6:00 ride
#133:00 ride3:00 ride
#14Century300K / Double Century

Doing it. Riding a first century for 8 or more hours or a first 300K or double century for 16 or more hours seems like a long time. You ride it just like you eat a good dinner: one bite at a time. That is, you just focus on riding to the next rest stop (don't forget to eat!) ... and then the next (remember to eat) ... and your done!

I still remember my first century, the Cinderella, and my first double, the Davis Double. I remember how proud . . . and exhausted . . . I was at the end of each. Succeeding years I laid a bigger base and ramped up more slowly and really enjoyed the camaraderie of riding all those miles.

Good luck and have fun!

Anti-Aging — 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process. 106 pages for $14.99 from RoadBikeRider.com

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

Endurance Training and Riding 3-article bundle of 48 pages for $13.50 (10% savings)

  1. Beyond the Century: How to train for bike rides from 100 to 750 miles.
  2. Nutrition for 100K and Beyond: What to eat during training and events.
  3. Mastering the Long Ride: How to ride for a successful event.

Cycling Past 50. A 4-article bundle of 98 pages for older cyclists for just $15.96, a 20% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. 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.
  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.
  3. Healthy Nutrition Past 50. What an older cyclist should eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
  4. Performance Cycling Past 50. How older cyclists can train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.

Cycling Past 60. A 2-article bundle of 47 pages for senior cyclists for just $8.98, a 10% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. 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.
  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.

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

Other articles by Coach Hughes