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Intelligent Training—Training

Age is No Barrier: Training for Older Cyclists

In 2013 Elizabeth Wicks broke her women’s age 65-69 12-hour record at Calvin’s Challenge with a ride of 172.5 miles. In 2014 she broke the women’s age 70-74 12-hour record with a ride of 156 miles in very windy conditions. Here is her 2013 training program.

by John Hughes
© 2013, John Hughes, All Rights Reserved
John Hughes, the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

I particularly enjoy working with older athletes since figuring out effective training is more of a coaching challenge. I am writing a series of articles for older cyclists:

Cycling Past 50. A 4-article bundle of 98 pages for just $15.96, a 20% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. The bundle includes:

  1. Healthy Cycling Past 50. What happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years. Includes three balanced exercise programs.
  2. Off-Season Conditioning Past 50. How to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging. Includes two 12-week programs.
  3. Healthy Nutrition Past 50. What to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
  4. Performance Cycling Past 50. How to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
Cycling Past 60. A 2-article bundle of 47 pages for just $8.98, a 10% discount from RoadBikeRider.com. The bundle includes:
  1. Cycling Past 60, Part 1: For Health. If you exercise correctly, you can slow the effects of aging; if you exercise incorrectly, you can speed up aging. Includes three well-balanced exercise programs.
  2. Cycling Past 60, Part 2: For Recreation. Builds on the information in Part 1and uses the concept of “Athletic Maturity” to design six more rigorous programs for more athletically mature riders.
  • Cycling Past 70—Future article
  • What do you do when you are 69 years old and hold the women’s age 65 to 69 record of 169 miles in the Calvin’s Challenge 12-hour race? Set a goal of breaking your record in this year’s race on May 4, 2013! My good friend and client Elizabeth Wicks has been an endurance cyclist for 20 years and likes to challenge herself. She lives in the Central, MA area just north of Worcester and has regularly ridden the 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets (125, 188, 250 and 375 miles). In 2003 she completed the 1,200 km (750-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris. Elizabeth got a new right hip in Oct 2010. She was diligent in her physical therapy and rode 3,000 miles in 2010, 3,800 in 2011 and 3,700 miles last year—her goals include 5,000 miles this year and then 7,000 miles and seven events next year when she turns 70! Elizabeth works full-time with about a 20-minute commute by car—she gets up at 5 a.m. several days a week to train before work.

    Review of Elizabeth’s training
    Hughes cycling training client Elizabeth Wicks at Calvin’s Challenge
    Elizabeth Wicks on the podium
    at Calvin’s Challenge
    Elizabeth keeps a simple training log recording for each day:

    • time riding
    • miles ridden if outdoors
    • time strength training
    • time doing core exercises
    • time stretching

    We started her preparation for Calvin’s by reviewing her training log from November 2012 until now. Having all those data is very beneficial—we can look at what she’s done so far this year and how it can be improved.

    Since November 2012 she:

    • stayed active, averaging 5.5 hours a week of exercise.
    • rode outdoors every week but two for a total of 57 hours 33 minutes and 793 miles of base training.
    • did a long ride of at least two hours every weekend except two building up to her first century on February 23.
    • rode a total of 30 hours 27 minutes on the trainer.
    • rode several days a week in a class that emphasized intensity in November and December. “I was really excited because I thought I’d get in good shape and meet new people. But by the end of December I was really having trouble doing what I was able to do in the beginning. I realized I was killing myself and totally worn out. So, I did what you taught me—if it isn’t working, stop.”
    • changed her workouts in January “to your overall prescription of one really, really hard work out (those intervals I love) with lots of recovery riding—I am having more fun riding. ”
    • did the general strength, core strength and stretching routines I had taught her “but no where near as regularly as I should. But I have seen progress in flexibility and strength. ”

    Overall, Elizabeth has done an excellent job of building her aerobic endurance base, the key to a successful season and to her goal of breaking her record at Calvin’s. She has included plenty of active recovery, which is essential for older athletes. For more information see my eArticle Off-Season Conditioning Past 50.

    We all do the activities we enjoy and tend to neglect the ones that aren’t as much fun. Elizabeth and I have discussed this and her weekly program now includes:

    • one long ride to build endurance
    • one trainer intensity workout
    • one trainer workout of drills for technique
    • two walks, a weight bearing activity to maintain strong bones and also as active recovery
    • two general strength sessions to maintain muscle mass and as another weight bearing activity strength training program
    • three core strength sessions using this core strength program
    • four stretching sessions using this stretching program
    • one day completely off

    For more on my recommendations for balanced training see my eArticle Healthy Cycling Past 50.

    Review of Elizabeth’s nutrition
    I ask each client to complete a 3-day food journal, recording in detail what she eats on two weekdays and one weekend day (eating habits often are different on the weekend). A food journal is an excellent tool for us to analyze her nutrition and for her to become more aware of what she eats.

    In general Elizabeth eats a very healthy diet:

    • She doesn’t drink alcohol or eat much junk food, both of which have lots of empty calories, i.e., provide no nutritional value.
    • In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner she has a snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon and before dinner. She is slightly hypoglycemic and eating 6 times a day helps to keep her blood sugar stable. Considerable research shows that eating 6 times a day provides more energy for training and helps manage weight better than eating just 3 times a day.
    • She generally enjoys healthy snacks: a piece of fruit or a breakfast bar (75% of calories from carbohydrate). Before dinner her treat is trail mix (56% of the calories come from fat and 1/3 of those come from saturated fat) .
    • She eats 2 _ 3 servings of fruit a day, plus some in the trail mix, which is great!
    • She only eats a couple of servings of vegetables a day; I’d like her to eat 3 servings. Fruit and vegetables are primary sources of the vitamins and minerals that we need to be healthy.
    • She also eats other carbohydrate: whole grain toast in the morning and whole grain bread in her sandwich at lunch (whole grain products don’t have important nutrients milled out), potatoes or pasta for dinner. Carbohydrate provides much of the energy for riding and most athletes don’t eat enough.
    • Her protein choices are generally healthy. For breakfast she has EggBeaters, which are fat free! For lunch she alternates between tuna and chicken sandwiches; water-packed tuna is fairly low in fat and an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid, which is required for neural function, improves energy metabolism and reduces the risk of heart attacks. She roasts a chicken on Sunday (lower in fat than fried chicken) and then will have ? the roast chicken for dinners or cook pork. She could reduce the fat in her diet by not eating the chicken skin and reduce it further by only eating the white meat. The nuts in her trail mix also provide protein.
    • She eats some protein at every meal, which is great; however, she is eating more than she needs. Because she’s eating more protein than she needs, she’s not eating enough vegetables and other carbohydrate. She should cover her plate with carbohydrate and her portion of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards.
    • She has 2% milk in her coffee (a better choice than whole milk) and fat-free yogurt as dessert after dinner. However, she isn’t getting enough calcium from dairy products. Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) becomes increasingly a problem as we age, particularly for women. Strong bones require weight-bearing exercise and sufficient calcium, 3 - 4 cups of milk a day or the equivalent) .
    • We also need some fat in our diet, since we get certain vitamins from dietary fat and fat is an important source of energy (providing 9 calories per gram vs. 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein). However, dietary saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. By choosing EggBeaters and low-fat and fat free dairy products, she avoids some saturated fat. However, Elizabeth’s diet is a bit high in fat. For example, the 2 pats of butter on her toast equal 25% of the recommended saturated fat in her diet. The same amount of peanut butter would provide protein and carbohydrate with considerably less saturated fat.
    • She drinks a modest amount of caffeine: two cups of coffee in the morning and a Diet Coke at lunch.
    • At Desert Camp I encouraged her to eat salty food because of all the sodium she was losing in sweat; however, her regular diet is a little heavy on salt.
    • She drinks some water during the day and sometimes with dinner. She is probably chronically a little dehydrated, a significant problem for athletes. She should drink 1 - 2 quarts (liters) of fluid a day.
    • Elizabeth eats the same foods each day during the week, since she doesn’t enjoy cooking. She generally makes healthy choices; however, by consuming a wider variety of foodstuffs she’d get more of the different nutrients that she needs. For example, she has scrambled EggBeaters, toast and butter every morning. She’s tried oatmeal with blueberries; however, that’s too sweet and doesn’t hold her as long. Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber, which reduces blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Oatmeal alone, because it lacks protein or fat, is digested pretty quickly—perhaps she could eat oatmeal with chopped nuts and one scrambled EggBeaters some mornings.

    Overall, Elizabeth is eating a very healthy diet, which provides the energy she needs for cycling and should keep her in good health! My suggestions above are refinements that she could consider to improve her already excellent nutrition.

    For anyone trying to lose weight I highly recommend keeping a food journal. Studies show that people who keep a journal are twice as likely to be successful as those who don’t.

    Elizabeth responded to my recommendations, “I have a huge appetite and I ride to eat! I love good food and aim for only the best when I go out for dinner; however, I never got interested in cooking. “I try to limit what I eat things that don’t have a lot of calories so that I can consume more than the usual amount for one person. For example, fake eggs (EggBeaters). I can fill up on them in the morning when I am hungry. I worry about eating nuts on oatmeal, because I may pile on too many; however, I will try that with a small banana and small amount of walnuts. We’ll see how long it holds me. “I also have trouble with articles on nutrition. I get confused by the percentages of what you should consume and how many grams per pound of body weight. That’s why I appreciate simple advice like covering my plate with carbs and thinking of protein as a condiment. “I love the last paragraphs of your article—where to start? I was overwhelmed by all the information. Your idea of picking one thing at a time to work on is great advice. I can focus on two: vegetables and water. I love vegetables and have eaten a dinner of just mounds of them. Lately I pick sweet potatoes and pasta (even piled high with broccoli) instead. Except when I am riding, water gets boring. I like a bit of fizz, which is why I gravitate to diet Coke. “My plan now is to cover more of my plate with veggies at dinner and take some to work as snacks; carrots are one of my favorite. I will also make sure I have a tall inviting glass of cold water on my desk and concentrate on drinking several full glasses during the day.”

    For detailed information on a nutritious diet to provide plenty of energy for cycling, keep you in good health and reduce the risk of disease see my 28 page eArticle Healthy Nutrition Past 50.

    Week 8: Taper to Desert Camp—March 11-17, 2013
    Next week Elizabeth will be at the PAC Tour Desert Camp in Arizona. The planned camp is six days of riding 75 to 90 miles a day with 1,800 to 4,400 feet of climbing. Because of the high volume of riding in Arizona, the week before she will be tapering: reducing her volume while continuing the strength and intensity workouts:

    • Monday—0:20 walk and 0:30 general strength workout
    • Tuesday—0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Wednesday—0:45 mixed intensity
    • Thursday—0:20 walk and 0:30 general strength workout
    • Friday—0:20 walk
    • Saturday—0:60 easy ride to test bike

    Week 7: Desert Camp—March 18-24, 2013
    This week she’s at the PAC Tour Desert Camp in Arizona. Before going she wrote me:

    “What do you suggest for recovery food particularly right at the end of the day’s ride when we may not have too much access to food? I have peanut butter crackers, but what else can I bring for a jolt of good recovery calories before dinner? ” “Also, I plan to do some stretching and hopefully get a massage if I have time. I also have one of those roller/sticks for self massage. Any suggestions? With the climbing, I know I am going to have pretty sore legs. As I said, good recovery is something I need to work on.”

    Here’s what I told her. Good recovery starts with good ride management:

    • You are a smart, experienced endurance rider—show that by riding your pace! Ride at the classic conversational pace, especially the first few days. You should never be breathing hard! The camp is to build your base endurance, not your power—we’ll work on that starting in April. For more information see my eArticle on how to plan and gauge your Intensity for the most effective training.
    • Take a couple of easy recovery days. Days 3 and 5 are each loops starting and finishing at the same motels. Rather than doing the full six to seven hour rides, go out each day for a 90-minute very easy recovery ride.
    • During the rides stay on top of your nutrition. You should eat at least 200 calories of carbohydrate every hour. A little fat and protein in addition to the carbs is fine. Don’t just eat at the fine rest stops, but take food with you to eat. Drink enough so that you aren’t thirsty—you should need a bathroom break every few hours. As you finish each day eat your remaining pocket food and empty your bottles. For more see my eArticle Nutrition for 100K and Beyond.

    When I sent Elizabeth the workouts she responded, “I love the idea of having one or two shorter days. Maybe I can even find someone who wants to do the same.” Smart woman!

    After the ride:

    • Drink plenty of fluid: water, chocolate milk, orange juice (for the potassium) and/or V-8 juice (for the sodium). Even soft drinks (not diet) and sweetened ice tea are fine, although I wouldn’t recommend them for your normal diet. Commercial recovery drinks are no better, just more expensive.
    • Eat about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (1 gm / kg) every hour until dinner. In your case that’s 65 g or 260 calories of carbs. Bagels, low-fat crackers or pretzels, fruit newtons and fruit are all good choices.
    • Lie down for 20 minutes with your legs elevated.
    • If you have any sore muscles or joints, ice them for 20 minutes (not longer!) while you have your legs elevated and again before bed.
    • Do the stretches in your stretching routine.
    • Massage your legs with the roller. Start by lying on your stomach and massaging your glutes (butt muscles), rolling just toward your heart with light pressure. Gradually increase the pressure but not to the point of pain. Then roll over and sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Work on your calves, rolling only toward the heart with gentle pressure and gradually increase the pressure. Then do the same on each hamstring. Next roll the inside of your legs from your knees to your groin, loosening up your abductors. Then roll the outside of each leg from your knees clear up to your hips stretching out the abductors and IT band. Finally, work on your quadriceps.
    • Eat a good dinner covering your plate primarily with carbs including plenty of veggies and fruit and a serving of protein about the size of a deck of cards.
    • Enjoy dessert!
    • Keep your water bottle and a snack by the bed in case you wake up hungry in the middle of the night.

    For more information see my eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance.

    Hughes cycling training client Elizabeth Wicks at Calvin’s Challenge
    Elizabeth Wicks at Desert Camp
    During the camp she rode 29 hours totaling 397 miles over seven days:
    • Saturday—2:45, 37 mile easy ride to test bike (longer than programmed)
    • Sunday—7:00, 85 mile endurance ride
    • Monday—4:30, 71.5 mile endurance ride
    • Tuesday—2:00, 22 mile recovery ride
    • Wednesday—6:00, 85 mile endurance ride
    • Thursday— 1:30 21.5 mile recovery ride
    • Friday—5:00, 75 mile endurance ride
    She also stretched for 15-30 minutes every night.

    Week 6: Recovery—March 25-31, 2013
    After all the riding at the camp, Elizabeth had a cold. This week was a planned recovery week after camp, so we just made it a little easier following the principle: If your cold is below the neck, only do very light exercise like stretching. If your cold is just above the neck, then easy aerobic and strength exercises are also okay.

    • Monday—sick
    • Tuesday—sick
    • Wednesday—sick
    • Thursday—sick
    • Friday—0:15 walking and 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Saturday—1:00 easy ride and 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Sunday—Happy Easter day off

    We used the week to map out Elizabeth’s training to Calvin’s Challenge on May 4. When I started riding in the 1970s we followed Eddy Merckx’s maxim that to improve we just needed to “Ride more!” Since then coaching science has developed the model called periodization. A rider trains in different phases for different purposes. We divided Elizabeth’s training into 5 phases:

    1. Off-season (November 1 - December 31)—The purpose was to relax and recover from last season with only easy riding.
    2. Base phase (January 1 - March 24)—The purpose was to increase Elizabeth’s endurance by riding long slow distance at a conversational pace, culminating in Desert Camp. Read about the benefits of base training.
    3. Recovery break (March 25 - 31)—The purpose was to recover fully before the Peaking phase.
    4. Peaking phase (April 1 - 21)—The purpose is to build her power and speed while maintaining her endurance to peak for Calvin’s. During the Peaking phase the rider trains specifically for her event:
      • Her goal is to race for 12 hours. She will peak at peak at 2/3 - 3/4 of her target distance, i.e., a longest ride of 8 to 9 hours.
      • She will ride intervals twice a week and at the same time reduce the general strength training to once a week so that her legs recover adequately.
      • She will also test and perfect her race nutrition.
      • Because she will be riding intensely she will alternate hard and easy weeks so that she gets plenty of recovery.
    5. Taper (April 22 - May 3) )—The purpose is to recover fully from the hard training and store energy for the big event. She won’t stop riding, but will reduce volume and continue intensity.

    Week 5: Peaking I—April 1-7, 2013
    As a rider gets older she needs more recovery, which means less total training time. Thus, we plan the most beneficial workouts for that training time. We started by by dividing her training into phases, as described earlier, with a specific purpose for each phase. Then we determine the optimum intensities for each workout. Training at different intensities produces different physiological changes, changes that wouldn’t occur if she does all of her riding at the same level of effort.

    We determine her different training zones based on her lactate threshold (LT), the region where her body starts to accumulate a significant amount of lactic acid, that burning sensation in her legs. Some riders determine their training zones from maximum heart rate. Determining your max heart rate is no fun and the number isn’t meaningful, since max HR is only a function of your genetics and your age. LT reflects your training status as well as your genetics and your age. As you get fitter your LT will go up until it plateaus when you are very fit. We will estimate Elizabeth’s LT from a time trial, which she will ride on Sunday.

    This week Elizabeth rode two short intensity workouts so that her legs are sharp and then racing the TT on Sunday:

    • Monday—0:40 walk and 0:30 general strength
    • Tuesday—0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Wednesday—0:45 Fartlek ride
    • Thursday—day off because of a work commitment out of town
    • Friday—0:30 Fartlek ride and 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Saturday— 0:30 walk and 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Sunday—2:00 ride including warm-up, time trial and cool-down

    Fartlek is a Swedish term meaning speed-play. For her 0:45 Fartlek workout Elizabeth rode:

    • 0:15 warm-up in zones 2 and 3
    • 0:20 Fartlek is zones 4 and 2. She’ll randomly mix up riding hard in Z4 and recovering in Z2 so that the time riding hard is about the same as the recovery time.
    • 0:10 cool-down in zone 2

    For her time trial on Sunday she started with a 30-minute warm-up. She rode for 20 minutes gradually raising her HR to TT intensity, rode at TT intensity for about five minutes, recovered for about five minutes and then started the TT. A thorough warm-up is one of the keys to a great TT. Here are her TT results:

    • 8.2 mi, two laps of a 4.1-mile course
    • 0:29:25 total time for a 16.7 mph average speed
    • Average HR of 156 with a maximum HR of 162

    The course was a triangle. The first leg was downhill for 1.1 miles with a tailwind, then she turned right and had side wind through a flat section until the 2.3 mile mark and then faced a rolling uphill leg into the wind for another 1.8 miles ending with a 6% climb back to the beginning. She rode an excellent TT—her average HR was close to her max HR, i.e., she rode at a constant effort despite the undulating course.

    For a 30-minute all-out effort a rider’s average HR is very close to her LT, i.e., 156 bpm.

    Afterward she commented: “First TT in a long time. Kinda fun, but glad it’s over. The TT did show me that I am a little older. I looked back at past years and my lactate threshold at one time was 169, then 160 and then 156. But who’s comparing. I am as strong as I can be at my age, right?” —Smart woman!

    Based on her LT of 156 I set her training zones as:

    • Z1 Active Recovery <117 bpm (<75% of LT)
      Riding here helps her recover from longer or harder days.
    • Z2 Aerobic 118 - 136 bpm (76 - 87% of LT)
      Riding here increases her endurance; she rides in this zone on the flats.
    • Z3 Tempo 137 - 147 bpm (88 - 94% of LT)
      Riding here improves her cruising speed; she rides in this zone when climbing.
    • Sweet Spot (upper Z3 and lower Z4) 145 - 151 bpm (93 - 97% of LT)
      Training here increases her sustained power; she rides here for specific intervals.
    • Z4 Subthreshold 148 - 156 bpm (95 - 100% of LT)
      Training here increases her lactate threshold; she rides here for random or specific intervals.

    For more on determining your lactate threshold and training zones and different types of intensity workouts see my eArticle Intensity—How to Plan and Gauge Your Most Beneficial Training Efforts.

    Week 4: Peaking II—April 8-15, 2013
    After riding all of her base miles Elizabeth has plenty of endurance to ride for 12 hours at Calvin’s. Her goal is to race for 12 hours! How does she peak? With short, hard workouts designed to improve her power and speed, not with more long miles!

    To increase her power and speed, Elizabeth rides intensity workouts. In each workout, before the main intensity set she warms up and then after the main set she cools down. If she’s pressed for time she’ll shorten the main set, not the warm-up or cool-down.

    One intensity workout is Sweet Spot repeats. Riding in the Sweet Spot balances the how hard each interval is, how long each one is and the amount of recovery between each one for the maximum overload of her muscles. Rather than riding very hard intervals, she backs off a little and rides hard for longer intervals. The result is greater improvement in sustained power.

    Last week she her assignment was to ride 3-5 intervals of 5“ at the Sweet Spot HR of 145-151 bpm with 3“ of easy riding between each repeat. I give her a range of the number of repeats and she is to ride as many as she can of high quality within that range. If she has trouble maintaining the target heart rate, then that’s the last interval. When she’s done she should feel like she could ride one more repeat. Last week she rode five repeats. Afterward she commented, “Love doing them because you push hard and then get a nice break! ”

    The other intensity workout is Fartlek, which is Swedish for “speed-play.” Elizabeth mixes up hard riding in zone 4 and easier riding in zone 2 in whatever fashion is fun. She could hammer local hills and recover on the downhill, or chase every blue car for a couple of minutes, or alternate hard and easy sections of the road, or . . . She rides for about the same amount of time in zone 4 and zone 2. Last week she rode, “two to three minutes in zone 4 and then the same time in zone 2 for about 30 minutes and then occasionally as I hit some of my favorite stretches home.”

    After each intensity workout Elizabeth stretches to help her recovery. She has at least a day of recovery in between each intensity workout and between an endurance workout and her intensity workout. On her active recovery days she walks and does core and stretching exercises.

    This week Elizabeth rode a Fartlek workout on Tuesday and a Sweet Spot workout on Thursday:

    • Monday—0:20 walk
    • Tuesday—0:60 planned Fartlek ride, 1:30 actual ride time
    • Wednesday—0:20 walk, skipped 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Thursday—0:60 planned Sweet Spot ride including 3 to 5 SS repeats. She rode 5 repeats and extended the ride to 1:30
    • Friday—Off
    • Saturday—4:00 endurance ride and 0:20 stretching
    • Sunday—0:30 planned walk, she went for a 1:30 ramble, 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Monday (holiday)—6:00 endurance ride

    Week 3: Peaking III—April 16-21, 2013
    Part of peaking is training specifically for her event. Last year she felt bloated and couldn’t get anything down the latter part of the race—despite this she broke the existing record. We think she can improve on her results if we can improve her nutrition.

    Elizabeth keeps a very detailed training log, which is invaluable. We looked back at last year’s race and analyzed what she ate and how to improve. During the first 50-mile loop while averaging 15.9 mph she consumed an energy bar, a bottle of commercial sports drink, my homemade sports drink and water, which averaged about 200 calories per hour—that was good. After the first loop she had a big bolus of about 700 calories: a commercial meal replacement drink, 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some chips. The meal replacement drink, the PB&J sandwich and the chips all had significant amounts of protein and fat, which are harder to digest. To digest that much food she would have needed to ride in Zone 1, the digestion pace. But she was racing and had to ride in Zone 3. Toward the end of the second 50-mile loop she realized she wasn’t eating. She sipped a little water and homemade sports drink and had a sip of Coke and bit of a PB&J at the end of the loop. By the end of the second loop her average had slipped to 15.4 mph—she was starting to run out of gas. For the rest of the race she ate very little, but “with my heroine, Melinda Lyon’s, voice in my head saying ’just keep pedaling and moving forward,’ I did just that.” She was very unhappy the last half, but she finished with record mileage averaging 15 mph. Her brain can only burn glycogen (from carbs) for energy. After several hours of hard riding without eating she’d depleted her glycogen and her mood soured.

    To prepare for this year’s race we started by estimating her caloric burn rate using the Calorie Estimator on my website. We guessed that she’d burn about 440 calories per hour. Riding at race pace roughly half of those would come from glycogen and half from fat. Only 3 to 5% would come from protein. Even fit, lean athletes like Elizabeth have enough body fat to provide the needed energy; however, she can only store a limited amount of glycogen. All the endurance riding she has done has had two benefits:

    • It increased her reliance on fat for energy, and
    • It increased the amount of glycogen she can store.
    Nonetheless, glycogen will be the limiting nutritional factor for her performance.

    This past weekend she rode 128.6 miles in 9:15 for an average speed of 13.7 mph. The course had over 3,000 feet of climbing—Calvin’s is fairly flat—and she rode it solo—Calvin’s is drafting. Her average HR of 129 was right in the aerobic zone, exactly where we want it.

    Before the ride she at a high-carb breakfast to be sure her glycogen stores were topped off, rather than the EggBeaters that she usually has for breakfast. During the ride she ate a total of 2,150 calories:

    • 2 bagels
    • cream cheese
    • 1-1/2 energy bars
    • turkey sandwich
    • chocolate milk
    • 2 bottles of homemade sports drink
    She weighed herself before and after the ride and her weight was up slightly, so she didn’t dehydrate.

    She met our goals of averaging 200 calories per hour and consuming almost all carbohydrates. Her did a better job of grazing, eating frequently, rather than gorging at a stop. She consumed about half of her calories on the bike spread throughout the ride and the other half at two refueling stops.

    Afterward she wrote, “I felt good at the end with very tired legs . . . Calvin’s will be a snap after this. I feel so much more prepared for the big event than I did last year. I just need to conserve my energy/legs between now and then.”

    Each week I increase the volume of her intensity workouts, depending on how she rode the last week. This feedback loop between recent performance and the next workout is critical for success, even if you are coaching yourself! Because she did well with her Sweet Spot workouts last week, this week her assignment was 3-5 repeats of 6“ in the SS range (not 4“) and 4“ easy (not 3“) —she rode 5. Because she rode for 6 hours on Monday (a holiday) and her final long ride would be on Sunday, she rode her Sweet Spot workout on Wednesday. We planned a short Fartlek workout on Friday; however, she took an additional recovery day:

    • Tuesday—0:30 walk, 0:30 core strength and stretching
    • Wednesday— 1:20 planned Sweet Spot ride including 3 to 5 SS repeats. She rode 5 repeats and extended the ride to 1:30, but skipped the stretching
    • Thursday—0:30 walk, 0:30 core strength and stretching
    • Friday—0:30 planned Fartlek ride, skipped for additional recovery
    • Saturday—0:30 planned walk, she hiked 6 miles in 2:15 and then skipped the 0:45 core strength and stretching
    • Sunday—9:15 endurance ride

    Week 2: Taper I—April 22-28, 2013

    Elizabeth has trained effectively for Calvin’s Challenge by following a periodized approach, changing her training in different periods for different purposes:

    1. Off-season (November 1 - December 31)—Relax and recover from last season with only easy riding.
    2. Base phase (January 1 — March 24)—increase Elizabeth’s endurance by riding long slow distance at a conversational pace.
    3. Recovery break (March 25 — 31)—Recover fully before the Peaking phase.
    4. Peaking phase (April 1 — 21)—Build her power and speed while maintaining her endurance to peak for Calvin’s.
    5. Taper (April 22 — May 3)—Recover fully from the hard training, store energy and prepare mentally for the race.

    During her training we’ve varied the intensity to achieve different physiological results. She has done:

    • Endurance riding at a conversational pace, which increased the capacity of her heart to pump blood to her muscles, improved her ability to utilize fat as a fuel, increased the amount of glycogen she can store in her liver and muscles and improved her neuromuscular efficiency of pedaling.
    • Intensity riding at a hard pace where she can’t talk, which improves her muscles ability to recruit more muscle fibers to deliver more power and increases the muscles capacity to use glycogen for fuel without producing lactic acid.
    • Recovery activities including easy riding, walking and stretching to help remove waste products from her muscles and relieve muscle stiffness. Elizabeth has listened to her body and taken occasional extra rest days as needed.

    To support her training she eats a nourishing diet with plenty of carbohydrates, the source of glycogen for her muscles. She eats limited amounts of lean protein and healthy fats. She maintains her energy level by eating six times a day: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, pre-dinner snack and dinner.

    The last two weeks before the race Elizabeth can’t do anything to improve her fitness. She built her endurance to ride for 12 hours over months of training and that doesn’t go away immediately. Last weekend she rode just a two-hour endurance ride to maintain her endurance. Peak power does fade more quickly and to keep her legs sharp Elizabeth has continued to do short intensity workouts, just enough to keep the snap in her legs without fatiguing her unduly.

    • Monday—0:30 walk
    • Tuesday—1:20 easy ride, 0:30 core strength and stretching
    • Wednesday—1:20 planned Sweet Spot ride including 3 to 5 SS repeats. She rode 5 repeats and extended the ride to 1:45, but skipped the stretching
    • Thursday—0:45 walk, skipped core strength and stretching
    • Friday—write race plan
    • Saturday—2:30 endurance ride after volunteering for club 100K
    • Sunday—0:45 walk, 0:45 core and stretching, 0:45 visualization

    Week 1: Taper II—April 29-May 3, 2013
    The last week before the race she prepared mentally. Elizabeth has raced Calvin’s several times and knows the course well, which helps her mental preparation.

    She started by writing out a detailed race plan last Friday: how fast she expected to ride each lap, what she would eat and drink during each lap so she was adequately fueled, how long she’d stop after each lap, what she’d eat and drink during each stop and what she’d grab for the next lap.

    During her 2:30 ride on Saturday following her race plan, every 10 minutes she imagined that she had raced for an hour: where would she be on the course? What would she be eating and drinking? What would she feel like? What would she need to do to keep up her speed? At the end of each lap how would she efficiently grab her supplies, use the porta-potty and get rolling?

    She also visualized the race starting Sunday. Mental rehearsal is cognitive, thinking about the race. Visualization is emotional, feeling what it’s like to race it. To visualize the race she sat quietly with her eyes closed and concentrated on her senses. What would she hear at the start? What would she see? What would her body feel like when she clicked into the pedals? What would her legs feel like as she climbed the few short hills on the course? What would her nutrition taste like? She visualized each lap of the race, noting the changes in how she felt.

    Through the mental rehearsal and the visualization, Elizabeth has complete mental control of her race. It’s like pre-riding the race.

    Beginning Wednesday Elizabeth started carbo-loading to be sure that her glycogen stores are topped off for the race. She ate oatmeal for breakfast, bigger snacks, more fruit and vegetables, and more potatoes and pasta at dinner. At the same time she cut back some on the protein and fat that she ate so that she wasn’t stuffing herself. She gained a few pounds in the process. Glycogen is stored with water, so that’s water weight—she’ll use the water as she uses the glycogen during the race.

    During the final week of the taper she rode two short intensity workouts to keep the snap in her legs:

    • Monday—0:35 Fartlek ride, 0:20 stretching
    • Tuesday—0:30 easy ride, 0:30 core strength and stretching, 0:30 visualization
    • Wednesday—0:45 Sweet Spot ride including 2 short SS repeats, 0:20 stretching
    • Thursday—driving to race
    • Friday—finish driving to race, 0:30 easy ride, 0:45 core and stretching, 0:30 visualization

    Elizabeth’s preparation is over; now it comes down to race management:

    • Pacing herself, riding hard at a sustainable pace without blowing up.
    • Riding tactically in this drafting event, knowing when to jump on someone’s wheel.
    • Following her nutrition plan, so that she gets enough calories, water and sodium without digestive issues.
    • Managing her time off the bike.
    • And having fun!

    May 4, 2013, Race Day—172.5 miles, women’s 65-69 record!
    Afterwards Elizabeth said, “With 15 minutes to spare, but my legs are dead. Strong wind all day did me in, but we did it!! . . . I am so tired I teared up and then couldn’t breathe but am ok now—just can’t walk.” Elizabeth gave it everything, riding so hard that she can’t even walk!

    Congratulations, Elizabeth! Great ride!

    Peter Lekisch in 2001 became the first rider over age 60 to finish the solo Race Across America. I coached Lekisch. Here is his training program.

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