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The Aging Athlete
By Coach Jerry Jacobs

Older athletes can ride and race at exceptionally high levels, often surprising many in 
terms of how well they can perform versus much younger competitors. To do so, they must be more patient and more disciplined about the consistency, intensity, sequencing and progression of work. 

Consistency is the first key lesson for endurance athletes of all ages.
No exceptions.
No shortcuts.
The juniors and younger adults that I coach can come back quickly from significant
layoffs. They can handle “ramp rates” that are more aggressive. They have the ability
to recover faster and absorb more training stress.
Older athletes simply can’t recover as quickly. Top level performance, or even basic
health, requires more consistent training. Long layoffs, and a complete loss of fitness,
will result in a much longer period to get back to desired performance.
This does not mean riding the same amount or the same intensity all the time. Racers
need a period after their competitive season to back off volume and intensity for a few
months, at minimum. Racers that properly rest and reset will have higher peaks and
the capacity to race well to the end of their competitive seasons.

All levels of cyclists and all ages benefit from some intensity in their training program.
Of course, this will differ dramatically based upon the cyclists goals.
A common misperception that I hear often from more recreational athletes is that they
do not do any intensity as they are just riding for health and pleasure and not racing.
However, even for the most recreational cyclist, some intently will yield massive
benefits. This does not need to be grueling and it does not need to be that much.
Just pushing a few hills, from time to time, will improve everything.
For racers, intensity is mandatory. Even in long races, there will be short efforts that are
extremely hard. Having a high top end(V02 max)will allow a racer to manage these
efforts more easily. They will also recover faster and burn fuel more efficiently(using
both fat and glycogen as fuel sources). Racers with impressive top ends can get
deeper into even long races with less accumulated fatigue.
Older athletes need intensity as much as younger athletes, and maybe more.
Most can actually go harder than they may think is possible.

Sequencing of Workouts
This is the holy grail for all athletes, especially for older athletes.
The timing and sequencing of intensity, volume and rest must be more disciplined.
Older athletes simply can’t hit high enough intensity on harder days if they are not
adequately rested.
A longer ride is also critical to build your endurance. Obviously, this is more important
for longer events. Just pounding miles is not the answer. Doing enough longer rides
combined with the proper intensity on other days will improve fitness dramatically
more than just adding more volume.
Recovery rides need to be “painfully slow”. This means intensities of 65% of
threshold, and below, with no hard efforts. A common mistake that I see at all levels is
doing more than you should on recovery days. Big mistake.

Older athletes need to pay particularly close attention to the progression of work. After
an off-season and period of detraining, it is time to begin building for the next season.
Increasing work load is both the amount of work and the intensity of work. Generally
speaking, both intensity and volume should not be increasing at the same time.
Early season intervals should begin with a lot of less intense work. This was a critical
lesson learned for me this season. I was unusually patient at starting my interval work
with a lot of “sweet spot” intervals (88% to 93% of functional threshold). This is a zone
that should be challenging, yet doable.
I built a super solid base before I increased intensity. It was encouraging that my
power numbers were unusually strong as I moved into workouts that were at threshold
and above threshold. My body and my mind were prepared to do this harder work. I
did my intense work more efficiently.
My progression was steady and disciplined. This resulted in a higher peak than if I had
jumped into hard work too soon.


Coach Jerry Jacobs recently won the Inaugural L'Etape San Antonio.100 miles. 90 degrees. Rolling hills.Not easy. He won his age category 60+ by 21 minutes. The rider who finished 7th was almost an hour behind him! Jerry would have finished 5th in the Mens 50+ field. He is a perfect example of a Masters rider who trains very efficiently, balancing hard work and good recovery. Structured, smart training has enabled him to maximize his genetic abilities, and races like San Antonio are the result. It's not rocket science, but it is a sound, well designed functional approach to training and racing by an older athlete. It works.

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