Though some 50-year old’s have been cycling for decades, most just picked up the sport. Endurance is a quality that takes years of riding to develop. Often, the older cyclists do better in century rides because they are better pacing themselves. Let the fast guys go ahead. Fitness builds on itself and it is a process. Training a 50-year-old for a cycling event is much different than training someone much younger. You may have the goal to participate in a century ride, be patient and do go in with big expectations. Avoid working twice as hard, ride twice as efficient. Stick with the type of training that is familiar and lightly add in variants as you progress. Build the fundamentals of riding flats for example, at a comfortable pace, distance and intensity. Read and educate yourself by reading and talking with older experienced riders; even consider hiring a coach. An excellent reference book to consider is Cycling Past 50, by Joe Friel (Human Kinetics Publishers).
Forming a base
As we age, that ability to ride 4 hours and perform intervals just is not there. Forming a base is important, but less so for the aging recreational cyclist. Base training used to mean the small plateau, flat roads and low intensity. This idea has come and gone. Older cyclists ought to work on increasing power earlier in the season. Riding more hills and performing short quality intervals. Consider using a power meter to gauge your efforts and progress. Maintain muscle mass by riding but also by performing squats, lunges, and upper body exercises. This will increase power output as well as protect bone integrity.
Working the power
Power decreases with age, one reason is due to decreased muscle mass; specifically, loss of VO2 and the fast twitch muscle fibers. Also, a decrease in hormones like testosterone is often to blame. Consult your doctor to be sure your hormones are in check and eat a proper diet that supports muscle development and hormone balance. Search for doctors who are knowledgeable in nutrition or consult a reputable sports nutritionist.
Core strength is often overlooked in cycling. Having good core strength and flexibility can make the difference between an average and great cyclist. Think of core strength is the accumulation of all those muscles (small and large) in your back and abdomen, all working together as a unit. Increasing your core strength will allow you to climb seated, decrease neck / back pain, and make you a better cyclist. Use yoga, Pilates, and gym exercises to build core strength.
What is little perceived at 45 to 50 years old will become very apparent when one reaches 55 to 60 years old. Older cyclists describe losing the ability to recover after hard efforts as well as the loss in power. Longer recovery is due to age related muscle changes, but also the lack of time put towards recovery. Realize at 50 years old, most people are in the heights of their careers and therefore among the busiest. Poor recovery is usually explained by working too much, kids, school commitments, home improvements, board meetings, etc. Suffice it to say if you want to be competitive, taking the time to properly recover is paramount; there is just no other way. Also, optimal recovery is dependent on nutrition; many older cyclists do not have proper nutrition. Eating a balanced meal with adequate nutrients, taking proper supplements, and staying well hydrated augment recovery. In general, good nutrition comes from eating good foods, not taking capsules.
The next Cycling Beyond 50 will be about Competition