Road Bike Action (RBA) Interview from World Masters Champion Mark Sommers (MS).
Mark Sommers is now 62 years old and exemplifies what it means to be cycling after 50 years old. He is still very active in cycling and practices law full-time.
RBA You are 62 years old now and still cycling competitively, what are the biggest differences you notice from when you were 25 years old?
MS As for the sport itself, the sophisticated technology, training programs, and data available today is mind boggling. Decades ago, there were certain “truths” about training and racing, which science has either validated or debunked. Compound increased data with increased age, and you have an intersection capable of providing real and effective change in one’s physiological condition and output. Having said that, all the data and power in the world is no substitute for race experience and savvy—during the race season, this proves out every week, as the strongest riders will not always win.
As a rider, I wish I had the race smarts, experience, and know-how that I have now when I was younger, as it would have lent itself to more race success. Aging has led to muscle-mass loss, longer recovery times (both after hard efforts in races, e.g., bridges, attacks, sub-3 minutes efforts, and after hard workouts/training/races), and diminishing max HR with overall declines in LT/AT. My macro-peaks are shorter (e.g., for worlds/nationals) and my intervening micro-peaks are sharper in build and faster in fall-out. And like any aging athlete, I needed to change my racing style as I got older, i.e., rather than racing pure power/throw-downs, I have far fewer “shots” to take than 20 years ago, so I need to make then count. In racing with younger riders in the P/1/2 fields, I race as a support rider, where I use my endurance threshold built over decades to cover moves and come to the front to keep things moving. In masters races, I morphed into an attack-style racer given the that pool of attack talent/fitness wanes with each passing age-bracket.
RBA What accomplishments both racing and in life (cycling) are you most proud of at age 50?
MS Reaching goals thought unattainable, e.g., world and national titles, and working as a support rider in major P/1/2/ wins.
Successfully integrating cycling as part of life. Over the decades, cycling has produced substantial benefits in my professional life, as the training and commitment required to be a competitive cyclist had the derivative result of keeping my professional mental acuity/sharpness, decreasing stress, and directly molding my professional work ethic that drives me to deliver the best possible work product I can—I am a partner in a leading intellectual property law firm and practice trademark law and unfair competition.
And while I have enjoyed success as a competitive cyclist and lawyer (and corny as it sounds), I am most proud of 30+ years of marriage and my wife, who to this day remains my biggest “win” in life and sets the bar in her own right as an internationally renowned policy adviser on infrastructure and human rights. That helps me maintain perspective.
RBA How has your training changed at age 50?
MS Because of life and aging, my professional obligations, my family life, and my training has changed from the 4-5 hours base rides of years past into shorter intense rides/intervals. This not only reflects increasing “life” time pressures, but also an increasing need for recovery, along with needlessly inflaming joints and bowing to “peer-driven/self-imposed” exhaustion. Because I am never going to race a grand tour or compete in one-day races over 100 miles, I have no need to mimic such training regimen. I train for what I race. One exception: I do longer rides for the simple pleasure of losing myself in the awe-inspiring beauty of the landscapes ridden and the utter joy and freedom of cycling. Call it blissful downtime on a bike.
RBA What injuries or medical conditions have you had to deal with in the last couple of years?
MS While not within the last couple of years, in 2002, I had a total hip replacement the resulted from an earlier sports injury (I could no longer walk). At the time, it was fairly rare for people with my activity level and post-op goals to have such an operation. I literally gave the doctor photos of time-trial positions to illustrate the compressed angle of thigh to torso required, as the standard angle for a hip implant back then hovered at only 90 degrees. We worked together to design a bigger cobalt-to-cobalt ball and cup to reduce chances of dislocation from falls and increase the thigh-to-torso angle, as well as implemented a very aggressive pre-op core build and post-op flexibility program.
It worked and I returned to life that I had lost and for which I am eternally grateful. I went on to ride a bike again, to race, to win, and to win/compete on both national and world stages. What was “won” was not important. Instead, it was regaining what was “lost,” and then maximizing that gift to reward/honor the doctors, trainers, friends, and loved ones that invested the time, energy, and trust bestowed in me. “Life-altering” would not be an exaggeration.
RBA What advice do you have for cyclists riding into their fifties?
MS Whatever goals you set, push them out a bit farther than you believe possible—you’ll be surprised how many you can attain.
As for racing, take the shot to win, not to place. Have the confidence and strength to lose. Believe in yourself.
As for the recreational enthusiast, do not take rides for granted. Have fun, challenge yourself and friends, dip into the pain cave. However, at some point during the ride, take a moment to look around where you are—the weather, the season, the smells, the wind. You’re outdoors, so connect with it. For example, my standard route leads me past the White House, Washington Monument, U.S. Capital, and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. Never do I tire of such icon places, and always feel humbled when peddling though the shadows they cast.
Yours in cycling, Mark