Spring training for an older cyclist

For the “religious historian” side of my life, January 6 is the first day of the Epiphany season in the church’s liturgical calendar, but for the “aggressive cyclist” side, this week marks the beginning of the annual get-back-in-shape season. The combination of damp, cold days and holidays (beginning with Halloween, two weeks after my last century ride of the season) has resulted in more eating and less cycling.

My spring training is pushed by the fact that in exactly six weeks, I have to be ready for the Cactus Classic, which is week one of PAC Tour’s Desert Camp 2012. The tour takes us from Tucson to Wickenburg and back, 478 miles in six days of cycling. The one guideline that PAC Tour offers on its website is that cyclists should be able to 50 miles within four hours, including stops. Earlier this week, on my New Year’s weekend 50-miler (along the Columbia River to Troutdale, up the historic highway to Corbett, and return home), I made it within the time limit, but with no minutes to spare.

Clearly, there’s work to be done in order to be ready for the Cactus Tour. My training goals can be reduced to two words, further and faster, and the training regimen will consist of three elements.  

The first is to put in lots of miles in low gears and pedaling in a rapid cadence (about 90 to 100 crank revolutions per minutes). The purpose is to train heart, lungs, and legs to work efficiently in this mode, thus counteracting the tendency to develop a sluggish cycling pattern.

Half way through spring training period, phase two kicks in, which is to ride in higher gears while maintaining the speedy cadence. The idea is that since a cyclist’s system has become adapted to the faster rate of pedaling, it then is possible to work on increasing the power output.

The third feature will take place throughout this six-week period. Some training manuals refer to it as intensity training, and the simplest way to explain it is that a cyclist alternates short distances at 90 % of his or her maximum heart rate followed by short recovery periods. After a sequence of half a dozen cycles, most cyclists find that they have put in a hard training cycle. Lon Haldeman of PAC Tour recommends that riders try to ride an hour a week at the 90% rate.

Since I hate to do intervals, it is good that one of my favorite rides—the West Portland Hills along Skyline Boulevard—provides a good alternative. Depending on how one counts the hills, this route provides from eight to twelve intervals, each of them easily bringing the heart rate close to its maximum. It’s a beautiful and exhilarating ride, which makes interval-training fun.

During spring training, I plan to work hard, but only hard enough to accomplish this year’s goal, which is to reinforce the ability to do daylong rides at a brisk (but age-adjusted) pace, keeping within the time boundaries for the Cactus Classic.

Increasingly, I must admit, I find myself drawn to the point of view expressed by Tim Bird in his account of a weekend ride from Monkeybeck Grains to Cluntering Gill Bridge. As he describes his bicycle, a classic “off-the-peg” English touring bike, he calls attention to modifications that he has made to increase his comfort and the ease of operation. “I figure I’m not in any rush,” he says, “and I have no need to ‘wring out’ every drop of performance.”

As yet, I haven’t mellowed out that much, but the time is coming. I can feel it in my bones.

Note: Tim Bird’s travel story is published in Bicycle Quarterly (Autumn 2011), pp. 58-68.


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