Attitude adjustment for aging cyclists

By the time people are as old as I am, we have developed habits and practices that are deeply engrained. It takes impressive arguments or powerful inducements to make us change our ways. Yet, this is what Roy M. Wallack and Bill Katosky are doing to me as I look forward to another decade of aggressive cycling. Their book Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100 is making me reconsider how I ride a bike.

Strength Training: I’m signing up for yoga. Despite the advice by all of the experts, I have not done weight work or strength training. My stretching patterns have been modest, consisting primarily of a few routines remembered from high school cross-country workouts. Roy and Bill discuss the value of working on agility and strength in a way that has developed a new resolve, but knowing my lifelong patterns I know that I need a structured environment. Retaining a personal trainer in order to grunt and sweat, however, still has no appeal, but there’s a yoga studio one block from my condo, and one of my neighbors continues to proclaim its merits. In a couple of weeks, I’ll start—one session a week for sixteen weeks. Maybe that’s not enough, but it’s better than what I’m doing now, which is nothing.

Bike Fit: Cyclists come in all sizes and shapes. If they are to gain maximum advantage from their two-wheeled mounts, their bikes need to be set for their particular bodily qualities. Getting a frame that’s the right size is the most important factor, but so are more subtle matters such as the length of the stem, the height of the saddle, and the placement of the cleats on your shoes. Twice in my cycling career I’ve availed myself of bike fitting services when I’ve bought new bikes, and I am confident that my bikes are close to being exactly right.

But cyclists change as they age, and the ideas about bike design and fit also go through fads and fancies. Paying attention to one of these recent fads, I have experimented with cleat placement. The result: my legs have hurt all summer and I had to curtail my cycling. I put the cleats back where they were and my legs are improving. Bike for Life discusses bike fit so constructively that I intend to evaluate the several shops in Portland and pick one that can help me revise my settings.

Nutrition: For 59 years my nutritionist has been my wife who has made good eating habits a way of life. During 40 years of hard cycling, I have developed useful ways to augment my normal diet during hard rides, such as drinking a 32 ounce bottle of a sports drink about two-thirds of the way through a long, hard ride. (A few days ago it was at mile 60 of a 79.04-mile ride.)

Bike for Life provides a thorough discussion of ways to maintain health and effectiveness, with an emphasis upon good food, good cooking, and good sense. It confirms many of the habits I now practice and provides the incentive to rethink these matters as I look forward to more years of hard cycling. As we age, our bodies provide an ever-shrinking margin of error, and a thoughtful approach to nutrition is one way of responding creatively.

Attitude Adjustment: Although Roy and Bill are a lot younger than I (as are most of the people they highlight in this book), they understand the impact of aging on body, mind, and spirit. Their discussion of these matters helps me think about how to adapt my long-time habits in order to retain the ability to perform and to increase the levels of satisfaction. Most experts say that to grow stronger, cyclists need to alternate intense training and periods of recovery.

I think that this pattern continues to be part of old age cycling, but with three modifications. First, older cyclists have to accept the fact that our bodies say “no.” With my doctor’s help, I have learned to recognize when my body tells me “Don’t push so hard. It could be dangerous.” Second, it is clear that the recovery periods take longer than they used to, which means that the training schedule probably needs to be stretched out. Third, and probably most important, is the need to modify the purpose of training. The physicality of riding faster is less important during the later years. At best, we can barely keep up, anyway. Instead, the spirituality of cycling becomes increasingly important. We continue training with the purpose of extending the span of years when self-propelled travel through interesting places continues to add enjoyment to life. It also moderates the inevitable decline of mind (and body).

The adage “practice makes perfect” needs to be corrected to read “practice makes permanent.” Bike for Life can help us revise our permanent habits so that they come a lot closer to being perfect.

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2 Responses to Attitude adjustment for aging cyclists

  1. Klaus Schreiber says:

    Keith,
    glad to read that you consider Yoga.
    After an ‘unexplained’ fall leading to a broken pelvis I increased my yoga exercises to 3x weekly. After 6 months I began to feel more secure on my bike and enjoyed riding much more again.
    Yoga has certainly added to my sense of balance and improved my reactivity. Go for it!

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