My quest to be better at 40 continues…

(part I here and part II here)

Fitness at 40!

I promised to complete my trilogy with a post on getting fitter at 40. This is not trivial, and definitely still a work in progress. But here goes…

Leading a fast over-forty

Six things:

Maximise training benefit = minimise ‘junk miles’. Training starts when you leave the door. Aerobic endurance rides are hard – there’s no let-up and, after a couple of hours, things get quite uncomfortable. Get out of the door on time though and you can take the scenic route to enjoy a bit of recovery time in the last few miles.

Really make the intervals work for you! Be specific and measured with these (I realise that may sound a little cryptic, but this is a short post, and I do offer coaching). Savour the easy spinning (and maybe social riding) as you recover after an interval session. I love the feeling of the crisp evening on the ride home from intervals, as autumn draws in and ‘cross is coming.

Fight to retain and even increase your muscle mass (weights and resistance training). Strength and Conditioning for Cyclists is a great book to get you started here.

As you get older it is even more important to keep your whole body in good shape. Core exercises, stretching, and rolling!

Nutrition! The Cycling Chef has some good recipes.

Performance is not all about TSS, CTL, etc. Numbers are useful but dangerous in the wrong hands. All models are wrong but some are useful. Numbers can be indicative of form/condition, but you know best (see below for the kind of stuff not in the model).

What about fitting this around life?

Managing ‘stress’ is perhaps the key to improving performance (at anything, not just sport). There are lots of sources of stress: training, work, family, litter, social media, etc. They all go in to one big performance reducing boiling pot. If managed correctly, you can bounce back from stress and become stronger (‘supercompensation’ in training-speak).

Anything other than training stress often takes you by surprise. You can sometimes plan for other stress though – like a busy period at work, exams, a wedding, moving house, etc.

There’s no such thing as overtraining – just under-resting. But under-resting is the status quo for an amateur athlete having a stressful time at work mid-week. Imagine how much better your recovery would be if you could chuck your bike at a mechanic, have your lunch handed to you and look forward to a bit of quality time on Fortnight after a race!

So how’s it working out for me?

I think perhaps my 2019-20 season is an interesting case study on how to plan to have a good, rather than a great, season.

I had a bit of trouble last season (2018-19) by my mid/end-of season being knocked sideways a bit by unplanned stress and health issues. This season (2019-20) I decided to plan according to some ‘planned’ stress.

As well as looking at the timing of intense training, once bitten – twice shy, I knocked back the overall load for the year too. I also planned to run around 2kg heavier than the previous year.

After focussing much more on strength training than in previous years, my main batch of aerobic endurance training was riding the length of the Pyrenees (LA MAMA) in August. This was followed by a period of structured interval training in the build up to the Three Peaks. I left myself a little undercooked, with the plan being to build speed via racing (and resting). Resting was the new training this year, with a typical week involving six hours of training/racing.

I did have a couple of harder weeks mid-season to boost my fitness but I was at nowhere near the level of my usual training. However, I found myself far better equipped to deal with the expected non-training stress. What could easily have been a disastrous season, with poor results, and ending in illness, was one of my best seasons to date. I had a pretty solid Three Peaks results, two National Trophy podiums, five wins, and a really good ride in the Elite National Championships.

National Trophy podium with my friends and nemeses Adrian Lansley and Paul Lloyd

My main limiters in racing were: 1) as expected, a diminishing fitness as the season progressed; 2) a lack of ‘punchiness’ due to the risk-averse training strategy.

I’m pleased with how things panned out. I do miss the feeling of being at the peak of my ability though; lightweight and pushing my limits. I might try that again!

Elite National Championships


If you’d like to prepare for a great (or perhaps a good) cyclocross season. I now offer one-to-one coaching.

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