Members of my cycling group in Southwest Florida have a tradition of riding a century, or 100 miles, once a year. We started this about 10 years ago. This year we had a total of eight cyclists, ranging in age from about 55 years to yours truly at 77 years.
Several years ago I recall finishing the ride and feeling like I could easily do another 50 miles. Last year was a bit tougher; I made it but was happy to stop at 100. I felt good enough after an hour’s rest to attend a party in the neighborhood.
This year was harder. At mile 75 I wondered if I had the energy in my legs to complete the ride. I did finish, but was considerably more tired than in prior years. There’s no way that I would have been up for a night out. Just getting my tight socks off was a bit of an ordeal. I had a number of leg cramps, some of them painful.
Upon reflection I realized that we had not done as many 50 to 70-mile rides this season; virtually all were in the 30-40 mile range. I didn’t have the base of training that acclimates my body to a greater distance.
Another factor, of course, is that I’m getting a bit older each year. No matter how much we exercise, we lose a bit of muscle mass each year. But we can slow the progression, which I’m determined to do.
I met with my trainer, Sue Scafidi, and asked her to help me develop a series of leg exercises that will allow me to continue to do what I want to do: cycle 30-50 miles three times a week plus do a century ride at least once a year in Florida and a birthday ride – cycling my age in miles – every fall. The latter is normally done in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and involves many rolling hills. It’s a tougher ride than the Florida century.
Sue introduced me to several leg exercises that can make a significant difference in my leg strength. While it’s doubtful that I can grow new muscle cells at my age, I can make the ones I have stronger. If I do these exercises using the proper form, while gradually adding weights, I should avoid injury.
My friend Art read this and added: “It’s a bit like studying and testing in college. If you study hard all semester the test is a piece of cake. If you don’t work hard all the time, you end up cramming and hoping for the best.” Good analogy, Art.
The moral of the story: If we want to continue to challenge our bodies as we age, we need to work harder in order to be able to do it. Maintaining the status quo, or even slacking off a bit due to our age, won’t cut it.