AKA: Master Athlete Training Advice
On the start line of a Masters’ race, it is common to over hear conversations including colloquialisms such as “Getting old sucks” and “I don’t recover like I used to”. These comments assign a negative value to what is simply the life experience of the athlete. While it is common for groups of riders (or people) to commiserate over their collective experience, why view something that is a natural process as a negative?
Age is a state of mind. Getting old is an opportunity for self-improvement. Every day in life is a chance to improve upon the mistakes of your former self. Age is an opportunity to become better educated, to make better decisions, to accumulate wisdom, and to execute with superior skill.
Life presents you with lessons. The lesson will be repeated until you complete it. When you pass the lesson, you may move on to the next one.
Some Master athletes feel that recovery used to be easier at a younger age. Any rider who has been on the planet for more than three decades has a significantly increased amount of life responsibility than one who is 19 years old. The list of tasks adds up quickly: mortgages, marriages, children, aging parents, pets, doctor’s visits and taxes. Life responsibility impacts recovery from training and racing, because Master athletes are no longer sitting on the couch in between workouts. Master level riders are mowing lawns, driving to and from ballet or hockey, meeting with financial advisors, or replacing broken pocket super computers. Modern life is complicated and the older you are, the more complicated it is by definition. On average, the Master athlete simply has a much more involved, intricate and complex life than that of the younger competitor.
Some master athletes also feel a sense of injustice at their life state. Comparison is a human construct. It is perhaps logical to assume that a full time pro has nothing more on the agenda for a given day other than a six hour training ride, ten hours of sleep, massage and dinner. If this is the line of thought, it is normal to feel as though a rider with a family, a full time job, and a long list of life responsibilities is “less than” in the sense that no amount of training will ever allow a masters athlete to equal that of a professional, or as if the master athlete will fail to reach some ideal level of fitness or potential. These two athletes are in very different places in their lives, and the comparison is one of apples and tangerines.
The professional rider is in the process of actualizing years of struggle in the amateur ranks. He or she is at the apex of the athletic journey in the sense of “accomplishment”. Racing results equal potential future contracts, sport status, sponsorships, and fame. The high level amateur or professional is on a mission to find out what his ultimate potential in the sport is. This quest requires complete devotion and is by definition a somewhat imbalanced lifestyle. By focusing the majority of available time, energy and intent into a singular task, athletes in this phase of life are giving up other aspects of adult living by choice.
The master athlete may have already completed this part of the journey in racing. For the master athlete, results are no longer the end goal. The act of training and competing as a process has more significance for an athlete in the later stages of life than the final result in a given race. Even for those who are coming to cycling later in age, perhaps from another sport or discovering sport for the first time, the same principles apply. There may be a drive to discover what height can be achieved, and rapid and significant improvement may happen, but this athlete still must balance overall life with the pursuit of athletic improvement. A high level of achievement may be the end goal, but financial stability and fame are not contingent on success in the sport.
The results sheet only matters in the sense that a period ends a sentence. The end is important in all things. The actual placing is not important; the opportunity to train and race, challenge, and improve is what matters. Being a good example to your kids in the process of training and racing is more important than the place earned. Children will remember your temperament and conduct as an athlete long after they have forgotten if you were on the podium or not. Your competitors may remember specifics about who beat whom on what date, but the essence of respect comes from how the racing was conducted, not from the prize money earned. Orchestration of your athletic pursuits with integrity is a far more important than the place earned.
Some tips a master’s athlete may find helpful:
Gym: don’t neglect strength and conditioning programs to assist and compliment your cycling. This is especially important for master riders. Gym workouts are almost always ideally done in the morning (from a hormonal perspective). Perfect form is essential and the emphasis should be on gaining functional strength, not building mass.
Movement Practice: this daily routine of 5-20 minutes compliments your riding, gets you warmed up and allows you to make more effective use of shorter workout times. It should involve a combination of myofascial release, stretching, and activation work. It also helps to offset thousands of hours of sitting, which in case you had not heard, is the new smoking. Not sure where to start? Try here
Nutrition, manipulation of macronutrients: plan meals in advance and control your nutrition as much as possible. Sometimes, this means eating at your desk before your lunch ride to make sure you are fueled up. You can’t expect the rocket to burn without fuel in the tank. On days when you train early, make quick easy breakfast in advance and make sure to include some carbs. On days when you are training less, eat more non starchy vegetables, healthy fats and proteins.
Personal care network: if possible, book regular appointments in advance with Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, or whomever helps keep your body running smoothly under load.
Self care, with an emphasis on recovery: don’t put all the work on the people you hire, take care of yourself too. An Epsom salt bath, a five-minute self massage with arnica cream, an ice bath, some self myofascial release, and some gentle stretching can go a long way to help the muscles bounce back from an intense training session. Also, wearing compression after hard workouts can improve recovery time, or especially if you will be on your feet or in a car for hours. Don’t settle for the weak stuff, go at least 30mmHG for real benefit. If you have to take a few minutes to get the garment on, you are doing it right.
- Sleep vs. training: the research is clear: no one does well on less than ideal sleep. Don’t kid yourself, the tough guy “I sleep less than you” era is over. Less than 1% of people actually have a genetic predisposition for sleeping less than 8 hours per night. Sleep is a key to recovery and every serious athlete needs it. We can surf the edge by getting up early a few days a week but you have to get enough rest to repair the damage done by training. If you work full time, find balance by getting up early 2 or 3 days a week and sleeping in the other days. In order to be effective, training must be sustainable.
- Defend your training space: make a commitment to train at a certain time on certain days of the week and clear the calendar. If your goals are important, your training is important. Nothing gets in the way. Your spouse and family should support you in your goals, and they should know when your training times are and respect them, as long as they are realistic and within the bigger scope of life balance. As Jocko would say: Get after it!
- Plan ahead to have control: this goes beyond coaching. Your coach can write your workouts for you, but you have to pull the trigger and get them done. This means thinking about your days and weeks, and forecasting what will try to get in the way. Both short term and long term planning are key. If you are not sure how a certain day will go because of unknowns such as long meetings or sick kids, put the workout where you are sure you can do it, then execute. Often, this means first thing in the AM. If you leave it to “at some point in the afternoon” the day can evaporate before workout time is made. Again, as Jocko would say: Discipline equals freedom.
- Use the group: find like-minded sparring partners and agree to meet them for workouts. Make these structured and purposeful. This can be in the gym or for specific intervals, but with the latter your partner has to be on exactly the same page to make it add to the workout (not detract). Save the social riding for weekends or the occasional recovery ride. Also, workout partners should be of a positive mindset. Training with a buddy who always complains will drain your energy.
- Have a positive outlook: Goals are much more achievable if a positive mindset is adopted at the outset. A simple start to this process is found
- Equipment management: if your bike is filthy, your head unit is not charged and your laundry is not done, there are excuses to not complete your workout. To expect high-level results, you must be in a state high-level organization. Too busy to wash your bike and adjust your derailuer? Delegate. Aside from the once a year quintuple flat disaster or a random broken chain, here is no excuse for sub-par equipment ruining training. Don’t let poor planning ruin your training time.
- Prioritization of training and competition: 72 hours before an important race (your season goal) everything stops. This is not the week to see the dentist or have your car tires rotated. Put everything aside and trade in the extra time for an hour of extra sleep. Rest and prepare. You have worked hard for this competition, minimize every off the bike responsibility you can control in the last week before your event.
Gratitude for the Process
We are fortunate to not be concerned with where our next meal comes from, or worry about our physical safety. (Actually, we pay money to put our physical safety at risk, and we view it as part of the thrill of competition.) The complaints we have about fitting training into our lives are truly first world problems.
Respect should be given to those who train hard and races, whether they are masters’ or any other category. The true meter of success for a master’s athlete is one who competes for the love of the sport, maintains health and integrity, and lives life in a balanced state with energy for family, work, holistic health, gratitude and a positive outlook. Anyone who has the freedom, energy, time, money and support to compete has a lot to be grateful for.