Setting Goals as You Grow Older

This article is by the highly regarded Coach John Hughes, who has written extensively about bicycle training including nutrition, conditioning, slowing the aging process and otherwise keeping fit. Among his personal accomplishments in endurance racing, John set the course records for the Furnace Creek 508 in 1989 and Boston-Montreal-Boston in 1992. He has been a USA Cycling certified coach since ’96, and has lectured on endurance at numerous events. John has coached CRW members and has earned high praise for increasing their fitness in preparing for ultra-endurance cycling events and facilitating recovery after major surgery. 


My longtime friend John Lee Ellis, age 67, completed his sixth Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) this summer.  PBP is a 750-mile (1200 km) continuous ride from the outskirts of Paris to Brest and back, which must be completed in 90 hours or less.  The 90 hours includes all stops for rest stops, meals, sleep, mechanicals, etc. Ellis finished in 83 hours 9 minutes. So far he has ridden 22 1200Ks.


In my eBook Anti-Aging Ellis writes, “With the passage of years, other things happen to which you may have to adapt. ‘Graceful degradation’ may not be the most correct phrase. But it’s a way of thinking: You can find new goals in the spirit of what you’ve done a decade or two ago.


Goal Setting

You can control your general preparation, training, equipment, etc., but you can’t control the outcomes of rides, which depend on factors outside your control such as the weather. Your objectives should reflect this. They should be S.M.A.R.T.

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Time-oriented

The objectives should be phrased in positive terms. For example, “lose two lbs (one kg) every month,” rather than “stop being so fat.” Focusing on a positive future rather than a negative current self-image improves your motivation.

For example, a rider’s objectives for October through December might be to average four hours a week of cycling, 90 minutes a week doing upper body, lower body and core strength exercises and stretching, and cutting calories by 500 / day. The objectives are:

  1. Specific – exactly which activities
  2. Measurable – defined amounts of time, calories
  3. Attainable – based on the rider’s training history and current fitness
  4. Realistic – given the rider’s work and family life, averaging a total of 5:30 hours a week is realistic
  5. Time-oriented – October through December

As you age the goal ride may change but it’s still specific and measurable, e.g., instead of riding the Fall Harvest Century you may decide to ride the Fall Harvest 100K.


Athletic Maturity

Fortunately chronological age isn’t the primary determinant of what you can do as the calendar years roll by.  Your “Athletic Maturity” is more important.  Athletic Maturity is a way of gauging how well you measure up to the health maintenance objectives of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) According to the ACSM, the benefits of regular exercise include “improved cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility and balance. These are important factors in functional ability. In addition, participation in regular exercise can also positively affect pain control, self-confidence and sleep patterns.” Moreover, appropriate regular exercise will help maintain healthy weight and strong bones. Note that the different benefits come from different types of activities, i.e., not just cycling.

The greater your athletic maturity the more you can do now and in the future. You can evaluate yourself on the Athletic Maturity Quiz.


Flexibility With Goals

My long-time friend and client Elizabeth Wicks turned 75 this year.  Back in January we agreed on two SMART goals for her:

  1. In July complete an arduous ride from Albuquerque, NM to Kalispell, MT through the Rocky Mountains, 19 riding days 1,760 miles 80,000′ of climbing.
  2. In 2019 75 rides of 75 miles or more.

She was riding well until May when she developed crotch problems. She wrote me, “I rode with the debilitating pain starting on May 22, including some long rides, until I couldn’t stand it any longer, June 10. “  She was off the bike until July 22, and missed the Rocky Mountains tour. Last week she rode her 32nd 75-mile ride. To reach her goal of 75 rides of 75 miles she would have to average about two rides a week of 75 miles by the end of the year. Wicks wrote, “I’ve been having so much fun riding these days!!  I won’t make my goal of doing 75 75-milers, but just may do 7500 miles for the year. I have to do just under 200 miles a week till the end of the year.”

Wicks’ two goals were SMART and she didn’t reach them because of a factor outside her control. I’ve known her for 16 years and she would have reached her goals except for the injury. She was smart and changed her goal.

I’m coaching Wicks again this year and will write future columns about her.


Adapt When Necessary

I had breakfast last week with my friend Don.  Don and I went through rock climbing school together and then taught climbing. Don was very fit and loved rock climbing, hiking, ice climbing and snowshoeing.  He has two new knees and can’t do those activities any more. At breakfast he said, “I bought a bike but I cheated – it’s an ebike.” 

I told him that he didn’t cheat – he adapted. In my 40s I had double chain rings with a racing cassette. In my 50s I put on a long-arm derailleur and an MTB cassette.  In my 60s I put on triple chain rings. At some point I’ll get an ebike. And when I move to the retirement home I’ll get a trike with a basket so I can ride to the grocery store. 


More Information

Use my column on the Athletic Maturity Quiz to gauge your athletic maturity on nine factors.

My column Improving Your Athletic Maturity describes five ways that you can improve your athletic maturity starting this fall.

My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. t includes columns by Ellis, Wicks, Jim Langley, Fred Matheny, Gabe Mirkin and seven other older riders.

The photos were provided by Tom Allen, Jack Donohue and Eli Post respectively.



jean-claude_castelein's picture

My goal this year is to achieve 4000 miles on the road bike