Is Age a Barrier for the 50+ athlete when training for Colorado’s famous Triple Bypass?

join us next year?

How is the 50+ crowd training for the Triple Bypass?  Does passing the half century mark change how you prepare for this epic challenge in the Colorado Rockies?  How does age affect your recovery?  Should you change your nutrition & hydration strategy?

If you’re not familiar, the 2022 Triple Bypass included 106 miles of mountain roads with 10,600 ft of climbing, covering three mountain passes.  The highest point is Loveland Pass, sitting at 11,900 feet – a bit more than 2 miles above sea level.  Depending on what time you started the ride, you experienced rain either on the first long sustained climb, or while on the first long sustained descent.  Either way, you were most likely freezing when you arrived at the first rest stop in Idaho Springs.  Once you started towards the Loveland Pass, you were warmed by your efforts….then rained on again….and again.  Maybe even experienced a short hailstorm on the way to Frisco.  Rule #9 of the Velominati was absolutely shouting at all registered athletes this year.

Below, I’ve included the training details of a few 50+ athletes, who all attempted to complete the 2022 Triple Bypass, a road race that tests your nerves and will, as much as your legs and lungs.

THE ATHLETES

Mike Schweiger – age 55
Mike is a corporate controller for the outdoor apparel brand 37.5 – and he bleeds cycling.   From squeezing in a good weekday ride as time permits, to his 70+ miles rides each Saturday / Sunday – he never rests on how he performed last year, or on the last ride, he’s continuously seeking to improve. Mike has been an avid cyclist for over 20 years, including co-founding the Ft Lauderdale based zMotion cycling club.   This was Mike’s first Triple Bypass.

Paul Anderson – age 52 in October
Paul is the owner of Longmont Velo and a naturally strong endurance athlete.  So incredibly strong, we often have to remind Paul “not everyone can warm up at 300 watts”.   When not buried up to his greasy elbows at his shop, Paul is often mentoring young cyclists, or leading weekend shop rides.  (there’s a nasty rumor that Paul and his wife grows their own broccoli)  This was Paul’s third Triple Bypass. 

Cynthia Brown, age 60
Cynthina Brown is an Associate Professor, Dept of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State University. Her alter ego (Cini) is an avid cyclist and racer.  Cini signed with team Rio Grande back in 2006 and still loves racing and team tactics.   This will be her 3rd Triple Bypass.

Andrew Graham – age 59
Andrew is a wannabe sharer of people’s stories.  Stories about aging well, about turning a deaf ear to father time.  He’s curious to see how long we can still perform at a high level in our favorite sports / activities – and how long aging athletes can hold off the tide of chronic issues.  In love with all four seasons of the Colorado Rocky’s, Andrew spends most of his free time cycling, skiing, hiking.   This was his first Triple Bypass.  (first and only?)

Anna Giovinetto – age 53
Anna is a member of the Fort Collins Cycling Club and this was her second Triple Bypass. She completed her first in 2018, a little more than a year after receiving a liver transplant. As you may have guessed, Anna likes a challenge! (photo: Anna on top of the winner’s podium)



THE QUESTIONS

What was your training program for the 2022 Triple Bypass?

Mike: “I’ve never used a structured training program, but for the last month prior to the Bypass, I have been focused on ramping up my base miles.  In addition to my regular miles, each Sunday, I’ll ride about 90 miles, with at least 6,000 ft of climbing.  Shooting for a good six hours in the saddle”.
Paul: Paul works with D3 coaching year-round and remains “at the ready” for any race, any time of the year.  “This is my biggest ride for the year, but I don’t train for any one specific ride.  I work out year-round, staying fit for any event”.  His volume stays consistent from March through early October, riding approximately 250 miles each week, incorporating a hard interval workout at least once per week. 
Cynthia (goes by Cini): “I followed Gale Bernhardt’s training program.  Gale designed a training program for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, and I adapted that program for the Triple Bypass.  I used it back in 2010 to train for Logan-to-Jackson (LoToJa), and I was happy with how that went.  The Triple Bypass is 100 miles shorter than LoToJa, so I think I will be pretty well prepared”! Quick training details:  “I used the Training Peaks app to follow Gale’s 14 week program for Leadville – averaging about 10 hours of riding each week, peaking at 20 hours about 6 weeks prior to the actual event, tapering the few weeks before the actual ride.  “For similar events, my strategy is to go moderately at first, go hard at the end”.
Andrew: “I scheduled three long rides per week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) with as much climbing as my legs could handle.  Goal was to ride 70+ mile rides with at least 6-7k ft of climbing.  Moderate pace for the first 2/3’s of the ride, then pushing as hard as possible for the last third…if I’m not cramping”.
Anna:  “I don’t have a coach or follow a specific training program — I just suggested to my boyfriend that we make this a big year, and we have!”  As a self-employed writer who works remotely, Anna has the flexibility to ride when she wants. “Among other ‘make it a big year’ rides, we traveled east for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, and did both the Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak fondos.” (the latter two are 14k ft peaks; Anna placed 2nd and 1st, respectively, in the amateur women’s category in these events). 

How has age factored into your training for this event? 

Mike: “Not really, still maintaining a similar weekly volume. Since I’ve turned 55, I just haven’t felt as strong.  Maybe partly due to how I’ve been training, but thinking partly due to getting older.  Maybe a bit of both.   With age, thinking of introducing more structured training.  But need to understand what I need to achieve”.
Paul: “Age really hasn’t factored into my training plan, the volume mostly stays the same.  But I do have to schedule more time for recovery”.
Cini: “Primarily for injury prevention, I have to focus more on my off the bike supportive work, such as strength training, mobility and flexibility.  Joined ECFIT out of Boulder and started using their strength programs app.  Very happy with the results.  (Boulder based ECFIT almost exclusively focuses on strength development for endurance athletes)
Andrew: “Never seriously trained for a ride like this in my 40’s.  I chickened out of Georgia’s Six Gaps, more than once.   But for the TBP, I’m taking more time for recovery after a hard ride.  Either no ride the next day, or a very slow, very flat recovery ride”.
Anna: “Age is dragging us all down, but training helps flatten the trend line. Due to limitations imposed by work and my declining health prior to my transplant, I wasn’t able to train as much when I was younger. Today I’m able to do much more, although I’m mindful that the immunosuppressant drugs I have to take to prevent rejection of my transplant reduce my ability to recover from hard efforts. I have a good sense of what my body can handle, and I try to toe the line of ‘productive training stress’ without tipping over the edge.”

What are you mindful of at this age that you would have ignored when younger? 

Mike: My diet.  I’m mindful of it, but not making a strong enough effort to do anything about it.  In my 40’s, I could still eat crappy, but could train those calories away.  Now at 55, I need to adjust my mindset and strategy”.
Paul: Nutrition.  For the first time in my life, I properly fueled for the Bypass.  My fear is weight gain – especially during the winter months.   Did not have that worry when younger, I could ride off the calories”.
Cini: “The off the bike supportive work (see above), and my diet.  And of course, it takes longer to recover”
Andrew: Was not as serious about cycling when younger, was more focused on strength training.  The body still responds to the stress, but I do have to take more time to fully recover, and my recovery starts with improving my quality of sleep. Also very mindful of my hydration and how many calories I need to consume during longer rides”.
Anna: “I am much more conscientious about my sleep hygiene, and making sure that I get enough rest overall. In response to an increased training load this year, I’ve become more rigorous about hydration and nutrition. I was never careless about either, but now I’m more precise about both! I try to drink at least every two miles, and more frequently if I’m climbing and/or it’s hot. I also focus on eating ‘real’ food on long rides.” 

How has your fueling strategy changed? 

Mike: “I have to consistently eat and consciously hydrate.  For the bypass, I set the timer on my garmin as a reminder – drink a little every 15 minutes, and try to eat something every 45 minutes.   But, my garmin died early in the race, so had to rely on the group to remind me”.
Paul: “I have to eat more regularly on the bike.  I used to starve myself on rides, can’t do that anymore”.   Paul’s hydration choice on longer rides:  tailwind and scratch.   “I made sure to top off both bottles at each rest stop”.
Cini: ”I’m tending to eat more whole foods.  Instead of the typical gels, I’ve been switching to Lara Bars and similar.  Many of my food choices are now determined by the results of taking a mediator release test”.  (The MRT is a blood test that measures your inflammatory response to foods and food chemicals)   “Highly recommended”.
Andrew: “No real difference, just more.  Starting the ride with Nuun’s in one bottle and Scratch in the other, and have to remind myself to drink more frequently, even at cool temps.  For food, I’ll mostly devour whatever they have available at the rest stops.  And keeping my new secret weapon in reserve – a snickers”.
Anna: “I’m a fan of caffeinated Clif Bloks and the occasional gel, as well as oatmeal cookies. On longer rides, I take small tortilla roll-ups filled with peanut butter and cheese. It’s a good way to get protein, and they’ll keep in hot temps!”  (editor’s note:  I can attest to both the deliciousness and effectiveness of this snack.  I did make one change – I mixed a little honey with my peanut butter)

Did you have any specific goals for this event?

Mike: “Wanted to finish the Bypass, feeling like I accomplished something without feeling wiped out and exhausted”. 
Paul: “Originally, I was shooting for 6 hours ride time for the entire event.  Not including rest stops, my actual moving time was 6:38”.  Paul was not entirely riding for himself.  He’s been mentoring a strong young 13-year-old cyclist who easily has the power, now working on the endurance for the ride.
Cini: “I had three primary goals:  First: remain healthy.  Last year, I was caught on Loveland pass behind the man who died of heart failure on the ride.  Second:  spend minimal time at the rest areas.  Third:  to finish in under 8 hours of ride time.   Last year, my actual ride time was  8 ½”.
Andrew: “Just to finish, and ideally – finish without cramping”.
Anna: 1) Not to freeze. 2) Time goal:  7 ½ hours ride time + 1 hour for rest and food stops. 3) Speed goal:  14 mph average.

Post-ride results and reflection

Mike: Mike not only finished strong, he looked like he could keep going.  So he did.  The next morning, he got up and started the Bypass in reverse.  He completed 50 miles and another 5k+ ft of climbing, finishing the day with a descent from the Loveland Pass. “I felt my training up to the event was perfect with solid base miles and time in the saddle. Next year, I’ll focus more on strict diet up to the event”.
Paul: Paul made it look easy.  Again.  He shrugs casually, “Very happy with how it turned out.  When we crossed the finish line, I still had great legs and lots of energy.  Next year, my strategy will be about the same”.
Cini: Cini was incredibly well prepared for the hard miles of the Triple Bypass, but ran into something no athlete could control:  rapidly changing mountain weather.  “I had crossed the summit of Loveland Pass around noon, which was my goal to minimize risks due to weather on that highest point (11,900 ft) and was on pace to finish in less than 8 hours of ride time”.  After getting drenched by rain multiple times, Cini pulled out of the race at mile 80.  Soaking wet and approaching a fast descent down the Vail pass, she chose health and safety over the finish.  Still, she completed 80 miles and most of the 10,600 ft of the climbing, only skipping a very frigid Vail Pass descent.
Andrew: “Finished!  Very emotional crossing the finish line and receiving the finisher’s medal.   Other than very uncomfortable weather – hot, cold, warm, freezing, I felt fairly strong until the final 5-mile climb from Copper Mountain up to the Vail Pass.  Just wiped out.  If I do the Bypass again, I will focus on eating earlier and more frequently.   And I’ll start longer training rides earlier in July”.
Anna: Unfortunately, weather got the better of Anna early on, and she wasn’t able to achieve her first goal (not freezing). “My boyfriend and I got thoroughly drenched on the descent from Juniper Pass, and we were shaking and hypothermic when we got to Idaho Springs. With more rain in the forecast and no way to dry out or warm up, we called it.”  Not willing to throw in the (soggy) towel just yet, she reports that “I still want to ride the Triple course this year, and my boyfriend has kindly offered to SAG me if I do, so hopefully we can make that happen in the next few weeks!”


SUMMARY

Fuel, Hydration and Recovery. When younger, each 50+ athlete I spoke with were often able to outrun a bad diet, inadequate hydration, and force their bodies to perform at a high level without consistent rest. The tipping point will be unique to each athlete, but that ability fades with age. The body will continue to respond positively to the stresses of training – even the sufferfest level of training required to finish the Triple Bypass – but our gains will be limited if we ignore the demand for better fuel, hydration and more time devoted to recovery.

Specific to the Bypass, and similar events held at high altitude, we quickly learned that as athletes, we can control our training, our diets and our mindsets – but we can’t control the weather! Get outside, start dialing in your strategy for fuel, hydration and recovery – then add patience and plenty of layers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s