A Tale of Two Talley’s

Why you will want to read this interview:

You are not 30 any more, or 40, and wondering if you can still improve as an endurance athlete.

Curious how John can consistently recover from hard training efforts for three decades.

Because… you believe you can get a better discount on TRUE Fitness equipment if you send John an “attaboy” message.

Yes, I have a weakness for interviewing cyclists, and yes, this site will probably remain unfairly weighted towards athletes from my favorite sport.  But after my conversations with John, I realized there were two separate stories to tell and only one has to do with the bike.

Many popular fitness stories you read online, I would put in the “comeback” category.  People who were obese and generally unhealthy who had one (or several) life changing moments that forced a dramatic lifestyle change.  We love these stories.   Another popular fitness story we love to share on social media is that person who barely managed to survive severe illness or injury and is now fully participating in life and sport.  I have interviewed a few of those people on this site and they are incredibly motivating stories.

The ‘fitness story’ you hear less about is that individual who never stopped being active, has never been overweight or unhealthy and maybe they are still fit enough to compete at an elite level.  Sometimes we hate this person, (sometimes they can still wear their favorite jeans from high school) but we have to admire their iron will of consistency.  Being over 50 and maintaining an athletic lifestyle for decades is no easy feat.

This example is the “first John Talley”.  Consistently fit and healthy for over three decades.  A “true believer” that exercise really is the best medicine – for both physical and mental health.  Like others on this website, being active is not what he aspires to be – he simply ‘is’.   Being outdoors and active is hardwired into his DNA.  I asked John the origin story behind his fitness DNA – what single moment in his past wired him to be so determined to never be unfit.  Part of his need is certainly to remain healthy, but the primary wiring started the first time he felt truly fit.  Race fit.  The endorphin rush of a hard ride, the energy he feels afterwards.  He is hopelessly addicted to this drug and not interested in rehab.

The second John Talley is equally impressive.  This Talley is the master’s competitive cyclist, who at the age of 56, still participates at least once per year in a Pro level criterium race – with athletes literally half his age.   We all know people who ride their bikes for fun & fitness their entire life, very few that I know can remain this competitive at this level for this long.  Racing criteriums is not a gentile ride with friends, or even an aggressive weekend group ride.  It’s a battle.  It’s intense.  And it’s fast.  If you have never personally attended a Criterium race, google for an event in your local area.  (If you have an extra first-aid kit, bring it.  There’s a very good chance it will be needed)

For competition at this level, mental fitness is almost as important as physical fitness.  How has John been able to keep that competitive edge for so many years?  Has the “eye of the tiger” ever gone away?  And if yes – besides the obligatory Rocky training compilation video – how did he get it back?   How many more years can he maintain this level of mental and physical competitiveness?

Hopefully, you are as curious as I am about these questions, and hopefully, you will find the answers below.  I hope you enjoy this interview with one of my new cycling inspirations – the two John Talley’s.

50+ years in 50 seconds

…it’s not ONLY about the bike

Where you call home: Longmont, CO
Age:  56
When you close your eyes, how old are you? 28
Why that age?   That was when I was at my best, physically.  My dream of peak fitness / performance.  My mental state is still 28 because I was racing at my best at that age.  I still think I can train that hard, recover that well.  
OK, so mentally 28.  Physically?   Physically, early 40’s. 
Basic Biometrics:  Power threshold 310W, heart rate threshold 150 – LT 142   Height: 5’10”
Current weight:  163
Heaviest over last 20 years:  173, and that was from strength training.  In Jr High, 8th grade, I was already this height and about 165 lbs.  So pretty consistent.
Can you still wear your jeans from high school?    Yes, they still fit.  My college jeans might actually be too big, but my HS jeans still fit.   (editor’s note:  John made this admission fully understanding that some people would hate him for this)
Occupation when not participating in your sport: Fitness Equipment sales 
Sports / activities in which you choose to be competitive:   Cycling – Road and Mountain
Sports / activities you do just to enjoy the moment:  Cycling, Fly fishing, hiking,
Exactly how much do you love coffee?  Have to have it!!
Did you play sports when younger?  Yes, football short time in college
“Have to” or “Want to”?   A little of both.  More ‘want to’.
What’s the “have to”?    A lot of it is mental health.  Physically, I watched several ancestors deal with multiple health issues and I never want to go down that path. The “have to” is really about prevention.
When training – lost in your thoughts?  Or letting music set the pace? Mostly lost in my own thoughts.  
Current injuries:  None  
Past injuries, fully recovered:  have broken both clavicles, and one – I broke twice.
Past injuries that effect today: L5 S1 vertebrate nerve pain and numbness  (hit by car while on bike)   in his 20’s.
Age when I stopped recovering quickly from injuries: 45
Medications I currently use:  none
Supplements I currently use:  Amino Acids, protein powder
Dietary choices or restrictions:  lactose – digestive issues  
Average hours of sleep:  7
Do you track your quality of sleep? I did. Not as much lately.  
Greatest source of pride as a 50+ athlete:  Still being able to compete and enjoy the endorphin high of a hard workout..

Specific to the sport of Cycling

When did you fall in love with cycling? 
At the age of 24.  Entered my first bike race during my senior year of college.   For a while – I thought you could only be a really competitive cyclist if you lived in Europe, so I started doing triathlons down in Claremont, FL.  Became very competitive for a while.

Why cycling?  Why not any other sport?
It was the bike.  The allure of the bike, the coolness of the sport.  For a time in college, I felt out of shape.  Maybe not when compared to the average, but compared to where I wanted to be.  Ran into a college friend, who was built like a greyhound and was racing at the time.  He introduced me to the sport.  Everything about the sport appealed to me.  There were not a lot of cyclists at the time –  not competitive cyclists – so at the time – becoming a cyclist was kind of counterculture. 

Then in ’86, my brother and I came out to Colorado to watch the Coor’s Classic.  It was a rush.  I remember watching LeMond, Hinault, Hampsten, and others.   I’ve been involved ever since.

You’ve been racing since 1986?  No burnout over that time?
I did take a break in my early 30’s.   I moved to Colorado in ’96 and at the time, you could race at the master’s level at only 35.  So…I waited a couple of years so I could start racing masters.

Today, you race with the BoulderCentre for Orthopedics Cycling Team?
Yes.  Not only racing with, but I have been the president of the team for about 15 years total.  (editor’s note:  the BoulderCentre for Orthopedics Cycling team was founded in ’84, making it the oldest existing master’s team in Boulder)

How did you get started with BoulderCentre?   Around age 32-33, I was working out at the Flat Irons AC in Boulder.  We had a brand-new type of group-x class that intrigued me – indoor spinning.  I got Johnny G certified and was among the first class of spin instructors in Boulder.  While there, I met Andy Pruitt who founded the Orthopedic center and the racing team.  Andy was also very well known at the time for his bike fits.

Successful racing team?
Very.  We have won multiple races over the years, and I have podiumed many times. 

Shave your legs or go wild?    

Average miles per year?
Not entirely sure.  I focus more on the time, or hours on the bike.  I probably average 10-14 hours per week.

How do you fuel your rides?  (in the bottle / in the pocket)
In the bottle:  two bottles, one with just water, and one with scratch.  For a longer mtn bike ride/race, I’ll add UCAN to the bottle with scratch.
In the pocket:  Mostly gels. My favorites are from SIS (Science in Sport)  If I need more calories, I take a BoBo bar.

Pre-ride fueling meal?
Oatmeal, peanut butter, banana, protein powder

Power meter? 
Yes.  I use the stages power meter, with the data tracked on my Garmin.

Did the power meter change how you ride?    Yes.  Not as much during the ride, but I pay attention to the data post ride.   During the ride is more about how I feel.

Post-ride recovery fuel?
Protein shake w/ fruit, raw spinach, banana, almond milk,    UCAN super starch for recovery. 

Post ride recovery protocol?   
Not really.  Just refuel.

Aero bike or climbing bike?   
On the road, I mainly ride the Specialized Venge, so…aero. 

Dream bike?  
The new Tarmac, SL7.  Best of both worlds.

More than one bike?  (for non-cyclists: the correct number of bikes to own is N+1)    
Currently, 2 road and 2 mountain.  1 gravel and 1 fat tire. 

Your next bike?   
See above.   Tarmac!

Types of riding you most enjoy:
Mainly road, then mountain, with gravel coming in third.

Preferred ride / race distances:   
Over the years, I have preferred to race crits, which I’ve been doing for 30 years – but I’m starting to do a lot more Mountain Bike races – which are typically 18-24 miles, taking an average of 90 minutes and 2 hours to complete.

Any huge bucket list goals or adventures planed?   WAS the Breck Epic – mountain bike stage race.   It was canceled for 2020, and it’s a “maybe” for this year.  

Who most inspires you in your sport?   I’m old school, so I would say Greg Lemond.  Worked for Greg at LeMond Fitness.  Great mind, incredible talent.

Do you prefer training solo or with a group?  

I ride smarter and harder.

Favorite training / tracking app?   
The Garmin app, which includes my power numbers from the Stages Power meter.

New cycling tech that causes you to geek-out?   
New Wheels.   (editor’s note:  here the conversation stalls as we gleefully discuss “bike porn”.  It’s a real obsession, ….but please do not google the term, follow this link for the definition)

Only when necessary!  I currently have a Trek trainer and Wahoo trainer.  One setup at home, and one at the condos in the mountains.

Great irritant related to cycling:   
Cars passing to close.

Something non-cyclists should know about cyclists: 
How vulnerable we are on the road.

How many tours will Pogacar ultimately win?    
Betting he will at least tie what Lance did, at least 7.  But cleanly.  (no drugs)

Single area of focus you want to improve?

In whatever way you measure physical ability….have you peaked?  Can you still improve? 
I have certainly peaked from where I was at 28, but I think I have better Master’s years ahead of me. 

Mentally / physically, anything that might prevent you from achieving the goals you set?    Mental.  My biggest problem is completely mental; wondering if I’m prepared.  I keep questioning my training and my fitness.  

Does it take an EVENT to keep you consistent on your training?
No.  I do love the preparation for a big event, but I will always train regardless.  

Overall Health, Wellness and Community

Why?  What motivates you to put yourself through this suffering?
Just who I am.  I’ve always been active, have always trained.   Love the fresh air in your face when on the bike and that euphoric feeling post workout.  Kind of an athletic high.  It’s who I am.

How long do you believe you can keep training / competing at this level?
At least another 10 years.  It’s about being competitive in my world, not in the world of 20-somethings.  As long as I can properly set my expectations and make the necessary mental adjustments, I can still be competitive. I don’t plan to slow down at least for the next several years.   And to gauge where I am today – at least once per year – I still join a Pro 1 / 2 Criterium race and see how long I can stay on the wheels of these young guys. 

How young?  How fast?   
Racers at this level are mostly under 30.  We typically race for either 60 or 90 minutes, maintaining an average speed of 28-30 mph.  (editor’s note:  for the non-cyclist, follow this link for an explanation of Criterium Racing

Earlier, you mentioned a past injury to your L5 S1 vertebrate that can still cause nerve pain and numbness.  How does this effect your rides?    
Early on – not at all.  But after a couple of hours of riding, if my core starts to fatigue, my back will tighten and if don’t get off to stretch, the pain and numbness will start to creep back in.

I also occasionally suffer from the Epstein-Barr virus.   Similar to mono.  Originally contracted EBV in HS and it sometimes flairs and can cause pretty extreme fatigue for a couple of weeks.  So I have to factor EBV into my training and recovery program.

Does mental stress play a role?     
Yes, always.  Including for the management of EBV.

Outside of your sport, how do you prepare your body for the stressors of that sport?
Have never stopped strength training.  When the clubs closed, I just switched to my home gym.  Even though I compete in an endurance sport, physical strength is a necessity for both performance and prevention.  

Throughout the year, do you build in time for recovery?
I don’t label it as ‘recovery’, but focus on a lot more cross training in the winter:  skiing, running, more strength.   Of course, being a sales guy in the fitness industry with necessary travel – the recovery is built in.  Can often have several days of travel without the option of a ride.   At least once per season, I do include 5-6 days off the bike – but travel often takes care of that break.

Any “non-exercise” forms of preventative care?   (massage, chiro, personal trainer, blood work, etc)
Love the Power Dot for recovery, and I’m very regular with 90-minute massage sessions, try to schedule two sessions per month.

How healthy were your parents at your age?
Mom was pretty active.  Dad was a typical southern father; had a stroke, heart attack, open heart surgery, and was finally killed by cancer.   Dad would go to the gym occasionally.  He rode horses during the summer, so probably most fit that time of year.  But as an adult, I don’t believe my Dad ever really knew what it felt like to physically feel good.

Any family history you’ve been able to avoid?
Genetically, not really.  Most of dad’s health issues were lifestyle, not dna.  Dad did have high blood pressure, but not until late 60’s.

The health benefits of training / competing:  is that a focus?  Or just a happy and beneficial outcome?   
By product of what I do.  Never really been the focus.  I do want to be healthy, so happy that my lifestyle leads to great fitness and overall health. 

How do you feel – physically and emotionally – when you miss several days of training?
If I miss several days, I feel a strong urge that I have to make up for those days.  If I don’t do something, my wife will tell you I’m not fun to be around.  She’ll tell you I’m definitely obsessed – not just with the bike, but being active in general. 

How have you not burned out over the years?
It’s who I am, and it’s my community.  I still have a strong desire to participate in any sport that interests me, and I still crave that post-workout feeling.   But I have learned not to overtrain.  It took years to learn that it was ok not to go too hard all the time.  Over time, I’ve learned to listen to my body, to the warning signs.  I would say that while my outlook has changed as I’ve aged – the need to be fit and to keep riding has never left me.

Do you find a supportive community in your sport / activity?
See:  BoulderCentre for Orthopedics.   I’ve been racing with the same team – and many of the same people – for over 20 years.   Yes, I’m lucky to have a very supportive community.

Is your family supportive?
I have two boys and neither boy has ever known dad not to race bikes.  They have been incredibly supporting and encouraging over the years.  My eldest son is a sports psychologist.  In some ways, he knows me better than I know me! 

Putting on your coaching hat…

What advice would you give your younger self?
Early on, I was obsessed with riding 300 miles per week – hard.  I would coach my younger self to train and race smarter – don’t go hard ALL the time.  Find more time for rest and recovery.   

What advice would you give any 50+ individual that believes their athletic days are better left in the past? 
You would be surprised of what you’re capable of, what your body will still do.  So much of physical ability is mindset.  When your brain first tells you that you’re done, you still have 40% left.   Physically, you are always more capable than you first believe.  My advice?  Get outside and surprise yourself.

Any final hard-earned wisdom you’d like to share to the 50+ crowd?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.   It’s just a bike – go out and have fun!  And the miles go by much more quickly if you ride with guys you enjoy spending time with.

John, thank you for your time and these conversations.  And eventually, when we get a chance to ride together….be gentle.

Questions for John?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward his replies.

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