- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 27 August 2012
The day was warming up, the coffee was kicking in and A and B grade were racing. The lower grades had finished their work for the day and were watching, recovering and telling war stories. I had spoken to some of the regular Waratah riders about their lives and their racing (see Part 1 of this article), but I also wanted to speak to some of the newer riders, though “newer” is a relative term at a race meeting like this.
I wandered between groups of riders and found John (almost 45) who raced in D grade alongside (or more realistically behind) BNA’s Christopher Jones who placed second. John is a relative newcomer to the sport, having competed in 7 or 8 races with the Waratahs since February of this year. “I wanted some competition, but not too much”, says John, “I took up riding again about eight years ago because I didn’t enjoy going to the gym. My wife and I bought some cheap mountain bikes because we didn’t know if we’d like it or not and didn’t want to spend too much money. But we did like it and we kept it up.” John and his wife now have three bikes each, four of which live in the dining room.
When he went out for his first group training ride with the Waratahs he realised he was quite a bit younger than most of the guys in the group. “They weren’t the fast bunch”, he confesses, “but they rode at a higher speed than I was used to and did more climbing, which I was feeling two days later.” Racing has gotten to him, though. “There’s a lot to learn. Racing isn’t just about aerobic fitness and power, it’s about using your brain as well. These older guys have got the experience, so there’s a lot to learn from those guys. Some of them are very, very fit because they ride so often and look after themselves. It’s pretty impressive to see that. I’d like to continue racing for some time yet, at least another 20 years.”
Richard (aged 45) and Paul (aged 39) are of a similar opinion to John, though it’s only their first race today and they rode in E grade. Richard has two years of regular cycle commuting on his tyres, with some recreational riding with family on the weekend, while Paul describes himself as “a bit of a hacker out to have a bit of fun”. Paul rates his first race as “hard, with a lot of pain, but it’s addictive”. Richard agrees with that. Both of them promise that they’ll be back; “It’s worth getting into trouble with your family for”, Richard adds.
Dr. Peter Reaburn is an Associate Professor in exercise and sport science at Central Queensland University. He’s also 54 years old and has been a competitive athlete for most of his life. He wasn’t at the Waratah’s race, but he is well known as an expert on masters athletes, in particular cyclists. I contacted Peter to ask him for his thoughts on masters cyclists.
“When we look at national and international performances, it’s the 25-35 year age groups where cycling performance peaks. In general, the longer the event, the more important experience (peaking, pre-race prep, and pacing) become. This means that in road events or longer track events, the older the 25-35 year olds are, the better they will go.
This said, it is never too late. There are always exceptional athletes in any age group who, if they train smart by using scientific training principles (as espoused in my book “The Masters Athlete”), together with the principles of listening to their body and learning from experience, will outperform younger riders on any given day. We all know people like that.
Successful aging is about not only physical health but also being mentally stimulated and socially engaged. We cyclists know that our sport gives us all of these. While many masters sports can also give us this, there are few sports where 60 year-olds can train and race with 20 year olds on an equal footing. Mixing with younger riders keeps us young and the young inspired!”
I like that phrase, “successful aging”; it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something by not dying. Obviously, it’s more than that, so I asked Peter about any drawbacks he sees with being a competitive masters cyclist.
“Drawbacks? Maybe the risk of crashing might increase as reaction speed drops and sight or hearing becomes impaired. However, experience can usually make up for this if we are smart and pick the right wheel, foresee what’s ahead, and stay vigilant and focused in the bunch.
My strongest advice is to ensure anyone, cyclist or not, gets along to their family doctor for an annual check up. I do every year. My doctor is pro-exercise, open-minded and supportive of aging being no barrier to exercise, and he has a small hand!
The other advice I’d give is to ensure the older you get before you start endurance exercise like cycling, even if you’ve come from other sports, is to ensure good bike set-up, start slowly and build distance progressively, then frequency, then intensity of training. The other thing I always believe is listen to your body. And for the guys, listen to your wife!”
I was going to end this article with a quote, something trite like The Man in the Arena, but I decided against it. Rather, in the tradition of old men everywhere (oops, I mean masters), I’ll finish with a story about my youth.
My first real job after I finished university was at the CSIRO. I was young and full of enthusiasm and I was working with men who were very near to retirement age. They were still very active researchers and they in turn worked with men who were older than they were, and retired to boot. I thought it was a bit sad that these old guys didn’t have anything else to do with their lives and they still wanted to come in to work everyday. When I started to work with them, however, I saw that the fire that burned within them was as strong as the fire inside me, but better tended and controlled. When I went back to uni to do further study I encountered the same situation, retired professors who maintained active links with the university and who were always willing to give guidance and advice while still working on their own new ideas. I realised what it was that these people had, they had passion and that was a real lesson for me.
You can see this same passion in people who restore old cars, who build wooden toys for kids, who put together model railways, or who bake for the CWA charity stall. And it’s the same passion you see every Sunday in the men and women who wear the yellow and orange lycra of the Waratahs. They may be further down the road, but they’re riding strong.
The Waratah Masters Cycling Club holds regular Sunday morning races for riders over the age of 30. They can be contacted through their website.
Dr. Peter Reaburn’s book, The Masters Athlete, can be purchased through his website which contains lots of useful resources for cyclists and other athletes.
Photos © Mark Gunter Photography