Retooling Masters’ Gears

By Marilyn Trout | 02/22/13
Retooling Masters’ Gears

The key to good coaching, actually key to life too, goes far beyond knowledge. Adding wisdom and experience to the scientific foundation of the training program takes it to a whole new level, especially when “life” enters the equation. Certainly, this may be the most difficult or delicate part of the mix to work through since “life” is synonymous with “change.” Change is wonderful when we take the initiative and have time to prepare for it. However, change can also crush when it is forced upon us without notice. For the Masters cyclist, being able to transition through the changes that come at this age, will take some re-tooling of the “gears” that have been used in the past. Just as Juniors have gear restrictions, Masters have them too, in some form or another, that need to be worked through. With the help of a coach that understands age-related issues, the Masters cyclist, especially the Masters female cyclist, will maximize their athletic potential.

Training + Recovery = Adaptation

No matter what sport, no matter what age, this simple formula for physiological change is found in every coach’s plan. It is common coaching knowledge that by manipulating the training stimuli of duration, intensity and volume, coupled with superior recovery, a faster adaptation will occur. The British Cycling Federation wanted some very fit athletes at the 2012 London Olympics and took the components to the limit:

Harder Training + Better Recovery = Faster Adaptation

“If you don’t get the recovery part right, all the training is in vain.” The BCF zeroed in on recovery, with the belief that it was “critical to understand the global stress” of the cyclist in order to produce the greatest gains in performance. I heard this “Science of Recovery” from a British lecturer several months ago, and although it was exciting to hear about the “secret” training methods that were part of a string of Olympic medals, I had a parallel thought pattern that was frustrated by the lack of “secrets” for the Masters cyclist, particularly women.

Over the past few years, Peg Maass-Labiuk and I have been distributing the SageRiders Masters Survey to gather information about how Masters cyclists have transitioned through changes in their lives such as aging/health/retirement/loss,etc. With this contribution of shared experience, knowledge and wisdom, a community of Masters cyclists, SageRiders, has formed to provide encouragement and service to one another, athletes and coaches, through these changes. Although there is a great proliferation of knowledge for coaches and athletes about training principles to cycle stronger, faster, longer/ nutrition/ racing basics/ bike maintenance/ time crunch secrets and miracle intervals, there remains a chasm in the research and literature for the Masters athlete.

The development of SageRiders and the Sage Project has had its significant markers along the way both on the bike and in the lecture hall. Most recently, we were affirmed to continue the research pursuit through personal experience during the 2012 US Masters National Track Championships. Here we allowed ourselves to be “in the thick of things” with training, competition and meeting the Masters community firsthand. It was not hard to discover the needs of the menopausal athlete. No longer was it book knowledge, we were “in the fire.” The Masters training principles and recovery chapters found in popular cycling books definitely lack information in the world of menopause. Hard training plus no sleep, due to hot flashes and sweats, is equal to a very worn-out athlete. Indeed there is major “global stress” with this athlete group.  The unanswered question; what can be done about the menopausal athlete with her inability to sleep which directly affects her ability to recover from training? After some investigation into menopause and it’s unwelcomed changes of hormones, body composition, hot flashes, growing nutritional sensitivities…the advice amounted to:  1) Get more exercise  2) Eat healthy, include more Soy and  3) Get into a support group.  Certainly no sage advice for an athlete. (I discovered that Soy actually decreases muscle synthesis and thereby decreases muscle recovery.)

Another significant marker for our research came in the fall of 2012. While attending a Coaching Summit, I posed my question to those on the front lines of exercise physiology, sports nutrition, training and recovery; “what can be done about the menopausal athlete?” Over and over the answer came back, “I don’t know.” Although, it seemed that all was lost, my hope was restored with a lecture by Stacy Sims, “Training Differences: Women Aren’t Little Men”, which addressed many of the troublesome issues by a passionate communicator and supporter of women’s cycling.  Encouragement was also given by a few lecturers to press on and fellow coaches affirmed the future development of a Masters Workshop Series. Our first SageRiders Masters Workshop will be in Canandaigua, New York this summer.

An interesting topic that has surfaced time and again from our survey has been the struggle an elite athlete with the retirement from the international peloton. It seems that years are spent training the “seconds” of an athlete’s life for world class competition yet, many times, the athlete is left alone to muddle through life after the podium. A former double World Championship medalist writes, “Retiring from elite competition was extremely difficult and I did it too hastily. Even though I had a college education and skills for future employment, it was difficult transitioning. I watched a lot of top athletes REALLY, REALLY struggle with the transition.” Another World medalist likened the process to a “betrayal in a relationship.” Could this struggle have a relationship to the re-entry, or lack thereof, with this particular group into Masters competition in later years?

Retooling for better gears,

If you would like to be a part of this endeavor through your involvement with the SageRiders Masters Survey or a future SageRiders Masters Workshop in your area, please feel free to contact me at You can also wear wisdom on your sleeve by purchasing the SageRiders jersey.

Change is unavoidable in our lives.  How we transition through change is our choice.                        

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