The Art of Training Masters Riders - My top 4 rules
Something happened this year that crept up on me and caught me off guard. It happened when I went to renew my Auscycling race licence. I was scrolling through the options when I saw MAS1 (Masters 30-35 yo) written next to my name. I leapt off my chair and stormed out of the room. I’m not sure why I had this reaction. For years I’d toiled away in the Elite category as a rank amateur turning myself inside out to compete against some of Australia’s (and the world’s) best riders. Needless to say, my 20’s were rather fruitless when it came to my trophy cabinet - although I did beat a current Australian team pursuit rider in a club level motopace race once. I’ll ignore the fact that he had probably done a four hour track session earlier that day and wasn’t taking the race too seriously and instead I’ll choose to continue to dine out on that achievement.
I have come to realise as this year goes on that becoming a Masters rider is like being given a licence to be a good and most importantly, a competitive amateur rider while not having to worry about competing with current olympians anymore (although if Alejandro Valverde retires at the end of 2021, he’ll immediately slot into MAS3 - a terrifying thought for all Masters riders). But what does it take to be a competitive masters rider and what coaching considerations do I have when coaching a masters rider?
Most of the Kilowatt riders are Masters level (with a handful of elites and juniors), and this comes with a set of challenges and considerations that must be taken into account. I’ll start by making two things clear:
There are different levels of Masters rider ranging from 30 years of age to the end of a lifespan. Furthermore, this article will avoid the topic of training age and history (are they new to cycling or have they raced for a long time, what injuries do they have, etc).
I am by no means an expert on this topic. There have been many books written by some of the sports most brilliant minds on this exact topic, and I recommend you read these if masters coaching and riding is something that you have a particular interest in.
With that said here are my top 5 rules when coaching a masters rider (and perhaps new rules for myself as a rider now I am one).
1. Masters riders have busy lives
A masters rider generally has a long list of priorities that far and away exceed that of riding a bicycle. Work, families, leisure time and the fact that racing a bicycle isn’t their primary source of income all mean that cycling is - as it should be for all - a passionate hobby. With this in mind, I don’t ever prescribe a workout or ride that doesn’t serve a specific purpose, because we don’t have time to waste people!!!
2. Masters riders don’t bounce back like they used to
So this one may sting a bit, and is a cold hard glass of reality juice that we all must drink. But we all hit peak physical maturation at some point in our 20’s (this is obviously on a bell curve, and I understand there are outliers. So please don’t comment with some anecdotal story about how your uncle Barry was still flexing his 22 inch biceps right up to his 100th birthday). This means that we’re all on a one way street of physical degradation past this point. Extra recovery must be factored into the equation to successfully coach a masters rider. The good news here is that physical activity helps slow down the aging process, so if you’re reading this and you’re a cyclist, well done you!
3. Keep training specific: Masters races aren’t that long - so why are you riding for 7 hours again?
Ok so I want to be clear with this one. When I talk about “Masters races'' I am talking about road and track racing at a club, state and National level. A Gran Fondo is obviously a different kettle of fish as are bicycle challenge rides such as Three Peaks. If your goal is these events, then yes a 7+ hour ride will likely need to make up a portion of your preparation. But for the race driven Masters rider, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter a road race longer than three hours in duration (with the exception being the Melbourne to Warrnambool). So a 7 hour ride is not only unnecessary, but quite likely detrimental to performance as the recovery from such a ride could compromise your training efforts for several days after. Keep your training specific to your goals (see rule #1).
Side note: If you just enjoy riding for 7 hours at a time, that’s fine too. Do what makes you happy.
4. Keep training fun
Something I have found lacking when I have spoken to a number of other coaches is this vital point. Again, referring back to rule #1, Masters riders are unlikely to make a significant income out of cycling, nor are they likely to be able to devote the 20 hour training weeks that they once could when they were elites. Masters riders are usually involved in the sport with “fun” being their primary purpose second to high performance. Programs must involve a level of “fun” in order to give the rider a mental health break from work and life stressors.
Although ultra-simplistic, the above four rules are non-negotiables when it comes to how I write my programs for Masters level riders. Following these rules in your own training and programming practices will ensure you’re on the right track to being successful.