Fast and the Big 5-O

Fast and the Big 5-O

A friend of mine, a little older than me, offered this tidbit as I was about to turn 50:  he said 50 is not a big deal, it’s 51. He said when you turn 51, that’s when you know you are in your 50s.  51 is when the second half of life has officially begins. Pretty heavy stuff.

Another twisted way to look at the half century mark is by comparing it to the new millennium. Remember how we were told that Y2K was really not the new millennium? That it was actually the year 2001 we should be celebrating. Maybe there’s some screwed up parallel here that my friend was unknowingly pointing out. That somehow 50 is not really 50 and that 51 is. I’m sure I have messed up the math or the message or both here but the fact is we’re not getting any younger and if you’re an endurance athlete, Y50 or Y51 or somewhere in between, is the time to rethink how we approach our respective sports.

The self-help book “Life begins at 40” was written in 1932. I did not read it. Didn’t seem necessary at the time.  Plus at 40, I was into the Bible, the Cyclist’s Training Bible:  Joe Friel’s go-to book for training self-starters. I read the whole thing. Friel’s framework turned my random riding and reckless efforts into a timed and measured approach to getting ready to race. It remains on my nightstand to this day, right next to his new book: “Fast After 50” (VeloPress, $21.95).


“Fast After 50” focuses more on the needs of an age group than on a specific sport. How many times have you heard, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”? Well here’s one more time. The cover makes it look like “Fast” is a book for cyclists over 50. On the front, there’s a picture of a cyclist leaning into a turn with the selling point: How to race strong for the rest of your life. But read the fine print along the top and we learn that this book was written for all endurance athletes: cyclists, runners, skiers, swimmers, triathletes.

Like I said, when I got Friel’s Training Bible, I read the whole thing. The opening chapters provided some perspective and background on measuring fitness and devising a training plan. With Fast, I got impatient. Part I is kind of like reading a year’s worth of medical journals. 96 pages of explaining what happens to us when we turn 50, why our performance drops, why we don’t recover as well, and why it’s irreversible. It’s very well researched and it references a multitude of studies but it’s kind of depressing. And it really comes down to one sentence on page 37: Intensity is the key to maintaining performance with aging.

All my bookmarks and dog ears in Fast After 50 are from Part II on. That’s the meat and potatoes of this fitness manual. In particular, Friel has some useful tables in chapter 6 that assist with training routines based on expected length of an event. Endurance junkies can reference the >4 hours column and get workouts specific to their needs. It’s well-organized and easy to understand, once you get to know the lingo.

Friel has apparently been working the thesaurus. He has some new ways of describing work zones and workout measurments. Aerobic threshold and aerobic capacity. Dose and Density.  Those four appear frequently.

Aerobic threshold is the top end of the aerobic zone. Zone 2+ if you will. The training bibles don’t get into this area but in Fast, Friel tells athletes to work here and work here often because it is the type of effort that can improve endurance performance. That’s the amount of ground (or water or snow) one can cover at a specific fat burning heart rate. Friel recommends doing a series of aerobic threshold workouts followed by an AT test where the rider (or runner or swimmer or skier) holds their zone 2+ heart rate for a set amount of time then measures the distance traveled. More distance = more aerobic fitness.

Aerobic Capacity is probably better known as VO2 max. Zone 5 is another. I like to call it “damn that hurts.” In the training bible, cruise intervals were the darling of workouts. Friel had lactate threshold work turning up frequently in his training grids. The anaerobic endurance work (a.k.a. aerobic capacity) was there but came with a big note of caution: these intervals for advanced athletes only.  For the 50+ set, Friel says aerobic capacity is the key to keeping this age group fast. It is one of the revelations of this book and Friel is not shy about repeating the importance of this intense zone. The science says that V02 max declines with age but Friel cites research that says senior athletes can cut their losses by consistently working in the “damn that  hurts” zone.

Dose and Density go hand in hand. I got to thinking of these terms like I would prescription medicine. The label on the bottle says take this many pills, this many times a day. Same idea here. Dose is the strength of the workout or number of pills. In intervals that would be the length of the set or its intensity. Density is how often the intervals are done in a work week. It’s a little confusing when reading the text but when it’s laid out in one of the tables it makes sense. And that’s more than I can say about the pharmaceutical industry.


My copy of “Fast” came at a perfect time as I was preparing to train for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. In addition, I was helping a 61 year old get ready for the same event. Friel’s training outline and tips were a major part of our preparation. I find one of the trickiest points of a training plan is coming out of the last build and into a taper. The rest week in between the build and the taper feels like you are losing ground. Friel’s rest-test-rest routine gave our rest week purpose. We rested for five days then tested our legs on the 6th with a timed hill climb and finished the week with an easy ride.

“Fast” has sound advice on nutrition, strength workouts and recovery. However, there are just 2 pages devoted to the specific needs of women and they concern just one topic: menopause. The copy seems like an afterthought and Friel leaves much of it to a guest writer who offers nothing more than the description of and symptoms of menopause. The rest of the book is written gender neutral.

I have other books that do a better job providing a variety of workouts. Fast after 50 is not about mixing it up, it’s about managing a training plan and monitoring progress. It may not be a bible but it has earned a spot on my nightstand.


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  1. Author
    Michael Hotten

    I like Lee McCormack’s books. He is a mountain bike skills trainer but recently published three books on training, two focus on intervals and one on weights. The interval books are “Pump up the Base” which focuses on lactate threshold work and pedaling and “Prepare to Pin it” which is anaerobic work. The other I reference is Michael Barry’s “Fitness Cycling”.

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