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ned-above-durango

A few years ago younger riders started saying “hi, old man,” when I’d show up at rides.

At first I didn’t think anything about it. I was, after all, senior to them but was still riding – a lot – and could hold my own. Then one day I looked in the mirror and locked eyes with someone I hadn’t seen for a while. Staring back at me was my dad. The deep furrows that bunched around my eyes seemed to signal that I only had a few more years of riding left. “How did this happen?” I wondered.

At a certain point it occurred to me that I'd reached middle age. But I don't need no rockin' chair.

At a certain point it occurred to me that I’d reached middle age. But I don’t need no rockin’ chair. Yet.

Was the thing that I’d spent more than 25 years doing, loving, obsessing over, talking about endlessly, and traveling to do going to become something I soon couldn’t? Was I headed for the sideline where I’d take a knee for the next 30 years?

Age Is Just a Number

You want proof, right? One name is all you need: Ned Overend.

Ned lives and rides in Durango, Colorado.

Ned isn’t ageless but he rides that way. The Man lives and rides where he won the first World Mountain Bike Championship: Durango, Colorado.

The multiple-time national and world champion has reached the ripe age of 61 but can still push much younger riders deep into the pain cave. And he can take the top spot on the podium. Just look at one of his last big wins, the national fat bike championship… in 2015. Or even more recently, he placed third at the Iron Horse Classic Road Race. “I’m a lousy sprinter,” he adds, suggesting that he could’ve done even better had it not come down to a mad dash for the finish line.

Admittedly, the man who once said racing “is about pain,” has a fair amount of superhuman hardwired into his DNA. It was perhaps John Tomac who once said Ned really knew how to suffer. Yet he’s also not immune to the slow drip of time that eventually starts wearing us all down. In fact, when I met him recently at Mountain Bike Specialists in Durango, Colorado, the effects of a crash a week earlier were still lingering. If he were 30 years younger, he might have just bounced back.

The banner from the first World Mountain Bike Championship, which Ned won in 1990, hangs on the back wall at Mountain Bike Specialists.

The banner from the first World Mountain Bike Championship, which Ned won in 1990, hangs on the back wall at Mountain Bike Specialists.

Still, he’s able to compete and beat racers a third his age. How has he remained so competitive and capable into an age when he should be relaxing and spending his weekends leading charity rides and signing autographs? The same way you can… even if you aren’t wanting to compete, but merely stay strong in the saddle long past retirement age.

Get Your Head Right

It starts with your brain, Ned offers. “You have to have the right attitude. You can’t believe how many people I see who use their thirties for why they’re slowing down.” And if competition is your thing, Ned says, “you can’t be thinking ‘I’m doing okay for an old guy,’ because you’ll lose that edge.”

Next one is easy. Sort of. As you age, it’s harder to get into shape after you’ve lost your form. So stay in shape all year long. If you struggle during the off season because any of the million reasons we all do, Ned also suggests that you be patient when you pick back up. Older bodies will respond to the stress of riding, even if it takes a while. “The fitness does come,” says Ned.

Since it’s better to stay in shape, try switching it around, too, to prevent burnout. Ned suggests cross country skiing or swimming as alternatives to keep your fitness.

Train Hard, Recover Hard

In a day and age when every gram is measured, each watt is pored over and re-examined, and every tick of the heart is counted in an effort to eek out a few more seconds against rivals, Ned is decidedly old school. And that has nothing to do with his age. He is, after all, still working for Specialized, a company that moves fast to develop new products, test new technology, and bring innovations to the marketplace. As someone involved in marketing and development, Ned plays a role in those efforts on and off the bike. “The best way to develop a high-performance product and test it properly is to race,” Ned says, “to push it as much as possible.”

He’s clearly no techno grouch. His training, however, is nothing other than a very clear understanding of what his body is telling him and good, old-fashioned sweat equity.

Ned talks over the condition of his favorite ride, a Specialized Epic, with Mountain Bike Specialists' mechanic, Darian.

Ned talks over the condition of his favorite ride, a Specialized Epic, with Mountain Bike Specialists’ mechanic, Darian.

“I base it on feel a lot,” he says. “I’m great at perceived effort training.”

If he goes out to ride hard but nothing shows up, he doesn’t sweat it (nor should you). Instead, he turns it into a recovery ride. When the legs are ready for a beating, he favors intensity over volume and will include a couple of short rides each week, doing intervals of two to five minutes for around an hour. Low volume, he says, makes it easier to recover.

“You have people who love to go out and ride for four or five hours and it’s harder to recover from that,” Ned says. “If your goal is to get faster you need to back off on those. Your training should have peaks and valleys so you have some hard days and short days.”

Recovery – especially for us older riders – is particularly important. Don’t underestimate what one friend once described as “the space between the notes.” Ned says if you train hard, you also need to recover hard. “Sleep is a huge part of it,” he adds.

Ultimately, Ned adds, every person is different. He recommends figuring out what works for you and sticking to it. And if that means getting a coach to help you set goals, stay focused, and to help you stay motivated, do it.

Tend to the Aches and Pains

“Another thing about folks as they get older,” Ned concludes, “is that they are more prone to injury. It’s something I’m dealing with constantly.”

fatboy

It makes sense. Wrecking has always been a painful reality of mountain biking. It’s the price we pay for getting to enjoy something so incredible. But when I hit the ground now at 52 versus, say, 20 years ago, the pain tends to stick around as a reminder that I’m not as bouncy as I used to be.

Staying on the bike – or getting back to it as quickly as possible – means not wasting time getting to those injuries, nagging sore spots, or tight muscles. Ned attacks any issues he has right away to prevent them from turning into longer-term problems.

“Don’t ignore them,” Ned advises. “Use ice, stretching, whatever is necessary.”

Time to Show us What You’ve Got

Maybe you’re not interested in throwing some haymakers at a few younger folks on the Tuesday night ride. And you don’t have aspirations of standing on the podium at a cross country or marathon race.

Doesn’t matter.

This advice is solid even if you’re content to enjoy a couple of weekly rides with friends that turn a little bit competitive when you get to a climb. The bottom line is this: riding your bike further and faster makes it more fun. If you’re struggling because your form is lagging and you’re blaming it on your age, well, that leads to you not enjoying it and, maybe worse, quitting altogether.

Let’s also face facts here. You’re also human. And that means at some point you’re going to want to show people around you that age isn’t a thing, that it hasn’t diminished your ability or competitive spirit. There’s going to be a time when you want to reach down into that tool box and bring out the hammer, show someone far younger than you that you’ve still got game and can leave him or her staring at your quickly disappearing backside. Or maybe, at the end of the day, this is all about being the best version of you, setting and reaching goals, and working on taking care of the only body you’ll ever have.

All good reasons to take this advice from Ned, a guy who knows:

  1. Have a good mental attitude
  2. Mix it up
  3. Train hard – high intensity, low volume work every week will help you get faster
  4. Recover hard – rest up after you work hard. Eat right and get some quality sleep
  5. Stay on top of injuries
Ned's Shed: It's got some nice rides ready and waiting. Still, Ned tries to limit his riding volume.

Ned’s Shed: It’s got some nice rides ready and waiting. Still, Ned tries to limit his riding volume and goes for intensity a couple of times per week to boost his speed.

It all sounds pretty simple, right? And it is. Ned’s advice is based on his own incredible success over many decades of piloting just about every kind of bike there is to the podium steps. Staying strong and getting better doesn’t require a monk-like dedication to a complicated, scientifically-designed training schedule that tracks every pedal stroke and heartbeat. All you really need to do is ride your bike, have fun, go hard once in a while, and recover.

This way, you can keep rocking the ride well into your later years and won’t have to sit one of the best parts of life out. And while you’re out there, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the old guy creaking along making motorcycle noises.

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# Comments

  • Greg Heil

    Even for us younger guns, I think this advice can really ring true. Maybe it’s just me and my perpetually-injured body, but I definitely need to focus more on the recovery and injury-prevention aspects.

  • habakak

    Ned is a living legend.

    Fortunately I see and ride with lots of guys like me in their mid to late forties, as well as guys in their 50’s and even 60’s. And a local rider in his 60’s I know is still faster than 95% of anyone he will ever run into on the trails. At my peak fitness I could not even come close to him, and I was at that point at least hanging with the lower end Cat I guys. We just have to keep on truckin’!!!

  • ronb

    I agree with all of what Ned recognizes and advises about maintaining your passion for mountain biking with age. I’m 62. I did one of the local 15 mile black trails the other day and survived. I took one of my thirty something friends to crawl around the woods this week, and third of the way into my usual short ride he was winded and lagging behind. Sure he hadn’t been riding much, but he stays in shape–AND he’s in his thirties! I managed to stay with another thirtyish friend who kicks it mountain bike racing. We were both on our fatties, and I stayed with him, with somewhat more effort, on what was a leisure riding pace for him.

    I can’t bother to train–having a disdain for regiment–but I do a lot of outdoor sports, like MTBing, road bike, kiteboarding, longboarding, rock climbing, telemark. So to stay in shape for these activities, as it has become harder on my body the older I get, I mix it up with traditional exercise, like lifting nominal weights, kickboxing the bag, floor exercises, hiking, and light jogging.

    I say none of this to boast, though yeah, I am. Mostly though to add that if you don’t keep the foundation conditioned the sports suffer and themselves wreak havoc on the body causing a more rapid rate of decay. And by the foundation I especially mean your joints and tendons. Specifically, if you ignore your joints the strain on them enjoying your activities, like mountain biking, will do long term damage. So not to be a promo, but to add to the advice for fitness in your elderly years, my secret and suggestion, start doing Intu Flow. Google it–Intu Flow. Get the DVD, watch it over and over and practice the philosophy and technique. Do it almost every day. Do it before every riding session or activity, including traditional exercise, like stretching, yoga, or weights. It is about your core of cores your joints and tendons: staying flexible by reducing inflammation, and being pain free. I recommend it to all of my friends of all ages, who complain to me about injuries and joint related pain issues.

    Now I get nothing for promoting Intuflow, more than the satisfaction of other people getting the relief and benefits I’ve gotten. And I hope the inventor, Scott Sonnon, makes something from it, because it’s life changing for anyone who takes it up. Once you get to the master’s level it’s like a dance of freedom of motion. But take your time advancing through the four levels. Listen to the introduction by Scott carefully, returning to it againg and again as you advance. It puts you on the right path and mindset for why you practice the technique. I don’t call it exercise, or even therapy, it works at a deeper level than both.

    I’ve been practicing the Intu Flow technique consistently for 8-9 years now, and it’s like a rejuvenator for the body. Where therapy and ibuprofen failed, old ongoing pain from finger, elbow, and knee injuries, that I seriously thought I’d never be rid of, went away by six months. And I felt improvements long before that, and something almost immediately. Flexibility I’d lost, returned. I jump out of bed most mornings anymore without the stiffness and twangs of old. And if I do, I do 15 minutes of Intu Flow and I’m rolling again. I recover faster from a hard ride and from getting banged up. And I perform so much better with a 10-15 minute pre-activity Intuflow session. Laying off for more than 4-5 days I notice the decay, showing up as body stiffness and that arthritic inflammation kind of pain emanating from the joints. I get a boost of energy after a session.

    So anyway, that’s my added two cents for staying on your bike, and remedy for reducing the geriatrics of life.

  • mongwolf

    There’s only one problem I see with what Ned said. 😉 I have sneaking feeling … actually I’m quite sure … what Ned calls a low volume fast ride would be a long high volume slow ride for me, ???? especially in the San Juan Mountains. Having just started riding a few years ago and being 54 years old, I really have no goals in my riding, except to have fun, explored new areas in the mountains, and challenge myself physically (in a very general way). Keep the passion and ride on !!!!!!!!!!!

    • mongwolf

      The ???? above were supposed to a smile face emoticon, not question marks. Not sure what happened there.

    • habakak

      Awesome, mongwolf. Keep it up. There is no reason to sit on the couch!

    • Scott Cotter

      Mongwolf, Ned’s an animal on the bike for sure. But his Strava is littered with 10 mile rides. Those are all about an hour long and really hit on what he talks about. Intensity. You could do that, I have no doubt. More importantly, you’re riding the way you want, which is the awesome thing about riding a mountain bike. We all get to do it the way we want. Keep rocking.

  • gidani

    Great logical advise from one of the greatest mountain bikers ever. I started mountain biking at age 61 having ridden dirt bikes and roadraced motorcycles previously so recovering from injury is something I am well aquainted with. I used to trail run but tore my calf muscle twice so decided to try mountain biking for fitness. What a great sport.
    I am now 66 and aquired Parkinsons Disease at age 62 so have some additional challenges but staying fit and having fun are real benefits. The bike is great mental therapy as well. I mix in cross training with weights, heavy bag work outs, cardio machines, etc. I know Parkinsons will slow me down but at this point I am still able to ride my dirt bike and can still haul ass (at least downhill) on the mountain bike. Please don’t let age or other physical challenges stop you from doing the sport you love for as long as you can throw a leg over the bike.

    • habakak

      That’s fantastic, gidani. It’s guys like yourself that inspires me. It’s the local guys that is real, that I see and can talk too that no one will ever hear off. There can be only one Ned, but guys like you are what keeps most guys in the game I believe.

    • Scott Cotter

      Gidani, I hope you keep at it despite your current health challenges long into the really “mature” years. One thing is for sure: people who exercise age at a different rate than those who don’t. And guys like you will inspire so many others to look past the difficulties they confront and keep on rocking no matter what confronts them. Here’s to you and many, many more years of dirt lovin’ goodness.

  • Slee_Stack

    I started trail riding five years ago at the young age of 40. My goal is to keep it up through and after retirement. Fortunately I will be retiring relatively early, 55 at the latest, as soon as 50 if things work out positively.

    While perhaps lofty, my goal is to be ‘faster’ when I am older, once I can ride regularly, and longer, more than twice a week. I’m looking at my fifties as my peak years! We shall see. Crashes/injuries are definitely a big concern. In all likelihood, I’ll be looking to speed up my climbs while taking a bit off of my descents.

    I’ve never raced (except myself), although I’ve been asked repeatedly why I don’t. I guess some people think I’m pretty quick. Crowds just aren’t my thing though. I like ‘space’ in the woods.

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