Most of you probably already know this but I thought since it was in the wsj that it was worthy of a post:
Across the Country in a Week
A team of cyclists in their 70s rewrite rules about age and exercise
Jan. 12, 2014 4:46 p.m. ET
Michael Patterson started biking for fun and exercise in his 40s and began entering races in his early 60s. Having heard for many years about the 3,000-mile Race Across America—known as the ultimate cycling endurance challenge—he decided that going after the record for the 70-plus age group "would be a reason to look forward to turning 70."
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In 2012, the retired vice chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and three teammates rode from Annapolis, Md., to Oceanside, Calif., in six days, 13 hours and 13 minutes. The four-man relay team, which included Dave Burnett, Durward Higgins and Don Metz, averaged just over 19 miles an hour and set a record for the 70-plus and 60-plus age groups.
We spoke with Mr. Patterson, and with Brent Ruby, director of the Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism at University of Montana, who studied the team during the race to determine the energy ceiling of individuals age 70-plus (how many calories they can burn in a given period). Mr. Ruby plans to submit an article on his findings for academic review by the end of this month.
Training and Age
WSJ: What kind of training does a race like this require?
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Michael Patterson (second from right) and his three teammates averaged 19 miles an hour for 3,000 miles. Karen Scheerer
MR. PATTERSON: The training is incredibly arduous. For the four months preceding the race, I averaged 1,200 miles and 80 hours a month. It's endurance training, compared with speed and power.
WSJ: What did your research on Mr. Patterson's team find?
MR. RUBY: The cyclists had an average daily energy expenditure of just under 6,000 calories. A similar study by U.K. researchers was done during the 2008 Race Across America on a four-man team whose average age was 37 years and whose average energy expenditure was similar, about 6,400 calories a day. In addition, the two teams finished the race in almost the same time: 6.55 days for the Patterson team vs. 6.45 days for the 2008 team.
It shows older riders can withstand the same demands as a group half their age. [The average age of the Patterson team in 2012 was 70.]
WSJ: What is the significance of this study?
MR. RUBY: That we are never too old to be, or become, active, or even to ride a bike fast. We are not prohibited from strenuous physical performance just because we age.
It means that we clearly need to rethink our ideas about what older people are capable of doing, yet we discount those capabilities all the time. As people get older, they can still do amazing things.
WSJ: How is this race different from the Tour de France?
MR. PATTERSON: The Tour de France is 2,270 miles; Race Across America is 3,000. Tour de France cyclists do it over 21 days with two rest days; we go nonstop day and night.
Race Across America is a relay race, so there is only one racer riding at a time. We split into two two-man teams. Two of us would race, alternating every 20 minutes, for eight or nine hours while the other two were eating and sleeping in the RV that was moving to the next team exchange site.
WSJ: Where does the ability to do this at age 70 come from?
MR. RUBY: A number of factors: good parental selection, persistent physical training that has become ingrained in your lifestyle over many years, lack of disease, a strong desire to exercise when all of society takes the easy way out—and a bicycle saddle you are comfortable spending a lot of time in.
Genetics are associated with many different traits, but it's hard to discern a difference in genetic makeup between a world-class medalist and one who is mediocre. What really matters is the desire to do the necessary work.
WSJ: What were the high and low points of the race?
MR. PATTERSON: Riding at night and into the sunrise was a thrill. And the long descents—up to 40 mph—were exhilarating, if hair-raising.
A low point came when one of our team was hospitalized for electrolyte depletion. The rest of us had to increase our time on the road until he returned 24 hours later, strong as ever. The other low was crossing Kansas. We had 30-mph crosswinds and occasional dust storms the whole way.
WSJ: How can your research help a person who wants to exercise and stay healthy but not train for an endurance race?
MR. RUBY: We hope that these numbers will motivate older populations to exercise more. Exercise is the world's most powerful way to set your physiology down a healthier path.
WSJ: You are now 71. Will you and your team participate in Race Across America's 75-plus category in 2017?
MR. PATTERSON: My wife, who is also a bike racer, has said, "Not with this wife." But all four of us are racing faster this year than last year, so you never know.
Ms. Shell is a writer in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org