I don't post here much, but this is a 50+ topic and I wanted to share it with those who might appreciate it.
Today marks the first anniversary of my return to riding. I took a 12-year layoff, inexplicably choosing to spend my time sitting on my duff after having been a masters road racer. My adult kids (son and daughter) got me back into the sport, or rather, shamed me back into it. Now I am an enthusiastic rider and I've been getting stronger. For the record, I'll be 57 years old this month.
My first ride was with my daughter on the "hike and bike trail" here in town. We covered something like 13 miles, after which I was completely spent. In my first full month of riding, I managed a total of 100 miles. Shortly after that, I found this forum. Many of you offered encouragement and some offered beneficial advice, which I followed. My goals have been to make riding a social activity and to keep from getting injured while at the same time improving my abilities and getting stronger. The advice I got early on was to avoid overdoing things until I got enough base miles in, and also not to expect to quickly reach the levels I had reached previously (if ever). Accordingly, I didn't even do anything really strenuous until I had over 1000 miles accumulated. I've ridden over 4000 miles in this 12-month period, with about 2600 of them happening this calendar year.
Some things that worked for me:
1. Keeping it social. This has opened a whole new world for me as a rider. I ride with friends from the neighborhood and new friends I've made, at whatever speed they ride. I ride with my kids. It's not about winning races any more, and I like it a lot.
2. Training days. I have two intense group rides during the week, on Tuesday and Thursday. One is a very fast ride where I struggle to hang on to the lead group and the other is a grueling hill ride. Great folks on these rides. It's a mix of racers, former racers, triathletes and strong recreational riders, all serious about the sport. I've gotten much stronger riding with these folks and it makes the rest of my rides more enjoyable. It also takes care of any competitive urges I might still harbor because the racers are clearly well beyond my level. I didn't do these right away, though. I went
through a progression from no training days to doing a little training on my own to doing two training days on my own before joining this group of riders.
3. Rest days. I take at least two days per week off the bike entirely. I tried riding every day for a couple of weeks recently and I was exhausted. I was having no fun and not riding as well. I will ride in the morning for around 9 miles to accompany my daughter as she rides in to work, but that really doesn't count because we are going very slowly to avoid getting all sweaty.
4. A new sleep schedule. I've always been a nightowl, but I've been getting up early to ride and getting sleepy quite early as well. It doesn't make for a lot of productivity but at this point I don't care about that so much. I feel great in the morning now.
5. Got a small digital camera to carry with me on rides. I have gotten some really good photos of scenery, friends and kids and it keeps me from getting too serious. I've learned to ride next to someone and take their picture, so I get a lot of "action" shots. I've also learned to take photos with the camera facing back over my shoulder. My friends have also enjoyed receiving the pictures that I take.
Some things that did not work for me:
6. My old riding position. I merely hopped on the same bike I'd ridden in the past. At first the handlebars felt too low. However, it appears that I've gotten more flexible instead of less. I've had to move my seat back a little and my handlebars down a little in order to feel comfortable and also keep my knees from hurting.
7. My old saddle. Ooh. I got a new saddle with a cutout and I like it much better. I don't know how I was able to survive on the old one, but it is possible that over 12 years the old one deteriorated while sitting in the garage.
8. Trying to ride harder than I was ready to ride. Around the first of this year, after having put in some 1400 base miles, I decided to ride with a group of strong riders. I injured my knee and was not able to ride for a couple of weeks. Full healing only took place after a couple of months, because I made it worse by
9. Trying the training techniques of far stronger riders. One very strong rider I know will ride in his highest gear for some amount of time every week. I tried that and again hurt my knee. See number 8.
I've really benefited from the cycling. I had lost a lot of weight prior to starting to cycle again, so I did not need to lose any more. I've actually gained a few pounds while reducing my body fat percentage dramatically. I think most of my weight gain is in my legs. I have (so far) resisted the urge to get a new bike, but I've bought new ones for my son and daughter as thanks for getting me back into riding. The hardest thing about keeping the bike in good condition is the lack of 15-year-old parts. I've had to resort to Ebay for a few items. Weird place, that. But I get a lot of comments on my bike and componentry because it's older than almost everyone else's.
If I were going to offer advice to someone starting out, I'd recommend just riding as much as is comfortable, at a comfortable pace. Make sure you aren't in pain. If you have pain, something is wrong. Figure out what is going wrong before you ride more. Keep it fun. Ride with friends. Even if you used to race. The bike and equipment don't matter, as long as you are comfortable. Don't try to improve too quickly. Don't measure your progress with arbitrary yardsticks, but instead progress because it's happening naturally. You can get stronger and ride better no matter what your age. If you want to train, wait until you have a lot of base miles. Rest. Did I mention to keep it fun? It bears mentioning again. Keep it fun.
Thank you for reading.