Getting faster with age

Pleasant Hill, California resident Kevin Metcalfe has been trying to go sub-50 for a 40k TT for more than 20 years now, and finally at age 52 he stormed to a record breaking 49:29 in the Northern California / Nevada TT Championships. Typically we do not get better with age and that is actually true for wine too, only a few premium wines age well. Be it though as it may, we had a few words with him.

Slowtwitch: Good to chat with you Kevin.

Kevin Metcalfe: Hey, thanks for contacting me. Though I’m not a triathlete I find a lot of good stuff on Slowtwitch and visit the site often.

ST: Kevin, we know that many folks who visit our site are not triathletes. So you are not alone.

Kevin: I started coming to ST when Kitty got back into triathlon in 2006 and found it to be pretty interesting and though a lot of the discussion isn’t about what I’m interested in, there is a lot of good cycling related info.

ST: But you are not completely foreign to triathlon.

Kevin: Before bike racing, I originally wanted to be a triathlete. I saw Dave Scott speak at CSU Sacramento in about 1984 and even did a few triathlons in that time frame. As it turns out, the swim portion of even a short triathlon can be quite difficult if the longest swim you’ve done is back to the boat after water skiing though. In about 2004 I did do a LOT of swimming due to a foot issue and became a pretty competent if not exceptionally fast swimmer. I really enjoyed doing a few open water swims, including a 2.4 mile one.

ST: Let us get to the meat here. You broke a nice TT record this past weekend and yes that one was yours too.

Kevin: On Sunday I rode a 49:29 for 40km at the Northern California/Nevada “State” Time Trial Championships to break the national 50-54 record of 50:17 that I set in 2011. My PR before today was actually 50:11 in 2010 when I went after Bostick’s 45-49 record of 49:57.

ST: Are you just getting faster?

Kevin: Prior to that my PR was set in 1993 with a 50:57. That was a new course record at time. I used a Trek OCLV road bike with clip on aero bars, disk and tri spoke back then.

ST: You were not using a road bike this time we assume.

Kevin: I was riding a Specialized Shiv, Zipp 900 clincher disc, Zipp 808 FC clincher front, both with Specialized Mondo tires and latex tubes, a compact 50x39 with Rotor rings and an 11x23 cassette. I rode a Giro Selector helmet and had been using an Adamo saddle but just changed to the Specialized Sitero.

ST: Rumor has it that you are passionate about compact cranks.

Kevin: I think that the vast majority of people don’t need a standard crank and especially not a 54 or 55 tooth chain ring. The fact that I was able to average 30 mph and except for about 10 seconds in my 12, never used anything bigger than a 50x13 tells me that you don’t need a huge gear to go fast. There are a lot of variables, but a 50x11 is a bigger gear than Eddy Merckx ever had. Of course, on the other hand if you live in Kansas you probably don’t need a compact either. I just think that a lot of people never learn to pedal properly. I’m not saying that somebody should do a time trial or triathlon a 100+ rpm, but if a rider can’t pedal for relatively short (1 minute or so) durations at 100 or 110, they need to work on their pedaling, not buy a bigger chain ring. BTW, in that vein racing on the track does wonders for your abilities as a cyclist.

ST: No power meter?

Kevin: I’ve been training and racing with power since 2007. It has improved the quality of my training a great deal. In time trials I use it more to stay on task and not over do things. I like to settle into my pace based on perceived effort, take note of the watts that requires and then monitor to make sure I don’t over or under do things. I never start a TT saying, “I need to do x watts”. That is generally a recipe for disaster.

ST: Will that NoCal / Nevada State TT effort better the Bostick number you wanted so badly?

Kevin: I clarified with USAC this morning that even though I beat the previous 45-49 record, I only get my own age group record due to a rule they implemented a few years back, ironically because of Bostick wiping out younger age group records.

ST: I would assume you agree with that ruling.

Kevin: It is what it is. Of course my ego wants both, but it doesn’t matter. Even if they gave it to me it would probably only be on loan anyway. Chris Phipps turns 45 next year and was 10 seconds faster than me. Chris Lyman (Carl Spackler) and Dave Bailey are also capable of taking it when they turn 45. As long as I stay 5 years older than those guys I think I’m okay….

I hope that the 50+ record is going to be mine for a while though.

ST: How long have you been working on that sub-50 effort?

Kevin: I’ve literally been trying to go under 50 minutes for 20 years. Finally the weather, my fitness, and aero equipment all came together at the same time yesterday.

ST: Does that mean you can retire from cycling now and play golf instead?

Kevin: Oh hell no! I may back out of racing at some point, but I will never quit cycling. There are too many cool places that I want to ride.

ST: We know you have been up the Alpe D’Huez. Was that one of your European bike excursion highlights?

Kevin: Yeah it certainly was. It was really fun to ride up some of the legendary climbs of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. The Mortirolo (BRUTAL), Gavia, Stelvio and some other climbs in the Dolomites were also pretty amazing.

ST: How fast did you make it from the bottom to the top?

Kevin: 50:55. I rode it full gas. I mean, come on, how could I not? I wanted to see how I compared to the pros. I was 49 at the time, so of course I didn’t expect to be up there with them, heck even at 25 I wouldn’t have been. But still I was shocked to see how much time I would have lost in a Tour de France stage in such a short time. Do you think that if I had a nice warm up of four hours and 10,000’ of climbing before I hit the Alpe like the pros do I would have been faster?

ST: So what is next?

Kevin: Immediate future is trying for a sub 20’ PCSD on Wednesday. Another goal that I’ve been shooting for and been close to for a number of years. PR is 20:11. So close… (Total failure. Windy day, not even close.)

Longer term is nationals in September. I want to repeat in the road race in Bend and get my TT title back this year.

ST: Who will be the toughest competition for either of those titles?

Kevin: For the TT, Jeffrey Hartmann from Boulder is the guy to beat. I had a really good ride last year and frankly having started last was absolutely sure that I had won. Hartmann beat me by a LOT and in fact had the fastest time of the day. So I really need to be on my A game to beat him.

For the road race I’m probably the most concerned with Brendan Sullivan. He won the 45+ road race the last two years and is 50 now. But I think the course suits me so I feel good about my chances.

The wild card is 1984 Olympian Thurlow Rogers. If he is healthy he is always the guy to beat. But he’s had really bad luck the last two years and even this year where he recently broke a bone. But if he is healthy and fit, look out.

ST: How much training do you do a week and how much of that is TT specific?

Kevin: In general I ride about 15 hours a week. Usually 1-2 hours a day during the week and a couple of 4-5 hour rides on the weekend.

I am convinced that the key to a lot of my results the last few years is my winter program. I’ve discussed it before in the Triathlon forum if anybody is interested about Winter on the trainer and Normal training once the days get longer. I’m kind of bad about spending time on the TT bike. Due to various reasons I had only raced on my TT bike twice this year (both PCSD) and had been on it some, but not a whole lot. I saw that Chris Phipps was going to ride his TT bike exclusively for the final two weeks before districts so I did the same, except for the weekend race and long ride. And “Shiv week” was born on Strava. I think that more time in the TT position was very helpful.

The problem is that I just love riding on my road bike and it’s too easy to neglect the TT bike.

ST: Is that really considered a problem?

Kevin: Only if you neglect your TT bike so much that you forget where you left it and can’t find it for the big TT.

ST: When you are not riding your bike, what do you do?

Kevin: Ummmm… I work as a civilian software project manager for the Army. I like to ski and scuba dive, but unfortunately haven’t done much of either the past few years.

ST: Are you a married man?

Kevin: Yes, I’ve been married to my wife Kitty for 25 years now. We met on a bike ride. She is a former triathlete who raced professionally for a couple of years including IM Kona in 1985. Yes, it’s a mixed marriage, but somehow we make it work. She is a chemical engineer. She mostly rides, runs or swims for fun and fitness, but did a few 70.3 races a few years back.

We don’t have any kids, but we have a dog named Howard who is probably more spoiled than many kids.

ST: If you had to race Kitty tomorrow in a 70.3 race, who would cross the line first?

Kevin: Probably Kitty. I haven’t swam at all since about 2005. Even if I didn’t have to get pulled out of the water, she would be so far ahead it would be over. Then I’d probably drill the bike leg and end up walking on the run”!

ST: Does Howard come to some of the events or does he stay home?

Kevin: Howard has a lot of important responsibilities around the house so he doesn’t usually come to the races. Things like - making sure nobody steals the bed or couch.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Kevin: I was all about baseball and skiing through high school and my early college days. Then I started running. I loved running. Unfortunately as it turns out I’m too stupid to be a runner. As I got fitter I wanted to do more, more, more and then I’d get injured. Rinse, repeat, all too often. The beauty of cycling is that if you over train you generally just end up getting tired. Though, I doubt many collarbones get broken at the local 10k, so I guess it’s a trade off. I raced a lot on the track in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s and won a number of masters national championships in the pursuit, team pursuit and points race. I also raced in the 1988 Olympic road trials and 1996 Olympic track trials. I remember Kent Bostick winning the pursuit at age 43 to go to the Atlanta games and jokingly thinking that at age 35, I was still 8 years too young to go to the Olympics.

I really want to do the Haute Route one of these days.

All of my training data is public on Training Peaks and Strava. I totally roll my eyes when I hear comments like "but they will know what my FTP is."