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Wendy Skean Is Proof You Never Have To Stop Cycling

When will you stop riding bikes? If you ask Wendy Skean, her answer might be "never!" She's turning 80 this year but hasn't stopped setting big goals and embracing the challenge of racing. She explains how age is just a mindset.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Features

Wendy racing at Old Man winter. Photo: Eddie Clark Media

Sometimes I wonder how long I can keep racing bikes. I’m optimistic about continuing for at least another decade or two, but recently, I met a woman who has reshaped what I thought was possible. 

Wendy Skean is 79 (turning 80 in July) and she raced wheel-to-wheel against much younger riders at this year's Old Man Winter Rally. This race had outrageouly cold and muddy conditions but Wendy still finished 50th out of 237 women in the 50K event. What’s more impressive is that Old Man Winter was her first gravel race!

Wendy currently resides in Nathrop, Colorado, and has been racing bikes for the last 35 years. She has tons experience racing mountain bikes (she has raced the Leadville Trail 100 MTB 8 times and 24 Hours of Old Pueblo 14 times!) and time trialing. She’s one of the most inspiring riders I’ve ever met, so I had to talk to her and learn the secret to racing bikes into your 80s. If you need proof that cycling can be a lifelong sport, this is it.   

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So how was your first gravel race?

Wendy at the Old Man Winter finishMuddy but happy at the finish.

“Old Man Winter had really tough conditions for a first race. It was a good introduction. I thought it was fun and really enjoyed it! It went better than I expected. I got out and had a few rides in some snow just in case. I wanted to ride it in the snow so I'd know how it would react. 

“I had originally set a goal of two and a half hours. I just pulled that number out of the hat and thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ So I finished in 2 hours and 38 minutes. With the weather conditions, I was happy with that.” 

How long have you been cycling? 

Wendy Skean MTBRacing the 12 hour event at Royal Gorge Six & Twelve.

“Since I was about 45. I became a single mom with two teenage sons and wanted something that we could all do together. They were already in cross country in high school. We had started doing 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons, duathlons, mountain bike races. Then my knees decided they did not like running anymore. So I just went all in on mountain biking.

“I started racing right away. I've always kind of thought, ‘Well, that's a challenge, so let's try it.’ When I see something new, I just have to try it. That's kind of how I got into gravel racing too.” 

How did you get into gravel?

“I started because I read that the U.S. Nationals gravel race was in Nebraska. That's only five hours away so I thought, ‘I could do that. I'll just do it on a mountain bike.’ 

“I have a hardtail. It's a wooden bike from Renovo. It's absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately, then I read that if you qualify, you have to race on a drop bar bike. So I hunted around last year and had a hard time finding something that was my size and had the gearing that I wanted. 

“Luckily, we stumbled across the carbon Alchemy that I’m riding now. I called them up, they had the size I wanted, drove down there, picked it up, came home and rode it, and have loved it ever since. It has mountain bike gears on it, which is what I love the most because where I live there are a lot of hard climbs. It has a single front chain ring and a 52t in the back.” 

What are your plans/goals for the year?

Wendy Skean Fat Bike worldsWendy has already raced at Fat Bike Worlds and Old Man Winter this year. She's not done yet.

“I've got nine more races planned out for this year:

“Right now, my biggest race is on April 27th when I'll do the Highlands Gravel Classic in Arkansas, which I need to do to qualify for the Gravel World Championships in Belgium. That's the big goal of the year and everything else is training for that.

“Then the Colorado State Time Trial Championships. I also do time trials and I happen to be a national record holder for my age. Then I’ll do the Colorado MTB Championship

Wendy Skean Record Challenge Time TrialCompeting at the Record Challenge time trial.

“I'll go to the Record Challenge Time Trial in Moriarty, New Mexico to set the 80-year-old national record. I think I'll have no problem beating it. My 20K time this year was 33 minutes and the record is 44 minutes. So I think I can beat that one! 

“Then October 5th is the Gravel World Championships race in Belgium. It’s a race just about every month!”

How do you train and stay fit?

Wendy Skean mountain biking year round

You can't stop. If you stop something for two weeks, you feel it. You lose something.

“I do have a coach. When I was planning to go back to race Leadville for the fourth time at 60 I decided, “You're getting older now, so you need a coach.” I went to Carmichael Training Systems and got a coach, Kristen Dieffenbach. She has since left CTS, but she's been my coach ever since.

“She plans my training to help me prepare for the three big races I’m targeting and my training plan for Highlands Gravel Classic in Arkansas actually starts Sunday. She's got me doing long rides and she'll give me specific workouts to do on the trainer. 

“I ride Zwift. I actually race on Zwift every Thursday on a women's 60-plus team time trial team. That gives me my speed — you know, faster leg turnover. Otherwise, I wouldn't get it anywhere else. Weekends are my major training days. Then I have gym workouts with weights also.

“I’ve found that you really need to do weights when you get older. I go to a class on Mondays at the gym and it's led by an instructor and it's just constant 50 minutes of exercise. Circuit training, you know, just one after another, with a lot of arms and core, which is what I need because I get enough legs elsewhere. At home, I will do fewer lifts, but with heavier weights. So I kind of get a mix of both. I also happen to have a Pilates reformer. So I do a lot of stretching and workouts on that also.

Wendy Skean paddle boardingMixing things up with stand up paddleboarding.

“When you get older, it takes longer to recover. You have to take the rest days. Rest when you need it, and you'll come back stronger. But you still have to have the consistency. You can't stop. If you stop something for two weeks, you feel it. You lose something. So you have to be really smart about it. 

“You need variety too. I throw in a lot of variety, which keeps it interesting. I never have an off-season, really. I actually just started a little bit of pickleball. We'll see how that goes. I enjoy it, but we’ll see how the knees like it.” 


Woah, you’ve done Leadville multiple times? 

Wendy Skean Fat Bike worldsRacing Fat Bike worlds in Leadville, CO. Wendy is no stranger to high-elevation races.

“I've done Leadville 8 times! I first did it when I was 52. I made it 75 miles and they said, ‘You can go on,’ and I said, ‘Oh no, I can't.’  I knew what was coming next and I couldn't even breathe. That night I went to the hospital! But I thought, ‘Oh, well, I'll just go back next year.’

“I went back and made it to the finish in under 13 hours, but didn't get a belt buckle. So I thought, ‘Okay, I'll give it everything for a third year and that's it.’ I went back the third year and I made it in 11 hours and 54 minutes. So I finally got my buckle and I said, ‘Okay, maybe I'll come back at 60.’ 

“When I went back at 60, I finished, but not in under 12 hours. So I went back again at 61 I had my best time of 11 hours 24 minutes. 

“I did it at 70 too and I was under 13 hours, but didn't get a buckle. So I went back at 71, but my pedal fell off as soon as I hit the dirt. It fell off two more times after that. I still made it through all the time cuts except back at Pipeline. Then I was done, which was probably a good thing. So anyway, I finally went back at 72 and I did it in 12 hours and 24 minutes. That was the last time I did it. 

“The altitude is really the thing. Every time I did it, except for the last two years, I was in California and I lived at 4,500 feet. I would come out a week ahead of time, which is kind of the worst thing for the altitude. It’s best to come the night before or two weeks or more before.”

What’s the key to riding and racing until 80?

Wendy Skean at Pikes Peak hill climb cycle to the summit

Age is truly a mindset. I don't feel any older now than I did at 60 or 50. Consistency is key.

“I've never been one to be able to go out hard. Since I didn't start until I was 45, I realized pretty soon that I had to pace myself. I have gotten really good at that now. When I did Pikes Peak last year, I knew I had to average four and a half miles an hour, just over four miles an hour, to get there in the time cut. So I just looked at my computer and kept it right above that. I pushed just enough, and I was able to do it. 

Wendy Skean Independence pass“I've also been sponsored by Hammer Nutrition for 26 years. I truly believe that they're one of the reasons I'm able to keep going because I have a consistent nutrition plan that I've been keeping up with. It really helps me go as hard as I can go and not fade at the end. 

“I take Perpetuem for the endurance rides and Heed for shorter rides. I use their Race Caps, Mito Caps, Anti Fatigue Caps, and Endurance BCAA, and I take Tissue Rejuvenator afterward. I also use their Premium Insurance vitamins. There’s more to it than that, but I have not had a cold in the 12-plus years since I quit teaching. 

Wendy Skean MTB tunnel“For any older athlete, age is truly a mindset. I don't feel any older now than I did at 60 or 50. Consistency is key. Keep keeping at it, but rest and recover when you're tired. You have to enjoy it too.

“I just want to keep pushing the limit, you know. Every time I've raced, I've been at the top of the age group. I just want to show younger people that you don't have to quit. When I did cross country nationals championships in Winter Park, I warming up, and this woman said, “Wendy, is that you? Are you still riding? Oh, man, I turned 60 this year. I thought I could quit now.”  

“I said, ‘No, you can’t quit. You've got 10 plus more years!’” 

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