Progress in Your Training May Take Time
I get many comments, especially from those training for and riding the individual time trial, concerning their frustration with their lack of progress in gaining power and ultimately speed over their given courses. My first question is whether they are using a structured training plan and if so for how long. If they are not using a structured plan (ie, periodized training with micro, macro, and meso cycles along with adequate strength training for their core and upper and lower bodies), I can usually assure them they will see improvement with a plan. If they are already using a plan, and that plan seems to follow typical protocol, then I have to ask what their expectations are for their training and racing. This is usually where the problems start.
I know that we all look at the fastest riders in our city, state, or the nation, and want to ride like those riders. Who wouldn't want to be one of the fastest in the country? I do think that we have then ask ourselves how did those riders achieve that success.
One of my favorite analogies is that of the person who takes up a musical instrument. The people who can sit down at a piano and just start playing are few and far between, and in fact, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who was immediately an accomplished musician. People like Coltrane, Clapton, Mozart, and so on all spent considerable time (we're talking years, and decades) practicing and honing their skills. The one theory is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. This would be five years working full-time at your hobby. Coltrane went into seclusion for two years, and emerged with a style that no one had ever heard, and many didn't understand. Today he is considered a genius.
Have you ever heard how many hours the great cyclists put in? There is a very similar pattern here: things take time, so keep working, and be patient. Even though you have been riding for years, you may find your ability to master a new skill within cycling somewhat frustrating because you feel that you have already invested so much time. The difference is that it hasn't been time in the new discipline which requires the use of a mix of energy systems that may have not been using.
So what is the solution? I'd recommend that you stick to your plan and give it time. You can get stronger on the bike well into your 50's so don't give up. I'd also recommend tracking your progress especially on local courses like Cleves. Compare your average times from the last few years and compare your three fastest times from the last several years. The overall comparision will have even the bad nights. I'd still want to see a gradual improvement from one year to the next. When I compare my three best, I want to see even more improvement. There should be a handful of times each season that everything comes together. This is where I want to see some gains.
Keep in mind that at Cleves I went several years without a PR. That didn't discourage me, too much. If anything it made me think about my training and equipment and position on the bike and nutrition and all of the other factors that have an effect on my results. Good things never come easy or quickly so be patient.