Grow Old, Go Further

long distance cycling with age

We're delighted to share this account from long distance ultra-cyclist Clifford French. At 74 years young, you might think Cliff would (or should) be winding down a little, but no - he's out to prove that age is irrelevant and that you just need a little jois de vivre to keep maximising your days. Over to you, Cliff...

Middle age comes with some seriously crappy stereotypes. Apparently, we're supposed to become slower, fatter, sicker and weaker and, worse still, we're expected to do it all while listening to Radio Four and wearing comfortable slacks.”

Thanks, James Eacott! [33Fuel's Head of Content]

Shop Cliff's favourite sports nutrition

And it’s not long before retirement looms. Your grandad got a gold watch for slaving his whole life in the same soulless enterprise. You’ve been made redundant, changed jobs so many times: the best, absolute best, you can expect is a lunchtime in your local Wetherspoons (nothing wrong with that) where you buy all the drinks for colleagues who will forget you the next day.

Old age must be even worse – dodgy knees, creaking hips, zimmer frame?

No, in James’ words, screw that!

I was almost 73 when I finally left employment and could really start my cycling career. A chance email from Dave Morrison, heroic leader of West London Cycling, saw me line up with a motley crew of other cyclists of different ages for a 200 km ride from Ruislip in August 2020. I hung on, sipping my 33Fuel Carb Drink, nibbling on more than one energy bar.

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Faced with the climb to and through Wendover Woods, rising to 14%, I was determined to ride on; my usual stop for breath would have brought shame. In the last few km I felt Dave’s hand on my back: “only just one short climb.” I’d registered the ride with Audax as a DIY (plan your own ride, do it when it suits you, rather than an organised event on the Audax calendar).

I’d thought about aiming for Audax RRtY – Randonneur round the Year – one of the toughest challenges requiring a ride of at least 200km in a day, each day of the year. I’d shied away from this, rationalising my lack of courage with the excuse that I really should not travel to an event on a Sunday, ride 200 km, travel back home and go to work the next day: not fair on the students at school to turn up exhausted.

Cliff proves that age doesn't need to be a limiting factor when it comes to long days in the saddle

Dave’s ride got me thinking that I could, should, shake off the excuses. As I’d had the August ride validated, I began to realise that RRtY was no longer out of my reach. Next month saw me line up for the same ride but this time without support from Dave who was waiting patiently for late-comers.

November 2020 saw me doing a route check for the Audax Turing Tribute, 200 km from Reading to Bletchley Park and back. Two more DIYs and then COVID brought an end to Audax events, DIY and calendar, for January and February. My next calendar event was April 2021, the Turing Tribute. A combination of DIYs and calendar events followed. In September I rode the Morris Major event from Kelmscott (booking the night before and after at the excellent Plough Inn in the village). It was on this ride that I met Steve Poulton whom I regard as one of the greats of Audax cycling: he’s achieved RRtY over 30 times.

Cliff relies on Amore Energy Bars to power him over vast distances

When I asked him what time he aimed to finish, he said he just wanted to finish before the cut off time: this is exactly what I did, but only just. As I completed the ride, I was reminded of an a clip on TV featuring Chris Boardman saying, “When the team had to lift me off my bike, I knew I had done my best.” The organiser, Alfa Pete, and his wife had to help me off my bike, but it had completed the event! And with this ride validated, I had achieved my first RRtY at age 73.

Back in March 21, when Audax events resumed, I rode two 200km rides. April 2021 I rode three. I kept this up to complete RRtY 3 in February 22 and RRtY 4 in March 22. I then completed RRtY 4, 5 and 6 early in 2023. I’m now on track to achieve the Randonneur 10,000 award for those who ride 10,000 km in rides of at least 200 km in one Audax year.

Now that 200km is 'comfortable' for Cliff, he turns his attention to what lies around the corner and over the horizon

Ok, further but not faster. At the moment, 200km is in my comfort zone. The longer days of summer '24 may see me move up to 300km, perhaps even 400. It will be over a decade since I did those distances.

33Fuel has always had my back on these rides. Zimmer frame – screw that. If life has got in the way of achieving your cycling or other athletic aims, it’s never too late. That’s the tagline on my website the Sunset Cyclist.

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