Fit at 100 years old – Centenarian Decathlon

I have a new fitness goal – training for the “Centenarian Decathlon” – i.e be fit when you are really old. The idea is that as we get older, our muscle and fitness declines rapidly. It means we can spend the last 10 years of our life, unable to move properly. The body fails before the heart and brain. The only way to be fit and mobile in the last decade of our life is to start training for it now.

The idea comes from Peter Attia – a doctor and fitness guru, who has spent a lot of time researching how to combat ageing and improve our healthy lifespan. He wrote a good book – “Outlive” which goes into different aspects of things that make a difference in improving life-expectancy and healthy life-expectancy. An important conclusion from all his scientific research is that if you did one single thing to improve life and healthy life-expectancy – it is exercise. Exercise is the single most important thing that makes a difference. Try to eat healthy, get good sleep, minimise stress and cultivate happiness.  But, if there is a magic bullet, it is exercise – aerobic, VO2 max and core strength.

Healthy Life-expectancy

Fall in healthy life expectancy in recent years is expected to get worse. The US is also seeing a decline in life expectancy.

By the way, healthy life-expectancy is the age at which we are physically able to live an active life. Researching an economics video, I found that in the UK the healthy life expectancy is just 51 in Blackpool, but 71 in Richmond Upon Thames (Population problem). There is a regional variation in life expectancy, but an even bigger discrepancy in healthy life-expectancy. The way modern medicine and health systems are set up – we focus nearly all our efforts on treating the symptoms of ill-health, but do very little on preventative medicine. Peter Attia claimed that 70% of deaths in the US are preventable, but only 3% of the health care budget goes towards preventative care. In an ideal world, exercise would be more incorporated into transport systems, schools, even workplaces. But, if we want to take part in the centenarian decathlon, we have to take the initiative and start training now.

Vo2 Max

The good news for keen cyclists. VO2 max is one of the most reliable guides to life expectancy. The higher the VO2, there is a very strong correlation for higher life-expectancy. Even small amounts of high intensity training, can boost our VO2 max and our fitness. VO2 max steadily declines with age, but we can partly arrest the decline through training VO2 max specifically. In my own cycling, this year I haven’t done very much VO2 max efforts at all, just pottering around town. So this is a good reminder to make more of an effort in this regard.

Aerobic Base

As you might expect the more you improve your aerobic base, the more good things happen for our health. It improves our cardiovascular health, but also our general mood and feeling of well-being.

The Harvard professor in this video is very good. One of the most interesting things I learnt was when people are unfit, if they exercise they don’t get the same ‘buzz’ / ‘dopamine’ effect that trained athletes do. This is why unfit people don’t like exercise, it is just all suffering, little reward. But, when you get to a certain level of fitness, then increasingly the body is able to send a reward of ‘dopamine’ and exercise becomes much more enjoyable. This is why it can be so hard to get going with exercise; at the start, it is not much fun. But, if you can get a critical mass of fitness then everything becomes easier because exercise itself becomes more enjoyable. I’ve found that in my own exercise cycles. When you’re fit and firing on all cylinders, you can’t wait to get back on the bike and do more training. But, when you get out of the habit, the idea of doing hill intervals or whatever, appears less desirable.

Core strength


Another really important thing about training for old age is general all-round strength. As a cyclist, I have often been guilty of focusing only on cycling and not doing the more ‘boring’ core strength exercises. If you have ever seen me in a lycra skinsuit (and apologies if you have) you will know my body type is perfect for long-seated hill climbs. But, equally, it is perfectly unsuited for doing pull-ups and push ups. Yet, when you get really old, this kind of upper-body strength could be the difference between pulling yourself out of bed and being bedridden. I spend some time with a friend with Parkinson’s. When it kicks in, the legs stop working and to get out of bed, it requires pulling on bars to get up. It is touch and go, and this is a real motivation for training for old age. You realise every workout and muscle strength you developed – makes the difference of whether you can get out of bed, and being able to do basic tasks.

Modern life

In the pandemic period, I got into the habit of online shopping. It’s amazing, you click on your computer and all your heavy shopping gets brought to your door. It saves so much effort. I used to take a rucksack when travelling, but now replace it with mini suitcases on wheels. Rather than take the stairs at the airport, we have lifts and travellators. Everything is geared towards comfort and ease of use. When we put a backpack on, it is a bit uncomfortable, so we seek ways to avoid lifting and carrying. Everything that used to keep the body in shape is being replaced by technology which does the heavy lifting for us. But, actually walking with a heavy backpack, is really good training for the body. It is why the army use this kind of training.

All this is good in the short-term, but it means the modern homeo sapiens is losing strength and the ability to function like we are supposed to. When things go wrong, it’s either too late or we just seek a solution to the problem of a weak body – not address the underlying cause. This is why we have to make so much conscious effort to keep the body active and avoid the comfort delusion. For example, when my 70-year-old mother brings in the shopping, I feel the right thing to do is go and help her carry the heavy shopping bags. But, actually, that weight training of lifting heavy shopping is the best thing she can do. (Apparently, women particularly benefit from weight training in old age). What I should be doing is inviting my parents down to do some redecorating in my house, keep them busy.


My spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy said that once you are over 50 you should try and if possible do 2-3 hours of exercise and stretching per day. Sri Chinmoy used to be a keen runner, but when he got a bad knee injury, he took up weight lifting and sought to inspire the older generation, that we can keep ourselves fit. The idea of 2-3 hours per day exercise seems such a long-time. But, now I’m getting closer to 50, I have a goal to do this. Peter Attia states that many people who come to his clinic spent years seeking to make themselves rich, but when they reach a certain age, they realise it is no use, unless you have the good health to go with it. We just have to prioritise health and exercise and find time wherever we can.

For example, I was taking someone to hospital last week, there is hours and hours of waiting. But even then, there are some exercises you can do. Try stand on one foot with your eyes closed and then try stand on your toes with your eyes closed. Sounds easy? It isn’t.

There are also other exercises you can do in small confined spaces. I’m a big fan of eccentrics. Pretty much all using your body weight. The aim is to try and exercise all 600+ muscles in the body. The exercises seem easy, but the first time I did a 30 minute session, I couldn’t believe how stiff I was the next day! Muscles you don’t use in daily life.

Cycling is great

On average I spend one hour a day cycling around Oxford, Kennington, mostly on the cycle path. It’s a really efficient way to both get around time, save money and keep fit. Oxford is in the news for its controversial transport plans like LTN. But, not so visible are the huge benefits to physical and mental health which will come to societies if we can encourage active travel. So that’s a start, but I will work on improving upper body strength too.

And it is that time of the year to start thinking of VO2 Max Hill climb intervals


Electric bikes over 25mph

I have been cycling around Oxford quite a bit over winter. I try to make up to 100 miles a week if I can. It’s great fun cycling on certain roads and cycle paths.

Although I am not training properly, I am reasonably fit and generally get a little joy from being one of the fastest cyclists around. But, in the past few days, I keep coming across people on electric bikes who seem to be able to do 1-25+ mph in three seconds flat. When I see a bike speeding past, I often see if I can try and keep up. But, last week I was unceremoniously dropped two days in succession. The first electric bike was one of these people carriers, with two small children in the front.

The guy ‘cycling’ the souped-up electric bike carrier looked more like he was doing a criterium rather than a steady commute around town. When it comes to helmets I do think it is worth wearing them. But, I’m not an evangelist, I certainly don’t think it is the main solution to cycle safety. I get slightly irritated by people who fall over and graze their arm and then spend the next 20 years telling you a helmet saved their life. Anyway, I digress despite my conservative views on bike helmets, it always makes me slightly uneasy seeing very young kids in people carriers without helmets. If I were charging them around town at 25mph, I would put a helmet on my young kids, they look very exposed should anything happen.

If I had my TT bike I might have been able to keep up, but a commuting bike with heavy panniers, and it’s pretty hard to get to 25mph on the flat.

But, I do worry these super-powerful electric bikes will give ‘cyclists’ a bad reputation. I was in a pedestrian shopping centre and two young kids were charging up and down on their electric scooters. They were having great fun, but it does add an air of uncertainty about the pedestrian area, I can understand why old people may feel uncomfortable with all these powerful and heavier machines.

LTNs in Oxford


Two years ago, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of LTNs in Oxford. I don’t have time to write another nuanced post about the scheme. It is controversial, and it creates winners and losers which is unfortunate. But, from my personal experience, I think they are great. It is much better and safer cycling around LTNs. I have definitely changed some cycle routes. Divinity Road was never a good place with heavy traffic, but now it is great. I try to stay out of the controversy, it is too toxic. But, there is something great about having neighbourhoods where the car is not so dominant and you can enjoy walking and cycling.

I took my bike to Reg Taylor for annual service and for the first time ever, I had to wait a week to get a service. They have been very busy with bike repairs, ancedotal evidence more are cycling perhaps.

Average speeds cycling

A look at different average speeds in different types of cycling. All speeds are in km/h.

People often ask what is a good average speed for cycling? When I was in Otley CC, we used to have ‘reliability rides’ (think sportive which doesn’t cost anything). Usually, the reliability rides involved riding 50 miles in 3 hours. – 16.6 mph, 26.8 km/h. It was a good test for the club-rider; it could still be done at a non-competitive, but ‘brisk’ pace. I don’t know if people still do reliability rides.

Usually our old club runs would be done at around 14mph (23 km/h) and that didn’t include the three tea stops during the day. Of course, the average speed of a club run will all depends who you go with. If it’s a club run of more than 20mph, I think a chain gang is probably more important. When I went with a local Oxford chain-gang, the average speed was something like 23mph for a flattish course around Otmoor.

Good tool for calculating average speeds

How to increase average speed

A quick conversion for km/h to mph:

  • 20 km/h = 12.4 mph
  • 30 km/h = 18.6 mph
  • 40 km/h = 24.85 mph
  • 50 km/h = 31.06 mph

My personal average speeds

When average speed of cyclists is higher than average speed of motorists
  • Commute into town, including stopping times at traffic lights – 12-16 km/h
  • Commute into town (slow) – 16-2o km/h
  • Commute into town (fast) – 20-28 km/h. (The average speed of motor traffic in Central London is said to be around 9mph.)
  • Training ride on winter training bike – 24-27 km/h
  • Training ride in summer – 28 – 30 km/h
  • Threshold training ride 32-33 km/h
  • Threshold training ride on time trial bike 34-37 km/h
  • Hilly time trial on road bike – 38 km/h
  • Hilly time trial on time trial bike – 40-42 km/h
  • Flat time trial TT bike, no traffic – 46-47 km/h
  • Fastest time trial on TT bike (fast course, + traffic)- 50km/h
  • Fastest downhill – 85 km/h

Factors that affect average speed:


  • A time trial bike in a very aero position can add an extra 3-4 km/h (see: difference between road bike and TT bike)
  • Passing traffic on dual carriageways can add an extra 2-3 km/h
  • A £1,000 road bike will be considerably faster (1-2km/h) than say a heavy hybrid bike.
  • Very smooth roads – smooth tarmac can add an extra 1 km/h
  • In a 10 mile time trial, with a tailwind of 20mph, I once averaged 56km/h. Into the headwind on the return, I averaged 36 km/h. Wind  is important
  • If you can average 32-34 km/h on the flat on a road bike, you may find you can get close to 40km/h on a time trial bike on a fast course.
  • If you cycle in the wheels – behind another rider, you can save 20-40% energy. In the middle of a large peleton, it is said you can save up to 50% of your energy. You can probably ride 3-9 km/h faster. Average speeds for team time trials are often 3-5 km/h faster than individual time trials.

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Old Shoe – Llangollen

The Old Shoe out of Llangollen is a short, steep climb in North Wales. It runs close to the better known Horseshoe Pass. (main A road). But the Old shoe makes an excellent venue for the national hill climb because it is feasible to close the road to traffic and is significantly steeper (an average for 12.% for 1 mile is a real challenge. The road is quite narrow and has a cattle grid, but is relatively quiet, as most cars take the Horseshoe Pass up the valley.

Source: Lucy’s Lifes and Bikes

Old Shoe out of Llangollen Pass

  • Distance 0.96 miles
  • Avg Grade 12.5%
  • Lowest Elev 677ft
  • Highest Elev 1,314ft
  • Elev Difference 637ft / 194m

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Surfing the Line – Hill climb film

I remember sitting down with Maciek about two years ago (2019). I always enjoy talking about hill climbs, so was happy to take part. We spent quite a few hours and I think Maciek ended up with quite a bit of footage (as an amateur film-maker, I couldn’t guess at the number of hours Maciek must have spent editing all that footage). It was at a time when I wasn’t doing any competitive cycling, so it was nice to relive the old memories, which seemed quite ‘alive’.

On another occasion, we went out to Chinnor Hill in the Chilterns to do a short photoshoot.

I must admit, I then forgot about it for a year until Maciek thought about publishing in 2020. But, he waited another year and interviewed Bithja Jones and Andrew Feather, which was a good addition to the film.

I think it is very good. I like all the contributions and it gives a good insight into the world of hill climbing. It’s often hard watching yourself speak, but there you go.

After the 2021 national hill climb on Winnats Pass and now watching the whole final version, I’m super inspired to go out and cycle up some hills! I hope my body is as enthusiastic and willing as the rest of me! But, I guess that is part of the film, inspiring you to enter a hill climb 362 days until the Old Shoe in Llangollen, North Wales

The film is made by Maciek Tomiczek supported by Hunt.

National Hill Climb Championship 2021 – Results

The National Hill Climb Championship for 2021 was held Winnats Pass. It is an iconic venue for the event because it is an excellent hill (i.e. really hard – 11% average, 20% max gradient). The hill has a natural amphitheatre around the climb meaning there will be a great atmosphere for both riders and spectators.

Photo Darren Cooling, Bolsover & CC. Winnats 2021

It is also by far the most popular hill climb venue for the National with 10 visits. However, this will be the first visit to Winnats since 1977.

The 2021 race was very popular with many entrants and spectators. It was run under difficult conditions with rain and wind making the steep slopes even harder. In the men’s race Tom Bell, broke the decades old course record to fly up the climb in a time of 3:01.6 pipping last year’s winner Andrew Feather. In the women’s event, Bithja Jones narrowly pipped Mary Wilkinson to the title.

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Clearing out bike parts – and spare parts for sale

I am currently going through a five year plan of clearing out my stuff. I have sold a lot of books on Ziffit. I have put five skinsuits in the loft and managed to throw away one. It’s amazing how you can accumulate skinsuits. They cost a lot of money but have no re-sell value (especially when the lyrca gets stretched). I don’t want to discard them because I hope to use them again, but who knows when?

The problem with taking a zen approach to your stuff is that with cycling stuff, it is easy to accumulate and difficult to throw away. I’m sure all cyclists can relate to keeping various odd bits in different parts of the house and not knowing when they will come in. You keep just in case and then forget their purpose.

In my loft, I couldn’t believe how many varieties of aero bottles I have lying around. That’s the problem with time trialling, there’s always watts to be saved by splashing some cash. I’m kind of relieved to be off the aero gains money-train. I also always seem to excel in collecting one single glove. I had about 4 right handed gloves with no pair.


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Pros and cons of Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTN)

To my surprise my local area (Cowley, Oxford) where I live has implemented a low traffic neighbourhood. It involves putting

  • Bollards on some roads to block traffic
  • Implementing bus/taxi gates where the road is still open, but taxi’s, buses and emergency vehicles can pass through. (Also quite a lot of cars ignore the signs.)

A few months ago, the council sent a consultation pack through the post, and then this spring, it was implemented in a wide area of Cowley.


It has made quite a big difference to the volume of traffic on the road where I live. It has fallen quite a lot. There is more traffic on the roads around the LTN because it has cut off many ‘rat runs’ (short cuts).

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Review of End to End by Paul Jones

end-endEnd to End by Paul Jones is a book about the people who have attempted the Lands End to John O Groats cycling record. It is also an exploration of the author’s own inner journey framed around his personal efforts to cycle the distance.

I haven’t read too many cycling books recently. Quite a few generic cycling books end up saying similar things. There are only so many books you want to read on the Tour de France, to say nothing of the interminably awful doping confession books I read several years ago.

With Paul Jones’ cycling books, at the very least, you know you are getting to get a new insight on a cycling subject, which has rarely been covered before. I looked forward to getting a copy, which I did from Blackwells.

In the first few chapters, I took some time to get into the book. There were a lot of personal opinions and insights into the author’s views and inner state of mind. (I was really surprised to learn Paul was a headmaster of a school!) There is admirable honesty and frankness, but it isn’t necessarily what I am looking for in a book.

If it is in places a little heavy going with personal stuff and a legitimate sense of injustice, I started to see it as a metaphor for a long distance endurance ride. Sometimes, it rains, but then you turn a corner and you remember why you made the effort.

The strength of Paul Jones as a writer is to take a relatively obscure rider and make their achievements feel impressive and worth knowing about. There are some end to enders I know something about – Eileen Sheridan (Wonder Wheels), John Woodburn (used to often talk about his End to End attempts at local time trials), but there were many new characters who I enjoyed reading about and finding what made them tick and why there were able to achieve something so unique. Like Jones’ other books, you feel a sincere celebration of the unsung amateur club rider. Men and women who achieved remarkable things and in a way that is much more inspiring than many of the so-called modern celebrities.

About halfway through the book I was thinking, it is a good book, but I probably won’t write a review. I’m not suitably enthusiastic about it. But, an interesting thing is that towards the end of the book, I started to feel genuinely inspired. Something clicked and you felt the real value of this great collective effort to transcend the limits through one of the hardest cycling challenges. Paul’s writing brings to life this difficult event and it shines a good light on the diverse characters who have made the end to end.

When I was a teacher I used to fine students 10p for swearing and with some students I made a lot of money! If there was 10p fine for swearing in this book, I think I would have got a 70% reduction on the price of the book. But, the corollary is that sometimes, Paul really hits the sweet spot for certain droll humour, where the words fly effortlessly in a seaming stream of consciousness that sweeps you along. Which living author could write so well about an inconspicuous lay-by, situated in the post-industrial waste that is Wolverhampton, on a gloomy, wet winter evening?

For me, the book was like an end to end, there were bits where you were struggling a little uphill, then flying downhill. But, by the end, you knew you were glad you had done it and really understood something of a very uplifting part of cycling.

Overall, I would recommend the book and it makes a good addition to any cycling library.


Appendix 1

Buying books online. During lockdown I have settled into buying everything online and to my great shame usually end up at the greedy monopolist Amazon. But, for books, I make a stand and always buy them elsewhere. Blackwells is a very good alternative to Amazon.

End to End – Blackwells

Appendix 2

I would often talk to the late John Woodburn after local time trials. Actually, it was more him talking to me. He would often bring up the End to End. What I remember is he complained bitterly that his sponsors made him do the record when he was ill (his attempt that failed). He was also incredibly annoyed that when someone broke his record, they did it by the smallest of margins. As usual with John Woodburn, I would listen to his stories with rapt attention and then break out into nervous laughter not knowing whether he was being serious, angry or really happy. The book was worth buying just for the realisation that it wasn’t just me, but everyone found John Woodburn a wonderful enigma.

Appendix 3

I remember when Mike Broadwith broke the End to End, it was a great event.

Appendix 4

Google have closed down their Feedburner email service (you can always rely on Google to close down useful services, if they don’t make $x billion profit per week ) so I switched to another called – I hope it works and you receive in your inbox.

Personal experience of FAI – what worked

Shortly after finishing my first 12 hour TT in 2016, I started getting pains in my right hip and lower right back, and also delayed muscle fatigue in the right glute.

I assumed it was related to cycling a lot that summer, but cutting back on training and racing didn’t diminish the problem, in fact, it got worse. I went to osteopaths and physiotherapists, they were all confident a bit of massage and physio would make leg stronger and get better. When it didn’t, after a few months my osteopath said he would ask for a second opinion as he felt he couldn’t do any more. (I appreciated his honesty). Another osteopath at the same clinic said it was probably all in your mind. So I tried to think away the pain and carry on, but it didn’t work out.

Then I tried the Egoscue method. Egoscue concentrates on improving your body posture, the logic is that if you out of position, you place strain on joints e.t.c. I was out of position with my head forward, one shoulder higher than the other and a bent back. I religiously did the egoscue exercises for a few months. My posture improved, but the hip issue was unsolved.

Then I heard it might be FAI, so I did an internet search and became convinced that was the end of cycling. However, not all the internet is useless. When I announced my retirement on my blog, a few readers said there were solutions to FAI. I was deeply grateful for those comments as it encouraged me to keep trying.

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