Super Fit After 50 - Cyclist and Women's Advocate says: "I’m stronger and fitter than I've ever been"
Super fit in her 50s, Lucy Flower has led a British cycling programme for women and is a Test Pilot for CHPT3 to support women cyclists. This is Lucy's story about smashing stereotypes at every age.
At 53 years of age Lucy Flower is an ardent cyclist who says she is now fitter than she’s ever been. Having led a British cycling programme aimed at encouraging women into the sport and becoming a Test Pilot as part of an initiative run by CHPT3 to support women cyclists, Lucy advocates for smashing stereotypes at every age and stage and believes that if you simply think you can, you will.
“I've always ridden a bike but when I had three kids under five we didn’t have a car, so I used to take them everywhere on the bike. I had two on the bike and one cycling alongside. At that time, I never really looked at it as anything other than a way to get around,” Lucy explains.
It wasn’t until 2010 when Lucy was 40 that she got involved with a British cycling programme called Breeze, which was specifically designed to encourage women to cycle in quite a gentle social way.
“I did a leading course and became a British Cycling ride leader, so I would take women out on rides, some on bikes with baskets,” she says.
“We used to go out for a five-mile ride to the pub, have a drink and then cycle back. Some of the people involved in that set up a cycling club which was more for what we call road cycling. I resisted for a while but then I bought a bike off a mate. When I went for a ride I was absolutely thrilled with myself that I’d cycled 20 whole miles, I couldn't believe it.”
They formed a club of women who would go on rides every weekend, which soon crept up to more than one ride per week. In 2016, another breakaway group formed because they wanted to do more.
“We wanted to go faster. We want to do more hills. So, we broke off and just formed our own little group and we've done all sorts of stuff together since then. We've cycled across the country three times now from west to east. We've been to Italy. We had a cycling holiday in Tuscany based in Lucca. We're planning another one in Scotland in July this year,” Lucy says.
“We’ve not just learnt cycling together, we've become friends through cycling because it is a very social sport. If you don’t cycle, you might think that you just cycle along, and you keep your head down and then you go from one place to another. It's not like that. You chat all the way around. We always factor in a coffee stop or lunch somewhere on the route so that you can sit and actually talk to each other. It's been really great to develop as a group. Some people are stronger cyclists than others. Some people have got health problems that they're battling with. Some are older. I think the oldest in our group is 57 and then there’s someone who’s just turned 40. The 57-year-old and the 40-year-old this year did what we call LEJOG, so they cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats.”
Cycling is now a huge part of Lucy’s life and she says she can’t imagine how miserable she’d be if she couldn’t ride her bike. Through lockdown she started riding and racing virtually on Zwift and used the app, Discord, to add another social element to it, which enables riders to message and chat on virtual rides.
“My partner just recently got into it as well,” Lucy explains. “He's now got a bike and we’ve been using the indoor turbos over the winter and racing with Zwift too. You don't have to be super fit and you don't have to be really strong because there's loads of different categories. There's the elite category, there's the pros all the way down to people who are just starting out or who want to build up their fitness. It's actually really inclusive and it’s really enjoyable.”
When asked about her fitness journey Lucy says when she looks back to the cyclist she was in 2010, there’s no comparison and that the stereotypes about slowing down with age simply aren’t correct.
“I’m stronger and fitter now than I have ever been in my life. There are a lot of women like me as well,” Lucy reveals. “There’s someone in my racing team who's 60 who leaves people for dust – she’s really, really strong and really fast.”
These days it’s common for Lucy to set out on a 60-mile ride of a weekend – and sometimes longer depending on the hills and terrain. She says if someone told her 10 years ago that she’d be setting off on a 60-mile ride she wouldn’t believe them, but now she finds she comes back from one and thinks ok what’s next.
The Benefits of Cycling, Particularly for Women
As a big advocate for getting women of all ages into cycling because it’s a really inclusive and supportive community, here Lucy shares some of the benefits of cycling and reasons she’s so passionate about going out on her bike as often as she can.
1. Cycling Is Really Good for Your Joints
“Apart from being really active making it easier to keep the weight off, cycling is really good for your joints. I do a bit of running as well, but with cycling you're much less likely to be injured obviously. Cycling is much kinder to your joints, so if you’ve got any issues with your knees or your hips it’s good because you're not pounding at them.”
2. Cycling Builds Upper Body Strength
“With cycling you also surprisingly get a lot stronger in your arms and your shoulders which you might not really think about, but because you are leaning on your hands. And a typical ride for us is probably four or five hours, so that's quite a long time using your arms to hold up the top half of your body.”
3. Cycling is a General Feel-Good Sport
“Generally fitness makes you feel good and energised. Plus, whenever possible, cycling is outside so you also have benefits of vitamin D and nature. I live in Hull in the city centre. Even though the city’s quite large, I can head off on my bike and be out of the city in 20 minutes. It’s a fantastic feeling. You can be out in the hills in the woods in less than half an hour and that's a lot of benefits to that as well to just being out in nature, not to mention the fact that cycling is pollution-free. We're not causing any carbon emissions or any pollution of any kind. We're just out there riding our bikes.”
4. The Friendships and Shared Endeavours
“The friendship that comes with cycling is really good, as is the sense of shared endeavours, especially if you're climbing huge hills and I think it’s particularly the case in groups of women, that you really encourage each other. We're not competitive. There’s always a sense of encouraging each other as we want each other to do well. When someone's really not feeling it, we'd never just go off and leave them, we'd all go slower. So that's really good for your mental health, so you don't ever feel that you're slowing people down, we’re out to enjoy ourselves.
Also, being a Test Pilot for CHPT3 has been great. CHPT3 were looking for women to be part of a project to test out kit and as a way to encourage women into cycling. The project involves a Zwift ride every Wednesday morning, a Slack channel to talk about cycling (which has also grown into a book club), and attending a webinar with the designers of the kit to share our opinions on the designs and how pieces feel on different shapes and sizes.
For the Wednesday rides, we now have Discord set up to chat and we're getting to know each other. It is a really friendly supportive community. I've never met these women, who are from all over the world, so it's been really nice to get to know them. There's a huge range of abilities including people who are pretty much pros to people who are just pootling along and it's great. We’re also going on a cycling holiday to Spain in March to meet up with Nicole from CHPT3 and the other Test Pilots and go on a ride in real life.”
5. Cycling is Great for Stress Relief
“The stress relief of riding a bike is massive. As you're riding along, you could feel everything. you can feel like you’re really leaving everything behind you. It just blows off you. Even if you're feeling really terrible, it's hard to come back from a ride with it still hanging off you. It's a fantastic feeling and that's not just the endorphins with the exercise but it's being outside. And solo rides are really nice as well. Quite often for an evening in summer I’ll just get on my bike for an hour and a half and it's just lovely.”
6. You Become More Mentally Strong
“I’ve learnt a few things and one that comes up is that it really is all in your head. If you want to do something, you probably can. If you're at the bottom of a hill going, ‘I can definitely climb this,’ you'll get up it. And it's not really anything to do with how strong your legs are or how fit you are. It's really in your head. If you're at the bottom of a hill going, ‘I’m never going to make that,’ you can guarantee you'll be getting off halfway up. In a way it sounds a bit trite, but I think that's the lesson for very, very many things in life. If you tell yourself you can do it, if you convince yourself you can do it, you will be able to. And that’s very true of cycling, but I think it’s true of lots of other things as well. It's all about your attitude. And if you've got people next to you saying, ‘You can definitely do this,’ then your push to do it is even stronger. It’s all about supporting each other.”