Sunday, November 9, 2014

Who's old?

Two years ago, I turned 50 years old. It was my most difficult birthday. I had so much trouble getting my head around being 50. When I talked about it with my friends, everyone told me to get over it. "You have no choice," I was told. "Time marches on" and "it's better than the alternative", which of course is true. I also heard this one a lot: "Age is just a number". Sure it is. A big number when you are 50.

When you think of someone who is 50, what image comes to mind? An aging, post-menopausal woman with chin hairs, a hunched posture, about 30 extra pounds, and bifocals? Ok, well I do have the bifocals, sadly...the vision changes make it harder to find the chin hairs too...



While my friends were all having 50th birthday parties, I didn't want to celebrate. I wanted to turn the clock back. So my sister Lisa, who is a year younger than me, and I decided to start our now annual tradition of sister birthday trips. That year, we took our inaugural voyage to Naples Florida. We had an amazing time. No kids, no work, no worries. We ate decadent meals. Spent our days at the pool in the sunshine. Walked on the beach. And I realized that maybe, just maybe getting older could be ok. Since then we've been to Las Vegas and Charleston, South Carolina. Who better to commiserate with than your sister? Except that she tells everyone that I'm older than her...

From our first sister trip to Naples, Florida
Anyways. I still couldn't get used to saying my age out loud. "I'm in my 50s", I kept telling people after I turned 51. But over time, I started noticing some things that put me in a more positive mindset about life in the 50s. Mostly to do with physical fitness and running. First of all, the number of women in my age group, 50-54, has dropped significantly. Of course, this means that some of the women my age who are still racing are blazingly fast. But overall, there are less "older" women running, which gives me a little confidence because I still am running! I continue to run in the top 20% of my age group, which I always have, since my 30s. That hasn't changed. Of course, there was that AG placement in the local 10k this summer! Small race, tho, but still! I'm also running as fast as some of my friends who are in their 30s and 40s.

And then there is that Chicago marathon. I'm still so proud of that race, still basking in my run. With a smart training plan, which involved a lot of cross training, intervals, and low mileage, I was able to run the marathon with fresh legs and gas in the tank for my recovery. One month later, I'd say recovery is over, and I'm still running well. Today I ran an 8 miler at a 8:34min/mile pace. I have never run 8 miles this fast. Ever.

8 miles at the retention pond. Maybe my legs just like to run fast there?

Stunned. And asking myself the question, who's old?

If you are interested in training into old age, read anything by Joel Friel. Friel, a triathlete and former coach, has done a lot of research on the subject, and says that while athletes may experience a decline in performance starting in their 50s, they don't have to. Basically, we have to train smarter, not harder. Mistakes that we made as younger athletes, for example, lack of sleep or a bad diet, are not as easy to adapt to for the older athlete. He recommends a lot of HIIT (high intensity interval training) to help maintain aerobic capacity. Lifting weights is something that the older athlete needs to add in to the routine. Muscle mass is lost at a faster rate than when we were younger. Strength training should also help with bone density, and will protect the joints. Adequate sleep and rest is very important. As is good nutrition. Friel follows a Paleo diet, but he advocates carbs and protein for recovery after an intense workout. He writes a blog, which if you chase the link above, with evidence based advice for endurance athletes of all ages.

http://www.runnersworld.com/general-interest/91-year-old-finishes-san-diego-marathon
She set a world record! Way to go!

As most of you know, this year, I started working with a CrossFit coach. I was experiencing a lot of nagging injuries, many accumulated from 20+ years of running. Coincidently, I was also experiencing some slowing in my running. Heat intolerance, which had always been an issue for me, seemed to be getting worse. I can honestly say since working with Becky, my coach, a lot of these issues have resolved for me. I still have that nagging toe injury, a result of arthritis in the joint. Not much I can do about that. But I've learned to live with it and run with it. For me, the biggest and best thing about my cross-training is that I've gotten my speed back. I am running stronger than I ever have in my life.

And so this morning, on my speedy 8 miler, I had a epiphany. Yep, I'm 52. But you know what? I'm ok with it now. I'm so thrilled with where I'm at, physically. And one huge advantage of being older is that I have all this life experience to draw on. I'm more confident and that comes from all that life experience. But that confidence is solidified by what I can do as an older athlete.

For now, I can agree with that statement that age is just a number. I don't feel old. I feel strong.


That could be the limiting factor!

29 comments :

  1. I just turned 49 and I'm looking forward to running a 50K race in 2 weeks. Thanks for the reminder to train smarter - did a HIIT WO today!

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    1. Great job! I think there are going to be a lot more of us "older runners" as we push our bodies to see what they are capable of! Good luck on your race! Let me know how it goes.

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  2. Sister birthday trips are a great idea. I needed to read this. I have another birthday next month. Awesome 8 mile run!

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    1. Thanks! How are you celebrating your birthday?

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    2. Haven't decided yet. I am visiting my sister in 2 weeks when I run Route 66. We'll celebrate early!

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  3. You must must MUST read Older, Faster, Stronger by Margaret Webb (Canadian runner and writer/journalist) - and keep an eye out if she's coming to your town to speak. I didn't think I'd like the book but I did and I've got so many tape flags on quotes, things I should do, interesting people to learn more about, workouts, etc. that you can barely see the edge of the book.

    Blurb from author's site:
    Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer (Rodale Books, 2014) grew out of my midlife crisis. Forget the sports car, I wanted to achieve the seeming impossible: To enjoy the wisdom of a 50 year old but inside the body of a very fit 20 year old. So I set out on a quest to shake off my midlife malaise and get fitter after 50 than I was as a varsity athlete at university. My journey took me across North America to run with pioneers of the women’s running boom and uncover secrets as to how they manage to run well into their 70s, 80s and even 90s; to Africa to train with elite marathoners and reach back to the dawn of the human race to explore why women can live so strong and for so long; and, finally, to Europe where I tested myself in a race against some of the fittest 50 year olds on the planet. Along the way, I consulted with a team of experts, tapped the minds of leading researchers and delved into physiology and aging labs, all in my quest to understand how to live longer, younger and enter a glorious second act to my life.

    Back to me -
    My sister is 13 yrs older than me. Her 50th (2003) birthday party was a big celebration of the fact she is still with us after stage 2 breast cancer and a very rare stomach tumor. I'm grateful she's still with me - even after an incredibly rare liver tumor a few years ago - and that my thyroid cancer (dx'd at 40, I'm now 48) wasn't "that bad". I've been running on and off since I was 30, but only started to get serious last year - and I've BQ'd twice this year (for 2015 and 2016) and PR'd in both races. It IS possible!

    Congrats on all you've accomplished and all you're going to achieve in the future!

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    1. Thank you so much for the book recommendation and your thoughtful comment! I'm going to order that book as soon as I finish answering your comment. It will be so interesting to see what our generation does as we get older. I love that you BQ'd...of course it's on my mind because I'm getting faster and our BQ time isn't as low as it was when we were younger. Good luck to you, please stay in touch!

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    2. Thanks for sharing this info, M; definitely going to check this one out, too.

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  4. That's a great pace your keeping! Impressive at any age. My birthday is this week too and I'm going into the next age group category gracefully I hope. Happy Birthday!!

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    1. Happy Birthday to you! Mine was in September...I just felt a little reflective today, considering that I ran so darned fast!!!

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  5. Awesome run today! And yes, I'm 41 and you are running faster than me ;)

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    1. Haha! I'm running faster than I did when I was 41...who knows what you have left in the tank?

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  6. Wendy, you're definitely faster than I am and I'm 39 - ha! By the way (don't tell her I said this - ha!), you definitely look younger than your sister! I think running is definitely keeping us younger; like you, though, I've been running for a long time and I need to start thinking about how this will impact my progress as I age. I've got to start incorporating more strength training; finding time is a constant battle. Thank you so much for this great post and for linking up again this week; you are AMAZING, girl!

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    1. LOL Tara! I hear that a lot and so does my sister. Her response is that people think I'm younger because I'm immature. Hey, whatever works, right?

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  7. Great info! My husband is 51 and I'm a bit behind him. He recently started biking and he's in better shape now than he's ever been. It's amazing what exercise can do for you.

    Keep up the great work! Nicely done on the 8 miles!

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    1. Thank you!! I"m just stunned at my running this year!

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  8. Love it, Wendy, especially that you have put so many little issues (heat tolerance, etc) behind you. That's fantastic. I do think there is a lot to training smarter, eating smarter, etc.

    My post today was mostly aimed at me, who has been at it for a long time now. Part of it is that I probably just don't have the mental desire to keep pushing out PRs, but the other part is that I KNOW PRs for distances like the 5k and 10k are behind me. And that's ok!

    Keep rocking it out.

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    1. I get it...and I've been at it for a long time too. Just trying to ride the wave a little longer...and I think that mixing it up a bit really worked for me. Who knows how long this will last?

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  9. Congrats on the 8 miler at a 8:34min/mile pace! Who knows? You might even be running much faster than that in a few months/years!

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    1. LOL! Hey, I'll take it! It sure is fun to have some speed back after all these years of running!

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  10. I've often wondered where the 50+ women go? The 45-49 age group is wickedly fast and then poof. Gone, except for a select few. I suspect the wonders of menopause have something to do with it. BTW the Older Faster Stronger lady is speaking at the telesummit.

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    1. I wondered that too. A woman I met at yoga told me that once I go through menopause, I'll never be running again. Geez, I hope she's wrong!

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  11. Great post and thanks for the link! It's so awesome that you have continued to set PR's into your 50's. 7 months ago after a bad 1/2 marathon I wondered if I would ever be as fast as I was in my early 30's. I had stopped running after my 3rd child was born and was trying to get back into it, but my body wasn't responding like it used to. I agree that as you age, the little things become a lot more important (like sleep and diet). A cpuple of weeks ago I ran my fastest 1/2 ever and was so thrilled. My goal in the spring is to run a BQ - under a 3:45. It's been a lifelong dream and based on my recent times it actually seems attainable. I'm 40 by the way, which I realize isn't that old, but it's not 30. Your blog has been an inspiration and I look forward to seeing you progress with your goals further!

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    1. I think you have your best running years ahead of you, in your 40s. That's when I really gained my endurance and my confidence! Thanks for following my journey...I'm learning as I go...

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  12. When I ran my last fast 5k back in September, I was almost finished and there was a woman who was ON MY TAIL. I started running faster and she was trying to go around me, but my competitive side came out and I started really pushing hard. She never let up. I beat her and my time was 26:18. She was only a few seconds behind me. I waited for her to cross the finish line and gave her a high five. She told me "good job! I couldn't catch you!" I didn't know how old she was. Later I found out her name was Ann Walley and she is 55 years old! She has not been running that long either. Maybe 4-5 years. Her husband died suddenly a few months ago and I remember seeing her at another race. She always places in her age group! While we were running, I had no idea what her age was. She was my competition and she did not cut me any slack! She made me work hard that day! It's exciting to know I may not have reached my peak yet! I look forward to my 40's and 50's! You are awesome and so inspiring to me, Wendy!! Keep inspiring us!!

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    1. Most "experts" say that women have their greatest endurance in their 40s. You've got a lot of faster, longer miles ahead of you!!!

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  13. I am 61 and have had PRs at every distance this year. We're not getting older, we're getting better.

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