“You don’t look 45”. “You don’t look like you’re in your 40s”.
What does being in your 40s look like exactly? That’s my first thought when someone says that to me. Honestly, it’s that response that’s old. And it almost always comes out of the mouths of 20 and 30 somethings. I know they consider me, “old” and fear the inevitable when it happens to them. I’ve overheard younger men refer to women in their 40s as “old” or “not real women.” Of course it’s nonsense coming out of the mouths of babes. Babes who could stand to learn A LOT from us 40-something women.
As athletes? Forget it. We’re considered old, over the hill, worn out and past the age of accomplishing anything meaningful in sports. Almost an expendable species of human. If only they knew how it feels to hear shit like that. But you never understand until you get there.
Maybe I give them an odd sense of hope. “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” “Maybe I won’t look old”. I never really felt fear or loathing about turning 40. Don’t get me wrong, on my 40th birthday, there were a few moments of, “Holy shit I’m 40”! I felt shock (although obviously I knew it was coming)and laughed about it for a few moments. I celebrated by spending a week in Paris with my husband, and we had a wonderful experience on our first trip to Europe.
After that I went back to business as usual. I felt no different physically that year and I still don’t five years later. I still work out vigorously in my sport of Olympic-Style Weightlifting, something I love and feel passionate about. I continue to get stronger, maintain great mobility and have the energy to train for several hours several days a week. I’m just as productive, if not more, in my life and business overall.
I recently read, “Finding Ultra” by Rich Roll, an attorney who had overcome alcohol addiction earlier in his life and found himself on the eve of his 40th birthday, having a hard time getting up a flight of stairs because he was severely out of shape and in poor health. I won’t ruin the story for you, but he found himself through high level Triathlons like Iron Man and Ultra Man in his early forties. In case you don’t know, an Iron Man Triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride and finally a marathon (26.2 miles), raced in that order and without a break. An Ultra Man Triathlon is an invitation-only 3-day event that consists of a 6.2-mile ocean swim, 171.4-mile bike ride and a 52.4-mile double-marathon. On top of that, he adopted a whole-food only vegan diet.
Conventional sports nutritionists and most in the sports performance world would never support that approach of course, but it worked for him and I’m not going to judge. We are all individuals with different nutritional needs. Other factors come into play too like gender, genetics and environment to name a few. Nevertheless, that was his approach and he achieved a high level in the sport. Some of the data is quite frankly proven to be false (for example saturated fat being artery-clogging). But I 100% agree with the whole foods approach to health and performance. You don’t need to be vegan to commit to a lifestyle of eating whole foods made from scratch. That’s a whole other conversation altogether. All that being said, I loved his story and recommend reading it, especially if you have anxiety about turning forty.
Just for kicks, I checked the results of the 2016 Ultra Man and really got excited when I saw that of the top 10 finishers, four were in their forties and two were in their fifties! http://ultramanlive.com/history/ultraman-history-of-events/
In so many ways, this book was an inspiration to me. As an athlete over forty, it’s my goal to get as strong as possible in my sport, compete and continue to improve…and do it for me. Middle-age does not make me less than athletes or women younger than me, despite conventional thought and average, in-the-box thinking. I choose to be more and do more in my life. My age doesn’t define me. It’s not who I am.
Real food matters. It’s medicine. And it matters at every age, but especially as you hit middle age and beyond. Whatever your dietary beliefs or lifestyle is be it paleo, Mediterranean, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, yada yada, eating whole foods are vital to achieving and maintaining great health, aging gracefully and great athletic performance.
Following your passion matters. It’s never too late to follow your heart and become awesome. Give yourself permission to do it, whatever “it” is for you. Never let anyone tell you different. Rich Roll followed his heart. With passion and purpose. He put the work in consistently and did it his way. I intend to do the same. What does being in your forties look like to you? Envision what you want, follow your heart and don’t let age be a defining factor that holds you back.