Trail Running (UK) - - Contents - FIONA RUS­SELL

Fiona Rus­sell on how to keep fit at 50

It’s just a num­ber.” “You’re fit­ter than most 25 years olds I know.” “50 is the new 40.” “If I still look half as good as you at 50 I’ll be de­lighted.”

I lis­tened with grow­ing im­pa­tience to ev­ery cliché and pla­ca­tory ar­gu­ment, but the truth is I wanted to scream at ev­ery­one: “I’m deeply un­happy about be­ing 50 years old. It’s how I feel and noth­ing you say will help.”

Nor­mally an up-beat and out-go­ing per­son, on May 15, 2018, aged a full half-cen­tury, I just wanted to hide and sob loudly.

In­stead, I did what I usu­ally try to do when I’m feel­ing low: dragged my heavy heart and mind up a hill. I chose Ben Lomond, which I ad­mit is more than a hill, but I needed a few hours to think.

As I ran-hiked a rough trail to the sum­mit at al­most 1000m, my an­noy­ance be­gan to dis­si­pate. I eas­ily passed more than a dozen walk­ers, all younger. I hardly broke sweat as I scram­bled the fi­nal rocky sec­tion of the moun­tain’s Ptarmi­gan route, then chose to run the full de­scent to sea-level. And I could choose to do so be­cause I’m fit and strong enough.

On that day, I chose to swap de­spon­dency for de­ter­mi­na­tion. I re­solved to pick a few 50th year run­ning chal­lenges. I signed up to my long­est race, a 50k ul­tra; I en­tered my first Alpine run­ning event, the 30k Gran Trail Cour­mayeur; and I picked out my first trail-based marathon, the Dra­mathon in the Scot­tish High­lands. I hoped to con­vince my­self that be­ing 50 was only a num­ber and that I was ca­pa­ble of do­ing all kinds of events I’d never dared to tackle be­fore.

Hit­ting the half-cen­tury

But I still felt old. At other decade mark­ers, even at 40, lit­tle had seemed phys­i­cally dif­fer­ent. I was the same weight as when I was in my teens. I had plenty of en­ergy, and I was still ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing PBs.

But 50 is very dif­fer­ent. It’s defin­ing, men­tally. Fifty is un­de­ni­ably mid­dle-aged. In fact, the chances are I’m past the point of my mid­dle age. The next decades, how­ever many I man­age to live through, will be tougher be­cause I’m older. I have an older body and mind and both will in­evitably suf­fer re­duced health and func­tion.

Phys­i­cally, too, the years just be­fore and af­ter the 50th birth­day are cruel for many women. Just as my daugh­ter left home for univer­sity two years pre­vi­ously – and I re­joiced in more free­doms – I was hit by the menopause jug­ger­naut. I’ve suf­fered all man­ner of well-doc­u­mented symp­toms, in­clud­ing hot sweats, poor sleep, mi­graines, lethargy, ir­reg­u­lar and heavy pe­ri­ods and for­get­ful­ness.

I also be­lieve the menopause is to blame for the sore and in­flex­i­ble joints and cramps in my hands, shoul­ders, feet and calves that were so bad that they tore mus­cles. When I could no longer run, cy­cle, swim or hike hills with­out suf­fer­ing cramps, I started hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy. The HRT has helped, but there’s no cure for fast de­plet­ing hor­mones. (I know men suf­fer re­duced hor­mones, too, but the ef­fect isn’t as marked.) On the days I ex­er­cised, I did so through a fog of lethargy and with many aches and pains.

Think­ing pos­i­tively

And then it hap­pened… I wel­comed a sud­den shift in my out­look. Aged 50 and a month, I took sec­ond place over­all in a 12km trail run­ning race. It wasn’t even an age group podium – and it felt all the more amaz­ing for that rea­son.

A month later, I podi­umed again. This time in the Gran Trail Cour­mayeur and if I hadn’t got lost in the last few kilo­me­tres when I ran out of way­mark­ers, I would have been sec­ond. It was an age group re­sult, but over­all I was ninth.

Dur­ing the same trip to the Alps, I ran the first stage of the Tour du Mont Blanc route, which in­cluded al­most 1600m of as­cent over 27km. I ticked off a num­ber of tough run­ning tra­verses above the French town of Cha­monix.

I’ve also em­barked on a train­ing pro­gramme for a 50k race and run the fur­thest ac­cu­mu­lated to­tal mileage of any train­ing pro­gramme in my life. I’ve joined a lo­cal hill run­ning club that had long in­tim­i­dated me and, while my fears of young and speedy whip­pet types have been re­alised, I’m still out there do­ing tough weekly ses­sions.

I’m good to my­self as well. I take more re­cov­ery days and find I en­joy a weights-based cir­cuits class far more than I had imag­ined.

I’m now proud of be­ing 50, rather than be­ing sad or frus­trated. I feel more con­fi­dent in my abil­ity to run harder and longer races. I still don’t be­lieve 50 is just a num­ber, nor that 50 is the new 40. But I do be­lieve I’m do­ing well for my age and that there’s a lot more to look for­ward to.

Next time: The over-50s run­ners de­fy­ing their age.

Fiona is never hap­pier than when run­ning, walk­ing or cy­cling in the Scot­tish moun­tains

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