Secrets of a Super Vet

The Not A Birthday Cake cake.

One day, I woke up and I was 40. It was like driving a car into a brick wall. It was sudden, it caught me by surprise and boy, oh boy, did it hurt. I hated turning 40.

I can’t remember what I did on the day I turned 40. There is a social media void. I suspect I took myself off for a very long run somewhere very isolated. Roll out the cliches. Age is just a number, blah, blah, blah… The thing is, my 20’s had been my baby-making years (and with 4 babbas in 5 years, that was a busy decade) and I grabbed my 30’s by the balls! I took up running, ran marathons and ultras; I pledged to do an Ironman before 40 and knocked one out at 37, I swam lakes, climbed mountains and just… lived! I had no master plan for my 40’s, it seemed instead, to mark the end of something; my babies were growing up, I was no longer a young mum and my fitness challenges seemed less exciting now I’d ticked off all my firsts.

Now seems a good place to chuck in the inevitable Baz Lurhman quote…

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked…

Looking back, 2018 was fantastic. Alongside a couple of 50 mile ultras and a few marathons there were new firsts. I did a naked bike ride, took up sea swimming (leading ultimately to a Channel relay the following year) and SwimRunning, I cycled Coast to Coast and swam the length of Windermere. Our family dynamic changed as our teens became more independent. It wasn’t that bad.

So crisis over? Err…

Enjoying our run or just enjoying life?

The thing with living with 4 teenagers is that there is always someone to remind you of your decreptitude. A common insult in our house is “boomers!” and responding that actually you are Gen X, seems a particularly pernickety response.

A person from the baby boomer generation or really anyone who is older than the person using the word, usually used if said person is being annoying or talking shit about a younger generation. Sometimes used in a joking way among friends.
LMAO, ok boomer
Karen is being such a boomer”
Being active also brings an almost daily reminder that suddenly, you ain’t young no more. I have never been fast but have always been able to stack up the miles; already I’m noticing that my body is becoming more reluctant to co-operate. Things are beginning to creak and recovery takes just that little bit longer.
A quick Google confirms what I’m beginning to sense…
As you age:

  • Muscle fibers begin to shrink in size and number
  • Cardiovascular endurance starts to decline
  • Strength, coordination, and balance also decrease
In real terms, it means that I often walk into a room to find my husband standing on one leg like a flamingo (pilates) or doing something weird with a spiky ball (plantar fasciitis.) I spend a lot of time on the carpet with my labrador stretching stuff out and a sports massage is no longer a luxury but is part of a more recent strata to our training, “maintenance.”

3 old birds out for a jog.

I’m not writing myself off just yet; recent studies show that whilst elite runners peak at the age of 35, the rest of us mere mortals may not hit our best performances till our 50’s. Basically as we age, we need to adapt and train smarter, I, personally, like how Richard Asquith, author of Feet in the Clouds views it,

“Your perception of time changes with age. You become more patient in training and in racing … rather than fretting about the distance, we just cruise along in a more relaxed frame of mind,”

I’m not over the hill, I can’t even get over this fence!

Letting go of race times is an easy one. I have always shifted the goalposts year on year and found different ways to challenge myself. Running on the trails or fells is completely different discipline to knocking out even splits on the road, just as sea or river swims are a variation to lakes. However, this whole aging process is not just a matter of slowing down gracefully or adding a bit of strength training to your regimen. There’s a whole barrel of other bunkum that my body has thrown at me since I turned 40 and I’ve recently learned a new word…

Perimenopause:

The period of a woman’s life shortly before the occurrence of the menopause.

This is where hitting 40 really begins to be repugnant. The actual ticking over to the big 4-0 was actually just a diverting load of emotional baggage compared to what was coming next! You see, biologically, as functioning pieces of meat, we are always changing. As teenagers, our adolescence is comprehensively explained to us and covered at school, through books, websites, magazines and discussed among our acne-ridden peers. During pregnancy, a similiarly vital support network materializes. Why the hell did no-one warn me about this next biological stage?

I have been on runs where my (slightly older) pal has been trotting along quite happily alongside, even in front, of me, before grinding to a huffing, puffing beetroot-faced halt. Hot flushes, I have heard of. (I have not had any of those yet.) However, my body has started to crack up in several unexpected ways that a quick Google assures me are perfectly normal, part and parcel of my oestrogen levels taking a nose-dive. One site lists 34 symptoms of perimenopause! 34!

The swim where I forgot to take my bra off.

So, without ruining the surprise for the ladies fortunate enough still not to be worrying about hairy chins, here are a few of the things I’ve had to adapt to over the past couple of years…

I wee a lot. In fact, like a potty training toddler, I rarely pass a loo without “having a try.” Great for swimming (in open water I am a constantly dripping tap) less so for running. Do not take up mountain biking unless you fancy interrupting a middle-aged woman having a tinkle on the trails; it happens more often than I care to relate. I recently had the pleasure of a smear test, carried out by another local club runner, (nice) and she commented on my strong pelvic floor. I felt I should have been given a sticker.

I got fat. I have been fat before. I eat a lot. However, my Garmin app says that I burnt 173,000 calories through swimming and running last year and still the Pringles stuck very hard and fast to my gut. I have learnt that being over 40 means that I can no longer eat whatever I want. My metabolism has slowed down and I have had to reassess the way I eat.

I am no longer affectionately scatty. I have memory lapses that I have increasingly found worrying. I have small holes in my day. I misplace things. I cannot recall conversations. I have to write my swim sets on my hand, I then cannot read them quickly without my glasses. I have soggy bits of paper with big writing on the side of the pool. I am a rubbish guide on a recce.

I am irritable, a right grumpy cow. I have little patience for anyone or anything. I find myself seeking the solitude of the hills and yearn for life on a deserted Scottish island.

My sleep patterns have changed and my boobs sometimes hurt…

Basically, getting older is a right old pain in the whatever! I’m sure, being fit and active puts me in a better position than some, but emotionally I am prone to the occasional mini-meltdown. Being a grey haired, frump with 3 leggy teenage daughters isn’t always fun. I’m working to the knowledge is power rule; learning that the changes I am experiencing are normal.

The girls acting as safety crew. A fun day!

Adaptability seems to be the key: accepting that recovery needs to be part of the training plan, cake cannot be eaten daily, I need to carry my reading glasses everywhere and that raising teenagers can be as joyous as the teeny tiny years were. Nobody cares about any of this aging stuff as much as you and having daft friends helps immeasurably.

I’m still at the beginning of this decade. Heaven help me when I get to 50!

Surround yourself with mad people!