I ran my first 5 K race at age 34. Since then I’ve run in about 30 running races, completed 2 triathlons and 2 duathlons. I’m not fast, but I am competitive. I mostly compete with myself, but I’m ecstatic when I place in my age group (only in small races where there isn’t much competition).
When I look back, I remember thinking I was old when I started. Now I’m in my 50s and wish I had the body I had then. But many women start running and competing in other sports much older than I am now.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this article is not intended to be used as medical advice. Consult your physician if you are planning on starting an exercise program or making changes to your current program.
Pick your sport
You may be thinking, I’m not a runner. There are opportunities to compete and have fun at many different sports at almost any level. Many running races are open to walkers. If you are a cyclist you could decide to ride a gran fondo (a long organized ride with rest stops and support along the way). You can even use the challenges in an app like Strava and compete with athletes around the world or just your friends.
If you like team sports, then there are many choices. Your community centre or local YMCA may offer sports like pickle ball, volleyball or basketball. These can be fun and you get a great workout at the same time.
If you have an activity tracker you can join a step challenge and compete with others to see who gets the most steps.
Set a goal, but be realistic
Setting goals for different sports whether it is competing a walk of a certain distance or finishing with a personal best help to give you something to aim for. But be realistic. If you are just starting with running, then aiming to run a marathon anytime soon is probably not realistic.
If you were an athlete in your youth, but have been sedentary for a while, don’t try to compete with your former self. You are at a different stage in life and you need to remember that.
You need a plan
If you want to try a team sport like pickle ball or volleyball, then your plan is just to find a league or drop in time that works for you. You may want to supplement this sport with some other activity such as weight training or cardiovascular training if you are serious about the sport
If you want to compete in a run, walk or cycling event, then a training plan is a great idea. You can find a training plan online. Some running stores have programs like couch to 5K that are quite inexpensive.
Include recovery time
Older athletes take longer to recover from racing, or an intense training session than younger athletes. Easier activities don’t require more recovery time. All athletes benefit from consuming protein immediately after an intense workout.
A training plan that is made for someone who is much younger will likely be more aggressive than you should be doing. Start with a beginner plan and you should be fine. If you feel you need a rest day when there isn’t one, then take one.
Partly because recovery takes longer, partly because you have had decades to develop muscle imbalances, injuries are common in older athletes. It is important to start slow and to build up gradually when starting a training program. If you feel pain when doing something the stop. Never try to work through the pain. Pain is your body telling you that something is wrong.
It is normal to feel some muscle pain the day after (or two days after) your workout. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If it doesn’t go away after a couple of days it might be an injury, so avoid irritating it and see a physician.
While nutrition is important for younger athletes, for older athletes it is even more critical. Even recreational athletes can benefit from paying attention to their nutrition. I’m not going to go into too many details in this article, but some critical things to consider are:
- Eat enough protein. Protein is necessary for muscles to repair themselves. Protein before and after your workout is beneficial for muscle recovery.
Your body prefers carbohydrates as a fuel for longer and intense workouts. You will perform better if you eat some carbohydrates before an event (and during the event if it is longer than one hour)
- Hydration is important, but sport drinks are probably not necessary unless your activity is longer than an hour or it is very hot out. Drink water before, during and after your activity to ensure proper hydration. Just don’t overdo it.
- Before an event, don’t try anything new. If you always have toast for breakfast, have toast for breakfast. Be careful with high fibre foods before an event, especially if your diet is normally low in fibre.
- If you are diabetic, then make sure you understand how your body reacts to exercise and keep a sugary snack (like a juice box or some candy) with you in case you experience low blood sugar. (I’m not a medical professional so please talk to your physician about beginning an exercise program if you are diabetic. They will likely have advise for you and will likely want you to monitor blood sugar levels closely)
There is no reason why most midlife women can’t compete. If competition drives you then find a sport you like and sign up. Compete with yourself, your friends or with your age group. If you are looking for a workout to get you started try the Menopause Metabolism Booster workout.