Photo: Paula Wilste.

When it comes to sports and physical activities, I am a competitive person. It’s just how I’m wired. I grew up in a time when being competitive and female wasn’t always viewed as being proper. As a result, a lot of my sports role models as a kid were male. Among my idols were Patrick Roy (hockey), Steve Podborski (downhill skiing), and Scott Tinley (triathlon). The acceptance and promotion of women in sport has come a long way, and it’s now the social norm for women to feel comfortable being competitive, sweaty, dirty and pushing ourselves to extremes. We now have many great female role models in sports who are visible in the media and popular culture.

But now that I’m in my mid-40’s, I have that same feeling of not fitting in again and this time it’s because of my age. Do we hit a certain age where it’s seen as improper to push ourselves hard and try to win? I know I feel the same urge to compete as I always did. My body might be changing, but my inner drive is the same as it was when I was 13 years old.

However, at this point in my life I’m not content with role models and heroes who don’t represent my demographic. I’ve already been through that. I know I can find many women my age and beyond who are kicking butt in sports. I just have to look a little harder.

The women I admire may not be on the cover of magazines or in the media spotlight, but they are still fierce competitors, even beating most people a lot younger than them. And what’s more, they represent what is still possible for me.

Whatever your sport and whatever your age, I encourage you to look for these top masters athletes for inspiration and motivation. If you happen to compete in Stand-Up-Paddling (SUP) or running, here is what two of my role models had to say about their competitiveness and accomplishments:

Paula Wiltse in the Chicago Marathon. Photo: Supplied.

Paula Wiltse, age 50
Sport: Long distance running for 20 years

What result/accomplishment are you most proud of?

One that I am proud of is my marathon personal best at the age of 46. It was unexpected, but I needed a 2:48 to be accepted on the elite start line for the Boston Marathon, so I went after it. Although I don’t really consider myself a marathoner, as I really haven’t run too many, my second proud moment was getting the Canadian 50-54 age group marathon record in Chicago last season (2017) 2:58.52. I also love to race 5k’s. Two years ago I was still able to dip under an 18:00 5k at the B&O Canadian Championship running a 17:59.

What are your goals?

I am running another marathon in the fall so I hope to execute it better than I did in Chicago. Although I achieved the Canadian record it was not a great race on my part.

Who or what keeps you motivated?

My family is one of my biggest motivators. My husband, daughter and son are all very active at their own sport and do very well. I have always believed in setting the bar high, but achievable. I hope one day my kids will look back at me as an important role model in their lives. Motivation comes from within and we never really lose the competitive edge. We just have to modify it a bit as we age and I love to race.

How have you changed your training as you’ve gotten older?

My training has only changed a bit. Many believe that less is more as an aging runner, but I like the work! I think I have changed eating habits more than training habits. I will still do high mileage for me leading into the marathon with the highest week around 115 km-120 km and speed work weekly.

Any tips for competitive athletes as they age?

  1. Still stay consistent with your training. It is the most important factor for any athlete.
  2. Strength/core training is 100 percent necessary. Two to three days a week is all you need, but it will make all the difference in the world to avoid injury and race well.
  3. Set your goals and believe you can do it. But, enjoy the process and have fun. We are fortunate to be able to do what we do and we can surround ourselves with like-minded people and friends.
Tracey has competed in the sport of stand-up paddling for more than 20 years. Photo: Supplied.

Tracey Finlay, age 53
Sport: Stand-Up-Paddling (SUP) for seven years

What result/accomplishment are you most proud of?

My placement in the Carolina Cup 2016 (14thin the elite women’s category) was a highlight for me. Then, a week later, I managed to finish 8that the Key West Classic in the same category with much of the same world-class competitors. Those results parlayed into being ranked 47thin the SUP Racer’s World Rankings that summer, but since the rankings are forever changing, that moment of glory lasted a mere month.

What are your goals?

I plan to continue on the trajectory of competing with the best out there – it is, indeed an uphill battle at times, but it is a battle worth fighting. It is my fight to be my best version of myself. I cannot control the aging process but I can paddle like a 20 year old (okay….that is silly….maybe like a 30 year old!)

Who or what keeps you motivated?

Denial. Denial that I am in my 50s certainly keeps me motivated. I have always been fairly active and somewhat competitive so it would be uncharacteristic of me to stop now. I somehow think if I can beat younger competitors and some of my male counterparts then it will mean that I am not my real age. Yep – denial.

I am also a believer in physical fitness as a means for maintaining good mental health. The release of endorphins is a big motivator for me, no doubt! I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with motivation to get out there at times, but I can tell you, I have always felt exponentially better after any workout – be it small or grand.  I end up feeling more energized and empowered with a growing capacity for more challenges.

How have you changed your training as you’ve gotten older?
My training has lessened in some ways but that has allowed me to live a more balanced life. I often feel conflicted because I want to train more, but I also want to enjoy other experiences and adventures in life. I have learned that you cannot have it both ways; you cannot aspire to stay at the top of your game and not put the work in. I know the equation: train hard equals positive results. Getting older equals train even harder for those same results!

Any other tips for competitive athletes over 40?

Competitiveness is definitely a mindset – pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones can be humbling and, simultaneously, rewarding.  I agree with the borrowed quote, “You need to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.”  It is true. Let me tell you, it sometimes seems like it is more physically and mentally challenging by the day. And that’s okay because it forces me to try harder and push harder and you cannot go wrong with getting better acquainted with the “uncomfortable.” It will always add dimension to our lives. Be the best version of yourself.

Tips for high-end performance for older athletes

  • Nutrition is more important now. Older bodies aren’t as efficient at absorbing nutrients, so you have to be more conscientious. You can no longer perform your best on a diet of bagels, diet Coke and ice cream. (I may be speaking from experience.) Junk food is fine in moderation, but make sure you’re taking in good nutrients with a range of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fibre in order to adapt to and recover from hard training.
  • Recovery takes more time. Respect sleep and nap when you can if you’re ramping up your training. No more back-to-back hard training days – leave at least two-three days between harder sessions in order to reap the benefits.
  • No matter what sport you’re doing, some strength and mobility work is key. Small muscles which you took for granted in supporting you when you were younger may need some work and attention now in order to help to prevent injuries. Mix it up with core and strength classes, yoga or pilates.
  • Stay passionate and engaged with new role models! You may not be going for the Olympics, but you can definitely still dream of glory. Adjust your goals and heroes, and keep enjoying the competition.

 

Seanna Robinson is the principal and founder of RunningWell, a corporate wellness company. A competitive runner and coach, she is passionate about helping others improve their wellness, engagement and performance in all areas of life. She has been a national level competitor in track and cross country and has completed nine marathons.