Taking Running to the Next Level after 40
Featuring Robyn Press
It's no secret that if we want to live a long and healthy life we need to move our body and keep as fit as possible. And it seems that everywhere I look these days another friend is tugging on their trainers and hitting the pavement for a quick run before breakfast. But one friend in particular has hugely inspired me with her achievements and has taken her running to a whole new level, proving that how you age really is up to you.
Robyn Press is not only a Lecturer in Education, an author, and a mum of 3, but also seriously inspiring when it comes to running and the benefits of keeping fit after 40.
You’re incredibly inspirational with all the sporting activities you do – running, cycling, swimming, and I saw that you recently went kayaking too. Do you have a favourite sporty way to spend an afternoon?
Running is definitely my ‘favourite’ of the sports I’m involved in – my favourite time of day is early morning, jogging around the city and river in Brisbane (Australia) as the sun comes up. Alternatively, I love a leisurely walk with my family and our dog, Barney, or doing a coastal walk close to where we live.
You’re 45 now and currently training for your second Half Ironman, what inspired you to get involved in Ironman events?
This one is taking place in September and will be a 2km swim, 90km bike ride and 21 km run. It sounds a little daunting, but I’ve built up to this gradually. I have only been involved in triathlons for about 18 months. I enjoyed running when I grew up, but had never ridden a road bike and wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer. I’d always done some sort of running for fitness but as I got older my body seemed to always be injured from the high impact of running. My physio and doctor advised me that for long term health and fitness, I should consider doing some other sort of exercise to complement my running. So I started searching for a 'Beginner’s triathlon' course online. That was 18 months ago. I completed the 6 week course and the 'graduation race' which was a 750m open water swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run. After building up my confidence and experience at that distance, I attempted an Olympic distance race in November last year (1.5km swim, 40km ride and 10km run), followed by a few other races at the same distance. This year I set myself the goal of completing my first Half Ironman race in May. The feeling of satisfaction when I came over the finish line was amazing!
I see that you often train with other people, and get to meet other runners and athletes in competitions. Do you think age matters much in sport or does the fact that you’re all just out there doing something together make it irrelevant?
The Beginner’s course I did led to meeting a group of like-minded people. There was a HUGE range of ages, body shapes, sizes, and backgrounds…..which is actually what made it such a great experience. Some people began the course having never swum further than one length of a pool, and ended by swimming 750m in an event! I’ve continued to train with the same group which I started out with, and have made more friends along the way. The range of people and backgrounds is actually what I love most about exercising with a group because you can support one another to achieve your own goals, regardless of age etc. We have men and women from 20-70 years old all training, competing and (most importantly!) having brunch together afterwards on most weekends. Nobody really cares about who is the 'fastest' because we all know that just 'having a go' is an achievement in triathlon. Being part of a group allows you to meet others who you wouldn’t normally cross paths with.
What positive impact do you think your running has on you and your life now you’re in your forties?
There are many benefits……….obviously physical fitness is a big one. I have better energy levels, cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and a strong immune system (I can’t remember the last time I’ve been sick!) thanks to the physical changes that come with sport.
An important benefit has also been for my mental health. Just prior to reaching my forties, I relocated back to Australia after living overseas for many years. I needed to start my life over again in a new place, not knowing anybody, and missing my old friends and environment. I had left my wonderful full time job and I was suddenly a stay-at-home mum supporting my three children and husband who were all starting their lives again in a new place. My hormones were also starting to play havoc (as they tend to do around this age!). In addition to having a family history of depression, all of these factors contributed to me finding myself in a downward spiral of depression. There were lots of tough days. Thankfully I sought help from a holistic doctor at the time and through nutrient therapy and medication I gradually got back on track. I remember vividly my doctor telling me that because I continued to exercise regularly when I was depressed, that 'exercise probably saved you from falling apart completely'. The endorphins that are released during exercise are a natural anti-depressant and I find that if I miss more than a few days of exercising, I start to feel 'flat'. Exercise is like free medicine! Other positive side effects are the sense of achievement and satisfaction from setting a goal for yourself and achieving it, as well as the social element of getting to meet new people.
A lot of women want to take up running etc. but struggle to keep going, how do you keep yourself motivated?
First of all, try a range of things until you find what you ENJOY. Nobody will maintain an activity that’s a chore. There are loads of different gym classes, sporting groups, classes, etc. around.
Secondly, I would also recommend finding a friend or group who will be doing the same activity as you. This keeps you accountable. I’m more likely to get out of bed and run in the cold and dark if I have arranged with another friend to meet me and run together.
Thirdly, set yourself a goal. Motivation is different for everyone. For some it’s about losing weight or increasing fitness. For others it’s about competing or aiming for an event such as a fun run etc. I keep motivated by setting myself a long term goal or aim (usually an event to participate in, be it a fun run or a major triathlon). Then I create a PLAN for how I’m going to achieve my goal (i.e. running 3 times a week, gym class for strength, etc.). When it’s hard to get myself motivated, I remember WHY I’m doing this. A personal trainer can be of help here too.
Finally, be ORGANISED. Make your exercise a priority in your daily diary and schedule. I plan my week on Sundays to look ahead to when I can fit in all of my training sessions. I write them in my diary and get my clothes etc. out ready the night beforehand.
And finally, what would you say to anyone reading this who’s in their forties now and thinks it might be too late to start running or being more athletic?
Never say Never! I started triathlon when I was 44 and never dreamed that I could possibly finish a Half Ironman! Don’t be frightened to have a go at something new. But also be realistic and start SMALL. If you haven’t run at all before, don’t set off on a 5km run first off. Start SLOWLY and REALISTICALLY and allow your body time to adjust to the new activity. When we rush things, we get sore and tired and quit easily.