When I reached the age of 30, I remember walking into a bookstore on University Avenue in Palo Alto, CA and spent time pouring through the shelves in the Health and Fitness section. I was always trying to find the latest published findings on Health and Fitness and my eyes caught the title of a book: Dr. Arnott’s Guide to Turning Back the Clock. I bought the book because to me it was the epitome of what we are all looking for as athletes. We want to slow down the aging process, reverse it and sustain performance.
One of the best aspects of my job as a coach/trainer is that I get to work with female athletes of all ages and levels. So while I could very well focus solely on young elites, I actually enjoy working with women who are in the 40+ category. I find they are often more disciplined, committed, goal oriented, focused and willing to do the hard work to improve their performance. I asked some of my top performers to share their views on how they feel about aging and performance. These superstar women opened up and gave their candid responses to staying competitive. They share their wisdom on why competing at their age in some ways more advantageous. They also shared advice on how young female competitors should approach training and competition for years to come. As you read through their comments feel free to leave questions or responses. I truly believe that it’s entirely possible to continue to be your best well past what most would consider PRIME!
What inspires you to keep running?
“What keeps me inspired to keep running is both mental and physical. I’m that person who can get “really in my head” when I’m sedentary and not active. I will feel sluggish, moody and just “off”. Being perimenopausal doesn’t help things much. When I am out on the trails running, literally all the crazy thoughts in my head seem to become more clear and solvable. My whole attitude is better after spending that time outdoors – alone running mile after mile – realizing “things weren’t as bad as they seemed”. As my husband says, “…you’re just a nicer person when you get your run on”. This is true 😉 Setting a goal (first 50k) keeps me super motivated. Hiring a coach has been SUPER instrumental in my running – having that weekly “plan” with the goal in mind and being accountable to someone who is providing their knowledge and wisdom makes a world of difference for me. —Libby Gordon-Siegel
How has age effected your ability to compete?
“ I can definitely feel my age! 15 years ago I did not even need to train for a marathon, stretching was not in my vocabulary. I was able to eat and drink whatever I felt like, and I never needed any recovery or taper. I had to learn to eat, hydrate properly (I am still learning), stretch, do strength workouts and most of all rest before a long run.”–Nedis Della Chias
“It has not at all. I started running at age 30 and have become a better runner as I get older. I think it is because I listen to my body and try to give it what it needs. I learned right away when I started running that we can easily overtrain and push our bodies too much thinking that is what we need to do to get better. However, that is not the case. Your body needs to recover in order to perform at the level you want it to. “–Sandra Campos
Do you ever feel intimidated by the fact that your competing against women much younger?
“Age…and aging as an athlete…is just a reality, so I don’t really think about my running in this way. I just enjoy the sport.”–Peggy Alfred
“Sometimes. I think as we get older we understand the meaning of patience and recovery. We learn to know our bodies and what it needs to perform. We cannot continue to push our bodies every single day without proper rest and recovery. I think that is the main difference between younger runners and more experience runners.” —Sandra Campos
What has been the most difficult thing to overcome as someone in the over 40/50 age group?
“I struggle with the fact that I am not 30 years anymore and can’t just go out on a run without any great efforts. I picked up ultras in my 40s, which I wish I would have done in my 30s. My greatest struggle that I need to accept is my age and put my best effort into each workout whether it is a tempo run, strength training, or any other strenuous work out.”– Nedis Della Chiesa
“Life – running balance. Often times we get so caught up with our performance and we make a lot of sacrifices to go even further, putting our families/relationships on the line.”– Sandra Campos
“My knee jerk answer to your question regarding what is the most difficult thing to overcome being in the 40 /50 age group IS just the SOUND OF IT – how that category looks on the page when you’re about to sign up for a race. In the SAME sense, how sad is it to think that WAS my knee jerk response! Being in that 40 plus, 50 plus age group is something we ladies should be proud of.”–Libby Gordon-Siegel
Do you think being older gives you a competitive edge over younger competitors?
“Life experience is the competitive edge that we have over our younger competitors. We gain the ability to really dig deep and push ourselves further. Whatever we have dealt with in our lives – birth, death, break ups, health issues, our partner’s or kids’ issues – they’re all aspects of aging and we learn how to handle them. We become tougher mentally…which can help when you’re pushing yourself on the trails during an event.” — Libby Gordon-Siegel
“Sometimes. I think as we get older we understand the meaning of patience and recovery. We learn to know our bodies and what it needs to perform. We cannot continue to push our bodies every single day without proper rest and recovery. I think that is the main difference between younger runners and more experience runners.”– Sandra Campos
“When I start running in my early 20s, I had no idea that it takes more than just two good legs. Life experience and competition teaches a person to become a better runner. Ultra running is not an instant gratification; it takes mental determination and willingness. Thus, it takes time and experience which gives us older runners a competitive edge.”– Nedia Della Chiesa
What advice would you give to young women competing today?
”Treat your body with much respect and compassionate care–eat healthy, get good sleep, relax and recoup, stretch, and pamper it! Also….know and believe you are “doing your body, mind and soul well” to be living in your strength as a woman, and showing up in the world knowing you are capable and courageous!”–Peggy Alfred
“Be patience and don’t let your ego take control. You can reach a peak really quickly, but it’s hard to sustain without proper recovery. You’ll never win every race, so learn to choose the important events and learn from setbacks or failures.”– Sandra Campos
“I know so many runners, who tell everyone how many races they have run in one year but do not realize that if they are lucky, they may be able to run for 10 years before their bodies break down. I do not believe in quantity but rather quality. Running is supposed to be fun and rewarding. Thus, “pacing” the races and allowing enough recovery between races, lets you run for many decades.”–Nedis Della Chiesa
More About These Women:
Libby Gordon-Siegel, age 50- has been a fitness enthusiast the majority of her life. She is currently training to run her first 50k ultramarathon in December.
Nedis Della Chiesa, age 48 -began running ultras eight years ago. She has completed 50k and 50mile events. This year she will be tackling her first 100k in September.
Sandra Campos, age 40- has competed in many ultramarathons including the coveted Western States 100. She ran Miwok 100k in May of this year and took over 50 minutes off her time from last year.
Peggy Alfred, age 57- has been competing in ultramarathon events for close to 20 years. She recently completed Tahoe Rim Trail 100 finishing 11th overall and 2nd in her age division.