The 2016 Olympics are now old news and the media headlines are all about Angelina and Brad’s impending divorce… if you care. Regardless of the media’s latest craze; there is one thing in particular that stuck with me from the Olympics and it might be helpful to those that would like to continue competitive sports long after their so-called ‘prime’. And that one thing was brought to light by one person: Kristin Armstrong.
Kristin Armstrong has inspired so many of us, not only as Americans, but as hard-working, athletic, competitive women who have real lives that include jobs and kids. The fact that she has won three Olympic gold medals – all of which have been obtained after she turned 30 – is revolutionary in the history of the Olympic Games. Kristin is a REAL person, with a REAL job, family, commitments, and struggles. She is someone we women can relate to, empathize with, and most importantly: she breaks the barriers that have held most of us back from serious competition later in life.
“I think that for so long we’ve been told that we should be finished at a certain age. And I think that there’s a lot of athletes out there that are actually showing that that’s not true.”
Let’s explore how women can compete later life (whatever ‘later’ means) and how you can do it too!
‘Later’ is for Haters
As an athlete only a couple of years younger than Kristin and most definitely (and proudly) in my forties I can say that the words ‘later in life’ don’t mean much to me. It sounds silly, like something a teenager would say when thinking about the vast expanse of time between their ages and when they become ‘settled down’ (yet another phrase that doesn’t mean anything).
Here’s a fun fact that I can’t resist throwing in…
Women are often times physically stronger in their late thirties and forties because of the hormonal changes in our bodies. Not great if you don’t enjoy facial hair, but not so bad if you want that extra competitive edge. Just some food for thought when you are cussing that stray odd hair that pops up in inconvenient places…
Outside of the internal chemical lab I can tell you this much: I am stronger than I was in my twenties, I am faster, and I am more focused. I have the discipline, the experience, and the good health to be able to compete now more than ever. Some of that comes with maturity and life experiences. Some of it comes from how I stay active. I am also very blessed to be able to take care of my body and its needs even through the struggles I have with hypoglycemia, my adrenal glands, my joints, and allergies.
Overcoming Adversity = Strength
After several surgeries because of degenerative hip issues, Kristin inspires me to push forward through my body challenges despite the odds. Even better – she’s 5’8”! As a 6’-0” female cyclist that makes me think: “Hey, I CAN do this!” Even after years of feeling like the racing giraffe and jealous of the fact that smaller ladies don’t have to work as hard as I do to go as fast.
However, there is a thing called genetics that will make the difference between someone that has earned first place in the USA National Women’s Road Race twice, as well as first place in the USA National Women’s Time Trial four times and someone like me who is fast – but not THAT fast. I’m not an aspiring Olympian, but there so much I can do NOW that I couldn’t have done in my earlier years. Quite a bit of this has to do with fitness, self-care, and nutrition.
Note: most of cycling is mental. How we respond to life’s challenges is what shapes us. Not the challenge itself.
Beat the Odds
Nutrition will make or break you in more than just competition. Even if the only sport you do is couch-surfing; a bad diet will be the death of you. Literally. I could write an entire book on this topic, but there are plenty of books already out there. To summarize the basics the best I can: here are some items to keep in mind if you want to keep in top form as long as possible.
- No fast food – no joke. Just don’t do it. Eat a PB&J (organic!) sandwich if you have to and suck it up.
- No sodas (or any beverages that contain sodium benzoate and/or high fructose corn syrup.
- No high fructose corn syrup (now also known as ‘fructose’, thanks to the FDA).
- No artificial sweeteners. Are you kidding? Cancer, much?
- No microwave dinners or similar, even if it says it’s healthy, it’s not because of the chemicals added during processing.
- Stay away from preservatives as much as you can. Learn what preservatives are commonly used and just don’t buy that stuff. (Nitrates, Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate, BHA, BHT are the biggies.)
- No GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods. If you really want a lot of reading, look this one up. In summary: it’s toxic and no, it’s not a conspiracy theory. I have MCS (multiple chemical syndrome) and I can pick up latent chemicals like a bloodhound. The side effect is that these chemicals make me sick like I have the flu and I break out in hives. They don’t call me The Canary for nothing.
- Eat Organic food as much as possible and preferably ones that are home-grown without pesticides. Sorry to bust your bubble, but ‘organic’ labeled foods at the grocery store have pesticides, just not as chemically dangerous to the environment.
- No tap water. It’s loaded in fluoride and chlorine for starters. If you think that fluoride does good things to teeth, you might want to reconsider that assumption. It’s a poison that must be carefully controlled. Chlorine kills bacteria and other living organisms – so what do you think you are? Also, thanks to the amount of people that flush prescription drugs down the toilet, there are interesting additives in tap water as well. Drink plenty of spring water – preferably reverse osmosis and stay away from companies that add fluoride back into the water!
- Vitamins and Minerals are a must! It’s mostly not in our commercially grown food anymore so supplements are a good plus to the healthy diet.
- Avoid the obvious: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and other bad-for-you items that I have probably forgotten because they don’t even enter the realm of my consciousness anymore.
Basically: if it’s not organic and 100% natural – don’t consume it. Now, actually being able to stick to this completely in our modern society is almost impossible unless you grow your own food, but it’s a good benchmark. Sorry if I ruined your Doritos-Binge Day!
Fitness is the second most important key component. Why only second? Because if your body is full of crap it doesn’t matter how big your quads are – you still won’t be at your peak performance. Fitness is huge, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. I have also found that people who compete in impact or extreme sports earlier in life may accumulate injuries that lead them to either change their sports activity focus (running to cycling for example) or it may impede one’s ability to go faster for longer – if you will.
The critical factor here is: Balance.
Good news for those ladies that had to put athletics on hold to be a mom! Chances are, by taking that break – you have now extended your ability to perform at your peak at a much more mature age than someone who started competing early and continued to do so until injury slowed their progress. The fact is, the body can only take so much abuse and repair so much, for so often, until you create enough damage that it cannot work through it. We have amazing bodies – take care of the one you have! For this reason, I’m not a big fan of pushing young kids into a bunch of sports early. Sure: an active lifestyle is important, but in moderation.
I don’t know how many people I have met that cannot do what I do now because they competed heavily at a young age.
I’m not advocating becoming a sloth and sit around watching TV until you are 35, but think balance. Balance is VERY difficult for those that have a competitive streak (like me)! We are extremely good at pushing ourselves past our limits and paying for it later. If you seek balance in your active life and practice self-care, the chances of you performing far beyond your peers as you mature is much higher than if you constantly push too far and accumulate restrictions in mobility from injury, joint issues, and so forth.
Self Care is critical. Rest and rejuvenation is not something that sissies do. You cannot build muscle if you do not allow the rest your body needs to make more! During hard training we break our muscles down so it can repair and there-by making additional muscle fibers. BUT: if you don’t rest those muscle groups, your body cannot perform this cycle. Depending on your sport, this may be ‘active’ rest… to a point. Anyone that is consistently active needs a day OFF every so many days of activity. This also leads back to that ‘Balance’ thing discussed earlier. Any good coach will build in a day off into a training program.
Cyclist are great a pushing through pain. We do it all the time. It’s a part of who we are; but having the wisdom to back off, put our egos aside, and take care of ourselves is a big part of being able to redefine competitive age limits. Maybe someone will ask you “why do you do this” one day like they asked Kristin Armstrong… and you can say: “Because I can”.
Ride On and Ride Strong