What is it about an impending milestone birthday that makes people decide to take on a major physical challenge? As in: "I'm about to turn 40, so I'm going to run a marathon."
Of course some people don't wait for a zero birthday; they mark every year by running their age in kilometres, for example, or swimming 100 metres multiplied by their age. I've been one of these people; I think it's about feeling alive rather than just old. Age is a state of mind and nothing can take away from the feeling of achieving a physical goal and overcoming mental hurdles along the way.
People are so healthy these days that birth year has little bearing on what our bodies are capable of, anyway. When it comes to fitness, today's 40 is the previous generation's 20.
And what better way to prove to yourself and anyone who's listening that while your passport may be saying you're 40 (or 50 or 60 etc), your body is much younger?
Call it age denial or age reversal, who cares. If a milestone birthday motivates you to get moving and achieve something special, isn't that a good thing?
When it comes to fitness, today's 40 is the previous generation's 20.
This is 40
Well, yes, so long as there's a little bit of common-sense applied to the process. Otherwise, you can come unstuck and end up feeling quite old and decrepit.
Sports physiotherapist and ultra-distance runner Mark Green admits he didn't like the idea of turning 40, in spite of the fact that he was already one of the fittest men in Australia.
"I think 40 years seems to be a milestone that men, more than women, don't want to reach," he says. "I notice among our clients that turning 50 hits women harder than men, whereas men really don't like turning 40."
Green is a fan of goal-setting to mark special birthdays, but he says unfortunately the ambition doesn't often match the reality of what the body is ready for. He's treated about 50 clients in the past four years who have fallen victim to such over-ambition.
Too much, too soon
"We come across a lot of the milestone birthdays; having a mid-life crisis at 40 and deciding to enter a 100km race when you might have done just one marathon is a common phenomenon," he says.
Or deciding to mark turning 50 by doing a run like the North Face 50. "But people usually come up with that idea when they are about 49-and-a-half," says Green. "They give themselves six months to achieve it. If they are not coming from a relatively solid background of endurance sport, including running, then they should make up their mind to do it when they are 46 or 47 rather than 49-and-a-half."
It always comes down to too much too soon: the heart, lungs and mind may be up to the task, but the body usually isn't. It gets loaded up too quickly and succumbs to injury.
The adjustment theory
So how to prepare for a milestone marathon?
"With time you should be able to achieve almost any goal," says Green, "but the more extreme the goal the longer the timeframe needs to be in which to achieve it."
It's all about adjustment.
"For example, if you can run 20km fairly comfortably now, but 30km leaves you feeling sore for a week, then the best thing you can do is to train consistently for a year doing lots of 20km runs and some 22km runs and the shorter runs as well. Then you'll build up to be able to comfortably do the 30km.
"Next it might be the 40km run that is a little bit too much for you. Another year down the track, 40km is possible and 50km is a bit of a struggle. Our body adjusts to the load over a period of time. We want instant gratification, but really what we need is time."
As a postscript, and speaking of milestones, my previous blog featured the quest of Philip Sidebottom (pictured above) to complete the 100km Anzac Challenge. Sidebottom, 49, was motivated partly because he turns 50 this year. He'd done two marathons before, but didn't rate himself as a runner. He knew this was quite a step up. Here's what he emailed me after the event:
"My time was 10:16:07 and my position was 9th. Our fundraising is still climbing and it is now at $8570.50. I sold the Anzac print to the Glad Group for $4000. I am sore today with four black toes and toenails ready to come off. My legs aren't too bad. I only came off the track once, for two minutes for a toilet break. Hit the wall at 67km and broke into a fast walk and then got the monkeys back in control again and back into a run. This went on for a bit and finished the race off in the running mode. I am absolutely on a high and over the moon at putting the monkeys to bay. I think I would be OK with calling myself a runner now."
Have you run your age in kilometres? Do you have any milestone "marathon" tips to offer?