We bloggers at Salty Running, love running and writing, of course. So naturally, we also love reading about running. If you’re looking for one more book to add to your summer reading list, I have a great one for you: Margaret Webb’s book, “Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All about Living Younger, Longer, which chronicles her quest to become stronger, fitter and faster, at the age of fifty, than her younger self. After years of neglect (including being a smoker and slightly overweight), but with several marathons under her belt, could she become “super-fit?” Could she participate in the World Masters Games at Turin, Italy, in the half marathon, competing against elite masters runners? Could she turn back the clock and enter her “second act” in the best shape of her life?
A journalist, author and screenwriter, Webb takes a very concentrated, investigative approach to her super-fit year. As a study of one, can she improve her strength, endurance, power, and speed to be competitive and overcome the strongly-held belief that after age forty or fifty (or sixty and beyond), one’s health declines and one must accept inherent physical limits to what the body can achieve?
Webb begins with an initial assessment of her fitness. She learns of the obstacles many older women face to becoming more fit, strong and powerful, including (i) about 89% had experienced at least one sports-related injury since turning fifty; (ii) declining cardiac output; (iii) loss of lung capacity; (iv) loss of balance; (v) loss of dexterity and flexibility; (vi) loss of bone density; (vii) loss of lean muscle; (viii) increase in fat; and (ix) loss of estrogen. Webb hesitantly queries whether she will be able to become stronger and fitter. She is assured “that older people can adapt with the same relative improvements as healthy young adults—in bone density, aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness in general.” The power of exercise lies at the very core of overcoming these obstacles and becoming more fit.
Webb’s list of mentors and trainers, including successful older women runners in Canada, is impressive: nutritional counselor and personal trainer, muscle activation technique trainer, sports psychologist, evolutionary anthropologist, and a host of professionals focused on the science of exercise. She delves deeply into the science and psychology of running. She engages in an extreme fitness plan to attempt to accomplish her goals. She embraces the concept of pushing against every limit she encounters, reaching deep inside herself to “grasp the hands of your biological clock, and slow its rush forward.” Her training is not for the faint of heart; her results are amazing, though.
More and more women are running and participating in local, regional, national and international races, long past what was once considered prime. I smiled when I read recently that a 92-year old woman ran—and completed—the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. At the same time, though, too many women, and men, are sedentary, obese, or suffering chronic illnesses. A paradox, don’t you think?
Webb asks the right questions and poses challenges to our traditional way of thinking about aging and activity. By being her own guinea pig and questioning preconceived notions about fitness, she captivates the reader with anecdotes from her super-fit year. She demystifies and explains the practice required to become more physically active (more strength and stretching because our bodies lose muscle, bone density, and range of motion), the nutritional needs of older runners (she converted to a mostly-Paleo diet, but there are various diets that work for athletes), the impact of estrogen loss in older women on performance, and the differences between men and women from a physiological perspective.
Although she laments the lack of attention paid to masters class athletes, those talented, dedicated, compassionate women and men, who break barriers because they love to move, to remain active, and to be joyous in their daily accomplishments, change will come. Women like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor are leading the charge with their incredible accomplishments. As fast, strong runners become masters runners, we should see age-cohort challenges in greater numbers. I think it’s exciting, although I do like placing in my age-category!
Margaret Webb lays the groundwork for us to confront and embrace each new birthday (as one friend so kindly described getting older), making sure that each year is better than the one before it. She writes in a clear, understandable and encouraging way. I strongly recommend this book for women runners (or non-runners) of any age.
Masters runners should not be outliers. We have the capability and drive to be successful, whether we choose to walk, bicycle, hike, swim, or run very long distances. I may not have the time or inclination to train eight hours a day like Webb, but I will take her knowledge and certain aspects of her training to ensure, as much as I can control, to be active until I no longer am able to be so.
What about you? Are you stronger now than when you were twenty or thirty or forty? What do you do to maintain or increase your strength and power? Are you empowered to embark upon your own “super-fit” year?
For more from Margaret Webb, check out Toffee’s interview with her on the Runners Connect Podcast!
If you’d like to purchase Margaret Webb’s book, … and support Salty Running in the process, use our Amazon affiliate link here!