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Extreme Athleticism Is the New Midlife Crisis (medium.com)
73 points by dsr12 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

I have mixed reactions to pieces like this. It's very salient to me because I fit the stereotype being discussed. At 43, I did my first triathlon and am, I suppose, training to do more (the season for them is basically over where I live, so I can't really do more this year).

The problem with the idea of the midlife "crisis" is that it's more a period of change and not all crisis. And it's somewhat, but not all, about mortality. At that age, in your 40s, you've often had enough time to establish a career, and for many, realize it's not what you thought it would be. It has nothing to do with mortality; if you started your career earlier or later, you'd be reaching that point earlier or later. Also, you've reached a point of wisdom to realize, yes, exercise is good, maintaining your health is good, all these articles you've been reading about it for years are right, and so forth and so on. You might have a new family, which changes things at any age. And finally, speaking of kids, I do think there's something about the 40s being the new 20s, the 60s being the new 40s, and so forth. I could go on and on about many things that cause change, but don't have anything to do with death or even old age.

If you knew me, for example it would be clear that I am in fact in crisis in many ways, and have been in recent years, in the ways that the author suggests. But that's not what motivated me to do a triathlon. It has nothing to do with some need to prove myself or anything like that. It was all about being prodded by friends to join them, and it was something I had always been interested in. I've always been a little athletic. It could have happened in my 20s or 30s but didn't. Why my 40s? I'm not sure. I guess I've just reached a point where there are many things like triathlon I've been wanting to do for years, and am now getting around to it. When you reach that age there are things that accumulate like that.

I think midlife change is very real, and often comes as a crisis, but I think that focusing on the mortality issues that do arise is really missing many, if not most, of the other factors involved.

In the case of athleticism, it stigmatizes exercising and wellness. So you're doing a triathlon or a marathon in your 40s? Now this is a bad thing? Can those of us in our 40s get a break? It's another form of ageism in many regards.

The most highlighted quote on his page is this:

  ...extreme fitness is less about being young again and more 
  about building yourself up for the years ahead. In other
  words, getting better at getting older.
That suggests to me a positive angle, not a stereotype. Being 48 myself, and having gone thru a less-intense version of what you’ve done, I think the quote nails it for me and the others that I know.

I actually think Baby Boomer generation deserves a lot of credit for pushing the boundaries, and our generation is following up in our own way. I can’t wait to see what the millennials do with this time in their lives.

> I can’t wait to see what the millennials do with this time in their lives.

Maybe finally have a down payment for a house!

In which case, they'll find themselves spending all their spare time fixing up the house and otherwise engaged in house-related work :-)

In the case of athleticism, it stigmatizes exercising and wellness. So you're doing a triathlon or a marathon in your 40s? Now this is a bad thing? Can those of us in our 40s get a break? It's another form of ageism in many regards.

It doesn't stigmatise anything nor point to individual people. It merely refers to a data point where absolute masses in their mid-life have started running or training heavily which did not happen before.

I can validate for my own part with dozens and dozens of my middle-aged peers posting about how next month they're doing their 5K, 10K, 20K, marathon, or whatnot. That sort of flocking most certainly didn't happen ten years ago.

I think that in another 10-15 years the craze has faded and replaced by something else. There will always be people who really do enjoy what they do and it's these people who'd run or train regardless of the passing fashions. But it's often the general mass of people who do things because others do those things.

Entering mid-life provokes a lot of thoughts and emotions to be processed and become acquainted with, and people need to face these in order to lead a balanced life into older age. It has seemed for years that the masses are now doing it by starting with heavy physical training. Which itself is fine but it means that it's not about the running craze itself. It's a fashionable way to live your mid-life and as such I can tell you it does not last forever.

Maybe the next generation's way-of-mid-life is finally giving yourself some rest after all the hard work and doing absolutely nothing.

I think the focal point of the criticism about middle-aged 40K runners is the way that heavy training is praised as if it was somehow a unique discovery or near-enlightening experience that everyone should try. No, people have been training before. No, people have entered mid-life before. Those just happened to meet, for a passing moment, this decade.

Around 40, if you are not exercising, you will become noticeably weaker. After a while you start loosing muscle. Your back hurts. It is not possible to ignore it anymore, be it walking up stairs, during holiday or when outside with kids or just when walking to work. Exercising works. And it feels more pleasant then I remember it from younger age. Moreover things like running are not boring anymore (because you did not done those really fun things for years, so you cant compare.)

When your back or whatever hurts and when you have high blood pressure and what not, doctor tells you to do move more. Many people started those runs after healths problems started and sport really helps. The competitions and trying limits is really treating it the way the same people approached school, work, hobbies and pretty much everything in their life before.

Those 10k, 20k and marathons are achievements available to middle aged people. (5k easily reachable) We can run, we cant lift as much we cant effectively start sports that require flexibility or agility. In a lot of senses, these people are not doing anything different then their done whole their life wherever it was possible, except that they adjusted choice of activity to aging bodies needs.

> In the case of athleticism, it stigmatizes exercising and wellness. So you're doing a triathlon or a marathon in your 40s? Now this is a bad thing? Can those of us in our 40s get a break? It's another form of ageism in many regards.


I'm almost 43. I've just starting playing beach volleyball in a social league - after hardly ever playing any team sport ever. Will I ever be able to mix it with those in their 20's or early 30's? Hell no. Am I having a lot of fun and keeping fit? Absolutely.

I think it's just a bad title. The article itself encourages exercising

> The problem with the idea of the midlife "crisis" is that it's more a period of change and not all crisis.

I see what you mean, but to be fair the term "crisis" does mean just that: a turning point.


Hardly midlife crisis. At 40, your kids might be getting old enough to require less time. You have a stable job, etc.

Most importantly, the massive amount of information on hand, connectivity of the internet, and some creative organizers have allowed people to do what many have always wanted!

Why is athleticism not looked on for a 20 year old, but is for a 40 year old?

When a woman returns to work after a decade and a half off because of kids, is she going through a midlife crisis, assuming working wasn't needed to survive?

A crisis implies an impending sense of doom or mortality. It implies socially unapproved behavior. A 50 year old man buying a Corvette to hit on 20 year olds.

Extreme athleticism is hardly risky behavior unless you believe live should be without any risk and limited to strolls in park. Sometimes life just gets in the way for a decade or two.

Does a 50 year old who buys a truck for hunting or fishing have a crisis? Hunting and fishing can be a lot cheaper than flying all over the world on vacations.

A 40 year old is easily young enough to handle an R1, so why not buy one? If he can handle ultra-marathons, go for it.

My father did triathlons until 60. Guess what? He loved them. It was a great way to pass the time.

As you get older, you find you may have automated a lot of your life away, or at least simplified it. You might also not be fighting to climb the ladder, but instead discovered where you are happy.

You might find your day to day too cerebral, with the rest of your body semi neglected. If you have achieved a lot "mentally", why not see what you can do physically?

It's not 'new' for middle-aged persons to begin doing things they have been meaning to do but never made time to do so far. It's the onset of age-related symptoms that remind us we're not getting any younger & our abilities are on the wane. Some definitely wig out, but most do something about it in constructive ways. I have logged 100 miles of rugged terrain & paddled more so in the last year. Because of a mid-life crisis? Nah, the possibility that within a decade or less I will not have the faculties to do these activities is what motivates me.

I thought that's what mid-life crises were all about: Trying to make the most of youth and vigor perceived as fleeting, vanishing.

The key word, and marketable perception, is "crisis". Most don't go off the rails and even fewer go to 'extremes'. This is what I consider real fake news, in the same vein as fake Reality TV. MSM sucks in so many varied ways.

I know someone who was engaged in various vigorous sports for much of his adult life: running, weights, badminton, ping pong. 'Healthy' in every sense.

At age 46 he has osteo-arthritis in his hips and knees. Now: no more intensive sports. Weights are still in, but cardio is limited. He can hear/feel grinding when he walks; even 1-2 km can present a problem. He hasn't given up, though: his big project now is to try to regain the lost cartilage. Consulted doctors, did huge amounts of research, and became an expert in the field of regenerative medicine. His blog details the cutting edge treatments he's administering himself (including purchasing an ultrasound scanner and injecting drugs directly into the joints): https://myjourney2curearthritis.wordpress.com/

In a separate conversation, my doctor friend confirmed that the cartilage in joints wears out inevitably, especially with prolonged and repetitive use (cycling, running). There's very limited blood supply to cartilage and bone, so the body has no way of regenerating what's lost.

There has to be an equilibrium sought in the pursuit of fitness and the resulting wear to the body. To paraphrase James Hilton, moderation in everything, including moderation itself.

Weights, especially if done in the extreme and with bad form can cause deterioration on the joints. Take an extreme example: Ronnie Coleman, 7-times Mr. Olympia winner( bodybuilding). Apart from the insane amounts of drugs these people inject themselves( bodybuilding competitions are the only "sport" that doesn't test the athletes for steroids), this guy was training with free weights at the extreme. We are talking about 800 lbs squats etc. He has had 8 spinal disk surguries and both his knees replaced.

Compare that to Phil Heath, the current mr Olympia winner for 8 times in row( I think, could be 7). He is using mostly machines and so far( he is pretty old at this point) hasn't had any major injuries. So my point is that although machines are proven to not increase functional strength( due to the isolation of the joints), at some point weightlifting can be detrimental. I don't know if the person you are talking about took it very far or not but it certainly sounds like the type of person that would.

The person you are talking about could simply have bad biomechanics, or pushed themselves beyond what they should have and not allowed for sufficient recovery.

I feel this way, and it seems logical. We have kids late, from 30 onward, we had a free life before and we want it again, only we will be about 50-55 when the kids leave the house. Moreover, we want to do cool stuff when the kids get the age at which they become capable of doing cool stuff (hiking for days, mountain-biking through the alps, ...) And yet we are now 36 and we get back pains from sitting all day, the horror! We must do more sports to be able to experience freedom as we did back when we were 28, when circumstances allow us again: when the kids grow up!!

If only we had kids at 23 when we were most fertile. They'd be 16 now and we would have had a lifetime to live in wealth and freedom. (I'm exaggerating of course, kids are great but man, I would have been able to handle those sleepless nights better when I was 23 ;))

There are now apps available that help you to meditate. Since the app not only has knowledge about the process of meditation but tools to help you stay focused on the process, they offer a far more effective way to follow the process. What I'm trying to say is extreme athleticism is only a reaction to a lack of discipline that is probably experienced in that stage of life which leads to side effects that have to corrected. While athleticism is a possible way to treat the problem, it doesn't really get to the root cause, my hypothesis anyways, and using a meditation coupled with some yoga classes under an experienced instructor is probably a better way to treat the effects of age related decay. Note that many of the famous yoga instructors such as Mr. Iyengar and Mr. Bikram who started entire schools of yoga were practitioners and teacher well into their final years. Since most modern gyms now have yoga sections, the problems of extreme athlecicism in Midlife are clearly highlighted to the observers of this new phenomenon.

Let's not also ignore the fact that doing triathlon is very expensive. Those who are mature, set in their lives, and have disposable income have much more access to it. Sure, you can swim in 5$ trunks, ride an old hybrid on the bike, and jog in the shoes you wear every day, but that's not the segment the article is addressing.

Is it very expensive though?

Pair of good nike swim shorts + goggles cost like ~100

Decent road bike around ~1500

Good running shoes ~150

My gym membership with pool is ~65/month

Sure thats expensive but is its not for super wealthy you need to be well established expensive.

The amount of free time required to train for a triathlon also makes it less tractable for someone with a full time job and school-aged children.

Indeed, and not just triathlon training. I'm by no means extreme, I just try to do an hour of exercise per day, but I do look enviously at my peers also in their 40s who don't exercise and so have lots of time every week to do 'fun' stuff.

To the time required for exercise has to be added all the preparing of kit, travelling to pool etc I was up at 05:45 today and have just been able to start breakfast at 07:30. Oftentimes I wonder if it's worth it.

I've had two periods of "intense health" so far. The first was high school through college where I was racing and training year-round. The second was in my mid-late thirties when I had a "full time" job that wasn't terribly busy, and I had kids. I definitely think that the job has a lot to do with it, but geography does too. I move around a lot and can tell you it is much easier to train in San Diego than it is in New Orleans or Norfolk, Virginia. Another key element has been friends to exercise with.

I may be entering a third phase with another job transition which came with a move to a new location with world-class diving opportunities and readily accessible pools with lap lanes, despite working about as many hours as I did at my last job where exercise was next to non-existent simply because of commute time.

Wouldn't this be more true for middle aged though. I certainly had way more time in my 20's.

I guess it depends on your definition of "middle aged". They seem to be talking about people in their late 40s to early 50s who you'd expect to have grown-up (or at least high-school aged) children and a lot more free time, compared with 30-soemthings with small children.

If you want to compete in your local sprint/olympic triathlon, sure. You can get by with that - I even said as much in my post above. But if you want to compete in Ironman events, like the article's subject.. you're looking at 650 and up just for registration fees (with a pay to win lottery system I won't even get into). You will have a lot of trouble in longer distance events without a wetsuit (another 500 bucks). 1500$ will get you an OK entry level aluminum road bike, with low end parts and heavy wheels. Now you need to figure out how to train for the time commitment of the race (12ish hours for a decent amateur). You're looking at around 20 hours a week training. Who has that kind of time? Established adults. Most Ironman events require you to qualify by doing a half ironman in some set time as well. That means travel, more race fees, etc. People who do this devote a large portion of their life - money, time, and emotional energy - into doing it. I've raced bicycles for many years and these circles overlap a bit. I know a lot of triathletes, but I don't know many triathletes on a budget. Bike racers, sure - plenty of broke bike racers out there, kids, stay at home moms, hipsters.. but not in triathlon.

It's not a cheap sport by any stretch.

Wetsuits are $500? Are these special racing wetsuits?

Yes. The cost is somewhat due to construction and somewhat due to limited demand. They need to be pretty thin around the shoulders (1-2mm thickness) and impose zero restriction on stroke movement but reasonably thick around the legs (5mm thickness).

Having said that, for sprints in certain locales at certain times of year the wetsuit is purely optional, because the time gained from the wetsuit in the water is about equal to the time lost removing it in transition. For all longer distances it would be slower to race without one, though.

Over here you can rent one for the summer season for 25€. You will need a 100€ deposit, which is returned to you when you bring the suit back in.

Welded seams, skin tight and flexible joints.

Coming from tri suits I was pleasantly surprised to find surf suits to be cheap.

You don't need a $1500 bike. I've seen people do with $400 bikes, and you might even be able to borrow one.

Seriously, the marathon was originally a race done to copy the feat of an ancient Greek soldier who ran in what, sandals?

Pool or pond membership you have to pay for. Mine is $30/m.

Everything else is fashion or comfort. Like you say, you just need the basics.

Anyone who says this is a rich man's sport clearly doesn't want to do it.

About 1980, there was a "Tank MacNamara" comic strip, in which Tank, the ex-jock sportscaster, goes to a running goods store. The weedy clerk loads him up with training shoes, race shoes, trail shoes, these shorts, those shorts, warmups, etc., and Tank finds himself at the checkout with a pile of stuff and a big bill. His girlfriend says, "And to think the ancient Greeks did it naked." As I recall, Runners World magazine, or maybe it was Running Times, professed that it was not amused by the cartoon.

Greek soldiers didn't exactly wear Tevas, they wore a sort of boot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buskin

Also worth noting that, as the story goes, the Marathon runner died upon delivering his message.

Here's an interesting video if you are an extreme athlete: it is a cardiac researcher and lifelong exerciser who identifies that such exercise patterns damage the heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6U728AZnV0

For a longer treatment of the same topic, I recommend reading the book The Haywire Heart by Case/Mandrola/Zinn.

This may be unfair, but I've become disillusioned with Ted talks, especially TedX talks.

Can’t watch, but I’m pretty sure this is more due to caffeine and NSAID abuse than exercise.

Old mans strength.

[ meta-note: why is this flagged? we seem to be rather haphazardly applying the criteria "that good hackers might find interesting", especially given the number of hackers into life-hacking, surviving middle age and athletic behavior]

Not a fan of running, but I am picking up way more BJJ classes than expected at my advanced age (46). Another factor that might help (aside from more free time, money, and the psychological factors in the article) is the fact that once you hit middle age, sporting behavior "is what it is". No-one expects that you're going to tear it up and compete with people in their 20s.

I have found it way easier to maintain a focus on intrinsic achievements ("today I will do X because I want to and it's my goal") than extrinsic factors ("what people will think of me", "what I will look like") once Old Fart status is achieved.

I am skeptical that even running 50km with good hydration and fancy shoes on well-maintained paths would be considered extreme if you roll back the clock more than a couple thousand years. Long distance running is a core competency of humanity -- I've run ten miles while being, objectively, out of shape.

If you remove the claims of how extreme this is, all this really says is that older Americans adopt exercise as a hobby they enjoy with seriousness. This is... not a crisis.

You might have very low standards for being out of shape.

Actually, I think Iowa State did a study and found that it's actually not healthy to run more than around ~5K at a time. Long distance runs eventually lead to no health benefits and if anything are detrimental to almost every part of your body. Our ancestors likely walked long distances, but didn't run that distance. There's no need to run while gathering, or while farming, only while hunting and even then we developed tools to not have to even do that.

Their findings were considerably more equivocal than you make out; certainly "actually not healthy to run more than around ~5K at a time" doesn't seem be something that their study is even equipped to discuss.


Things start to look rough for the highest quintile and especially the top 2 'tertiles of the top quintile' (I know, a weird subdivision here). But we're talking about 24 miles in a week and maybe 5+ sessions... pretty far removed from evidence that you shouldn't ever run more than 5K.

I don't have a horse in this race but there's a lot of broscience drifting around this area with the general message being that any kind of slow distance training will turn you into a pencil-necked dweeb with bad health and a shocking hormone profile.

Most 5K training programs have you running about ~18 miles a week. A full marathon is 26.2 miles in a DAY. That's quite a difference. If you ran every day with no rest days, for 24 miles a week (per your post)...that's almost a 5K a day. I never said that was a definitive number. Hence the "~." There are other studies that back up this idea.

As for your last sentence...no one here said anything about that. No one even said it would cause "bad health" to run a full marathon. However, when you run long distances, it has tremendous effects on parts of your body that are prone to injury and strain. Women long distance runners even have fertility problems. The human body was not meant to run long distances as the person I was replying to suggested. It's not "healthy" when contrasted with lower distances. Running itself is good.

Bear in mind that a few thousand years ago it was pretty unusual to get to be 50, 70 was considered a top bound (three score years and 10) and 80 was extreme old age.

I know that many people will say... but but there were old people and the stats are very skewed by infant mortality, but the fact is that mortality was high in every cohort when compared with now which made living into late middle age unusual.

Key difference is that people are now trying to break records and timing themselves.

Anyone can complete a marathon. But completing it in a good time is hard.

> if you roll back the clock more than a couple thousand years. Long distance running is a core competency of humanity -

Hasn't this been debunked?

I think if the parent knew it to be debunked, they certainly wouldn't have made that claim.

This was a fact (AFAIK) that I was aware of before as well. A quick Googling provides large amounts of resources suggesting it's true.

Article in Nature: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041123163757.h...

NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/health/27well.html

Harvard: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/humans-hot-sw...

And, again, many more from a quick Googling.

Ok. Sorry my bad. not sure why I thought it was debunked, prbly listening to too much joe rogan garbage :D.

Edit: Ok found where I read it


Speaking from first hand experience, I go to this gym in Bethesda, MD. Very well equipped, including a pool. You go there early morning and you find half the people there a middle aged. Fit bodies juxtaposed with natural signs of age-ing. If you correlate facial expressions with age, you will find a noticeable correlation between age and seriousness. The point of going to a gym is to enjoy the process of replenishing your muscular strength. If you take that too seriously, that points to age-related associations you've developed that do not belong in the gym. The best way to learn about this is to consult an experienced trainer. All trainers in private gyms are in the peak of their fitness years and hence better qualified to determine what is best for you.

Most trainers are worthless. Source: trainer.

A good trainer is basically there to evaluate and fix problems. Programs are pretty much the same for each particular goal, available for free on the internet. Want to ‘get in shape’? Great. Get your HR above 120 for an hour every day. Doesn’t matter how. Snatch stuck at body weight and you want to get to 1.5? Okay, go see a trainer.

But you need one anyway. Source: human.

Most people do absolutely nothing of value in the gym. They’d be healthier using the time to get more sleep. Enter the trainer. Something about a human telling you what to do is comforting and allows you to put your brain away and just do it. People that train with a trainer will see results. People that don’t, might. A trainer is required to be the best in any sport. Lots of people that are pretty good don’t use one. But if you’re at the bottom of the pile in where you want to be, get a trainer.

Thats the problem with gyms though, they offer nothing of human value.

I switched to doing BJJ instead and I am addicted because I have training, discipline and a social aspect.

I never got any of that pounding on the treadmill or struggling to lift 16kg dumb bells

> I never got any of that pounding on the treadmill or struggling to lift 16kg dumb bells

I think that's what was meant by "Most people do absolutely nothing of value in the gym."

There's a little bit more to it than that. I retained training services for the first few years I did triathlon simply because I didn't know anything about it. (What are these heart-rate training zones? What strength exercises are useful to triathlon? What are base/build/peak/transition stages? What are the correct biomechanics for strength exercise? etc., etc.) In the end I ended up reading a lot of books and pieced enough together that I construct my own training plans and do my own strength training - correctly - now.

At my first triathlon it was quite apparent that 80% of the participants hadn't done any of this. These days I'll see someone "pounding on the treadmill [or pavement]" or flailing through the water or riding their bike with a seat that's way too low or doing basic strength exercises incorrectly and realize that - indeed - all that time spent exercising is mostly wasted:

a) Pounding on the treadmill/pavement - usually too low a stride rate and/or incorrect running mechanics will lead to joint problems / repetitive stress injury in short order; b) Flailing through the water - hello shoulder surgery! Form is 10x as important as strength in the water. I've seen guys with well-developed lats struggle at 100 yards and skinny kids zip right by me. c) Riding bike with seat too low will eventually lead to knee and possibly back problems. Get a bike fit. d) Strength exercise is useless unless you are correctly activating the right muscles in the correct order. Worst I've ever seen: GHD machine being used with hip flexion range of 45 to -15 degrees. Ouch.

It is possible to get value out of a gym membership but mechanics are really important.

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