Sunday, September 16, 2018

Mid Life Crisis In The Older Athlete?

Singapore National Games 2012 by RS from Flickr
I had a patient who recently turned 50 years young and decided that she would like to finish running a marathon. She had never ran much before (unless you count physical education classes in school) and she would consider herself pretty much inactive previously. She started training with a local running group, and within 6 weeks of training got injured and ended up seeing me in our clinic.

Here's a trend I've been noticing, a fair bit of participants in local races are above the ages of 40. I just looked up the results of the 2017 Singapore Triathlon and the 2018 Singapore OCBC National Road Race Cycling championships. The 40-49 age group has the largest number of participants and among the most competitive. I didn't look up the statistics, but with the number of participants we've treated in our clinic, I'm sure this is similar for the Spartan races too.

If you look up the 2018 Boston marathon results in April this year and last year's New York marathon the statistics are similar.

Research backs this up too. A research paper by Hoffman and Fogard (2012) found that the average age of participants in a 100 mile trail race was 44 years.

My 50 year old patient calls this urge to run her her first marathon her "mid-life crisis". I looked up "mid-life crisis". This concept was first presented in 1957 by Canadian psychologist Elliot Jacques to the British Psychoanalytical Society and later published as "Death and the Mid-life Crisis" in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis in 1965.

His theory was that as we approach middle age, we begin to realize our own mortality (or death) and we begin to freak out. As we grow older, we start to focus on how much time has passed, how much is left and what to do with whatever time is left. That can create anxiety and that anxiety can be multiplied by anxiety, depression and stress.

My 50 year old female patient says that unlike what you usually read or see in movies (where the older white guy buys a sports car and dates a younger girl in a desperate bid to feel young again), her "mid-life crisis" is to take on physical challenges.

Her goal is not to cling on to whatever is left of her "youth" or be young again. It is more about building up for the years ahead. Sounds like a good mid-life crisis to me.

Whether you are a young and older athlete, and starting a new game or beginning to exercise, pace yourself and start gently. There are big benefits from minimal running. However, if you do get injured, come and see us in our clinics.


Hoffman MD and Fogard K (2012). Demographic Characteristics Of 161-km Ultramarathon Runners. Research in Sp Med. 20(1): 59-69. DOI: 10.1080/15438627.2012.634707.

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