The new mid-life crisis: Testing our bodies’ limits before we’re too old

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Over the weekend, I completed my first endurance marathon, a 50km trail run called the @MontAuxSourcesChallenge that started at the bottom of the Drakensberg, headed up an incline of about 2070metres, and then directly down a descent that should only be viewed as an abseil, rather than anything else. It was the most phenomenal experience, and I would recommend that if you are an adventure seeker of any kind, or looking for something to really challenge your body, and mind, this ultra-marathon is the way to go.

It got me thinking though, at a certain point on the race, I really hit a dark point. It was at about 46kms, where my body... a body that I’ve been training for months and months, completely shut down. It would not move, and was cramping like I was “cramping someone’s style” 😊. And, with another 4kms to go, I suddenly realized this was a moment where I had to “embrace the suck” of the situation, dig deep, and walk, crawl or slither across the finish line. It made me think of how important it is to challenge your body and push the limits and figure out what you’re really capable of. Yes, maybe I’m taking it to the extremes, and becoming a bit obsessed, but in a culture dominated by cubicle junkies, and couch potatoes, I’ve realized that if you can push yourself through the pain, accept the suffering, and not see it as a threat, life’s challenges seem like a breeze.

At the after function, I looked around, and realized that, at the age of 30 years old, I must have been one of the youngest people there!! Middle aged people are flocking in record numbers to intense and challenging races. Something in me went off like a light-bulb. What is it about this time of life that is inspiring so many men and women to get involved in extreme exercise? Were these people challenging themselves with endurance sports such as Mont Aux Sources, Comrades or even the Ironman to deal with their “dark spots” in life…?


In 1957, a Canadian psychologist presented a paper about “death and the mid-life crisis”. His theory was that as we approach middle age, we begin to realize our own mortality and subsequently begin to freak the F**K out about how much time is left and what to do with it. And so, begins the process of buying a sports car, having affairs, travelling to faraway places, and other impulses in attempts to regain the vigor of youth that has seemingly slipped away.

But increasingly, people are responding to the anxieties of middle age not by clinging to the last of their expiring youth, but by taking on challenges that seem to belong to the youth alone: by pushing the limits of what they’re physically capable of through endurance races and extreme fitness. The focus is less on what happened before the crisis and more on what happens after. Call it the mid-life correction.

After doing some research, the average age of Comrades runners is between 35-45, the average age of Ironman SA is between 36-40 and the average age of an endurance trail run is over 40. The mid-life crisis may have slid away from the purchase of a new sports car, but these people have the new BMW X5, with Thule bike racks to transport their new Specialized mountain bike, with a Garmin Fenix watch to track the distance as they ride along. They all have all the gear you could possibly imagine, and are entering highly intensive fitness events that would make their ancestors shiver!

Though our reactions to aging might vary, we all feel a pinch of a mid-life crisis. It’s hard not to when we’re often told we’ve reached our physical prime in our twenties, and that now “it’s all downhill from here”. Of course, there is no telling what motivates people to push themselves, but in my opinion, 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.

So, I’m here to tell you to stop reminiscing about the “when we” days of being a Dusi Canoe Marathon King, running your PB half marathon in 1:36 hours, cycling the 94.7 in under 3 hours or being able to benchpress 80km with your pinkie. We have no idea of whether our physical “bests” have occurred in the past, or if now, at the age of 30, 40, 50 or 80 years old, that our physical best may actually still lie ahead. Challenge yourself and push yourself to your physical and mental limits daily, because before you know it, your time will be up, and this will no longer be an option. It’s now or never to discover how strong you can be, and in some cases, how strong you will ever be.

I couldn’t think of a better mid-life crisis to be honest. What better crisis than to be fit and healthy!???

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