Part 1 – the Marathon

MY 52 YEAR JOURNEY TO EMBRACING MEDIOCRITY, BECOMING AN ATHLETE AND COMPLETING AN IRONMAN

Until recently, I never considered myself an athlete. Although always active, I have never been talented at any sport, I have never won a race or even came close. I have always been mediocre – at almost everything actually. Which is really hard when you have also been a perfectionist. The result, for most of my life, was not to challenge myself or step out of my comfort zone much at all. Never doing things I couldn’t be the best at meant that I hadn’t achieved a lot in this half century of life.

However, one of the greatest benefits of ageing for me has been the fact that I have come to terms with my own mortality.

My dad died of a sudden heart attack aged 47. No apparent symptoms, no warnings, no family history – he just died. His life on this earth over. As I approached that age myself, I spent much time contemplating whether I would be content with my life if it too was soon to end. Well, there wasn’t a lot to be content with if I have to be honest. Of course, I had birthed 2 of the most amazing humans I know but other than that, there was a lot of should haves, could haves, would haves but not much actually done.

Somehow (gratefully) this realization allowed me to find my way out of the perfectionist attitude that had adversely plagued my entire life up until then.

First, was the marathon I had dreamt of running since I was 15 but never thought I was capable of. I am by no means a natural endurance athlete. And, training for the marathon was one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken. As the event neared and the long training runs increased up to 25-35km, I would literally whimper and shuffle my way home hours after my family expected to see me. It was not pretty.

During the process, I also discovered that I had developed and osteoarthritic big toe joint which means that I cannot drive off my left foot properly. This caused all sorts of compensatory issues and my body struggled to maintain alignment. There was often a lot of pain involved.

On top of that, I was ultra-slow. By the time the event came around, my training times seemed to indicate that I may not even make the cut off points where you can no longer run on the actual road or finish inside the stadium.

Did any of that stop me? Amazingly, no, not this time.

The marathon day came. With no real idea how I would go, I got out there and tried. Making the cut off times was my only goal. I achieved that and more!

Completing the marathon over an hour faster than I had calculated was an amazing feeling. My family hadn’t even arrived at the finish line yet! The finish time – a decent 4hrs 6mins. Not fast but not the ultra-slow I had expected – even fairly mediocre. But for me, it was incredible!

Running the last 1km was (and still is) one of the emotional moments of my life (up there with birthing a child). I was crying and beaming at the exact same time. To think that it had taken me 32 years to find the courage to attempt a marathon and I was finally running into the MCG to cross the finish line was quite a surreal experience and one I will be forever grateful for.

This day proved to be a turning point to where my 50s have now become the best part of my life so far.

To be continued…

Why I love being a 52 year old post menopausal woman

If you told me 10 years ago (and even 5 years ago) that I would consider being this age and biological state a gift, then I doubt I would have believed you.

Tania Dalton

When we think of aging and menopause, we often envisage a downward spiral of vitality towards inevitable disease and never ending hot flashes. Menopause has always been shrouded in much negativity, embarrassment and just plain old bad publicity (which I’m hoping to help change). And, admittedly, I did struggle through my menopause transition. I was ill equipped to deal with the ramifications of flatlined hormones and the resulting symptoms – both physical and mental. I’m first to admit that I reached some major lows of my life during this time.

However, despite my challenges, I feel that ageing and menopause has allowed me to transform and reinvent myself. As my reproductive ‘nurturing’ hormones diminished and my children became more independent (I’m an ‘older’ mum where menopause and puberty coincided), I was able to once again think more about what I wanted and what made me happy, after putting everyone else’s needs first for so many years.

Now, almost 2 years after my last period, I have emerged into a new and wonderful phase of life.

My menopause symptoms have settled by basically altering my lifestyle – making small adjustments to my nutrition and exercise but mainly by prioritising sleep and stress management (I’m not saying it was easy and I acknowledge that this method does not work for everyone – we all have different genetics, backgrounds, life stresses etc).

However, I feel that the most important change has been that of my attitude.

My dad died of a sudden heart attack when he was 47 and as I approached that age, I began to fully understand how short and precious life can be. Instead of wrapping myself in cotton wool, this was the catalyst for me taking more risks and starting to live life more fully. With menopause, I was once again reminded that I had entered the final reproductive part of my life – we are in a post menopause biological state until we die.

Both these realisations have helped me to come to terms with my own mortality while also allowing me to find the courage to live in a way that I never would have imagined possible earlier in my life. Every day is now truly a gift.

Aging and menopause has transformed me into the most authentic and real version of myself.  I feel healthier and happier than ever before. I have also found my voice and my passions – they are no longer hidden behind a woman who lacked the self-confidence to explore and share them with the world.

I am vulnerable, I am resilient, I am messy, I am loving, I am unique.

At 52, I am finally, ME.

Loving my POST menopausal body

It’s only taken me 50 years or so to truly love the body I’m in.

I’m not naturally a super skinny person. I’ve always had a more athletic, curvier body shape. And, I was always embarrassed about my muscular thighs.

Throughout my life I have been extreme – both very underweight and also overweight heading towards obesity. And, for approximately 20 years, I experienced disordered eating and substantial body images issues – all because I wanted to be thinner. If anyone reading this relates, then you will know how much of a waste of life that attitude is – I allowed myself to miss out on many social and sporting opportunities because I was waiting to the slimmer, fitter and somehow ‘better’.

Luckily for me, after the birth of my daughter, I changed this extreme way of thinking and I have spent most of the last 17 years more balanced. Partly because I wanted to be a good role model for my children and partly because who has time to worry so much about the way you look with young children to care for. And during this time – I maintained a fairly stable healthy weight without over thinking it – fluctuating only when training for endurance events.

Now after hitting post menopause, as many women find, I have gained a little weight. Initially, to be honest, I found this quite distressing, as it happened relatively quickly and I suppose I wondered if it would ever stop (especially as I was training for an Ironman and imagined I would lose weight as I had done in the past with endurance training). Now, at almost 2 years post menopause, my hormones seem to have settled and my weight gain also seems to have settled (thank goodness!).

One thing that I have found interesting is that the weight I am today (around 59kg – I’m 5’4″) is the weight I was when I was 30 and also 40 (both healthy times in my life). Maybe my body is returning itself to its ‘set’ weight – ie what I call the weight I maintain easily by eating healthy but not too strictly. Whatever the case, it is quite nice to be over the diet culture days of my past and really just focused on enjoying good food and living a healthy more balanced life.

With regard to my weight gain – of course, I can’t blame everything on menopause. With the reduction in estrogen at post menopause, our ability to build muscle is definitely compromised. However, we also naturally lose muscle mass and our metabolism slows as we age. Note that we can do a lot to negate the effects of these menopausal and ageing factors, particularly by undertaking strength training, incorporating some shorter more intense workouts and ensuring our protein intake is adequate.

For other menopausal women who have found their weight increasing, I understand that it can be distressing and it may feel like you have no control. My advice, as always, is to focus on your health, not your weight.

I have made some changes to my diet to better support my post menopausal biology but I do not follow a restrictive way of eating and I do not cut out food groups – I just don’t find it necessary or fun! I eat lots of healthy mainly unprocessed foods but also make room for some of the less healthy foods I enjoy. I’m trying to add some more intentional strength/hiit sessions as noted above – though it is challenging with time while training for the ironman. When that event is completed, I’ll be focusing more on strength – for my muscles and my bones.

Most importantly, I now view healthy food and movement as a way to enhance my life and not to restrict it.  I have no intention of ever going back to the extremes from my past. At 52, I now celebrate my body (and my thighs) for how they are allowing me to live this fit, healthy and beautiful midlife.

 

lET ME REINTRODUCE MYSELF…

Midlife and menopause can be a disruptive but transformational time of life, ultimately allowing us to evolve into our most authentic and best selves.

From my late mid 40s where I was still finding my way, to now 52 with more direction, passion and happiness about ageing and the future. I began this journey navigating peri menopause (unknowingly) and am now post menopausal.

Naively, I expected the fact that I exercised and ate quite healthily would prevent me from experiencing menopause ‘issues’. I was wrong – very wrong!

However, I have viewed each menopause symptom as my body requesting me to make changes to create a better balance. So far, I have not utilised hormone treatment or rarely taken supplements. Instead, I have investigated how nutrition, exercise and lifestyle modifications can help manage my symptoms. For me, this has worked well.

Although I consider that I was quite healthy prior to menopause, I am now definitely much healthier overall. Previously, I focused more on just exercise and nutrition. Now I also prioritise things like stress management and sleep.

My body has transitioned from its reproductive years into a new stage of life where I have more freedom and more settled hormones.

Although I continue to implement strategies to improve my post menopausal health (it’s a lifelong journey for me), I am now so much more in control of my body and my hormones. And it feels great!

Entering midlife and menopause has also allowed me to finally start attempting many of the things I always dreamed of but never thought I could achieve. Now, I continually step out of my comfort zone and unlike my younger self, have the courage to risk failure.

Other women I talk to also express this but in my 50s, I think I’m finally becoming the real me. I know ‘authenticity’ is a bit of a buzz word at the moment but that really is what it comes down to. For me, menopause has been one the most challenging times of my life but also the best thing to ever happen to me.

I am more empowered and alive than ever before and I can’t wait to see where this new stage of life takes me.

healthy ageing in nature

There’s a light breeze on my face and skin and sand squishes between my toes as I walk. The repetitive sound of the ocean laps at the shore and at times surprises me with a cool rush of water around my ankles. It’s early morning and only a few surfers and other early risers are sharing the start of this new day. As the sky turns all sorts of red and pink and the sun begins it’s ascent into the sky, my body and eyes receive a morning dose of light. I feel relaxed and calm but also fresh with a sense of exhilaration and excitement for what the day will bring.

What is it about being in nature that makes us feel so good? And, can spending more time in nature actually improve our health and help us age better?

In our modern world where we increasingly experience ‘nature deprivation’ due to constantly being ‘connected’ to the internet or our phones and we are often confined to the concrete jungles of cities, research is beginning to suggest that connecting to the natural world may be part of the solution to reducing much of the inflammation, stress and disease that afflicts society, particularly as we age.

The benefits of spending time in nature are increasingly being investigated and there seems to be few downsides. Studies show that our blood pressure and stress hormone levels may lower and our immune system function can be enhanced – resulting in reduced risk of diseases such as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But more than that, feeling a part of nature can significantly improve vitality, mood and mindfulness.

Terms such as ‘ecotheraphy’ and ‘ecophsychology’ are now part of an emerging field of psychology where the outdoors is viewed as a natural healer. Clinicians utilise a variety of outdoor experiences as part of a preventative and restorative health strategy

Studies so far all point in one direction – nature is not just nice to have, but a must have for both physical and mental health. To consider that by immersing ourselves in what is generally a free experience, we can gain health benefits that no pill so far developed can offer, seems so simple but also so amazingly wonderful.

Is there a ‘best way’ to obtain nature benefits?

As with all aspects of health, it’s important to find what works best for your individual body and mind. However, one benchmark for the optimal time spent in nature is 120 minutes or more per week. What do you think? Is the investment of 2 hours of your week, where you just wander or sit or relax in nature, worth immediate and long term health benefits? For me, the answer is a resounding YES!

There are many ways we can do this – whether that’s at a local park or beach or somewhere far away from anywhere.

Personally, I like to use the term ‘wilding’ to describe my intentional time spent in nature. Walking on the beach is where I feel my very best and most happy. However, I also love hiking and being in the mountains. And, don’t get me started on the benefits of camping without power or reliable phone service for a couple of weeks. I do this every summer and come back feeling and looking fit, healthy and totally revived. My circadian rhythms reset after waking at first light and going to sleep at dark exhausted from moving all day in the outdoors. I hope to be ‘wilding’ my way into healthy old age.

Familiar with earthing or forest bathing?

Earthing (or grounding) refers to walking barefoot outside where the Earth’s electrons transfer from the ground into the body, possibly providing health benefits including better sleep and reduced pain. Earthing can be complex but simply for me, this means walking barefoot on the beach – it feels good.

Japanese, Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” is a poetic name for spending time in the forest, either sitting, lying down or just walking around. There are now even Forest Therapists who are trained to expose participants to a sensory experience as they walk in nature slowly and mindfully so that all senses are engaged.

Intuitively I think we all know that nature is good for us, though at times, we may discard this simple health strategy as less important than something we must purchase.

However, perhaps it’s time for a rethink and to consider adding wilding, earthing, forest bathing or simple a walk in a local park into our schedules. Then, turn off our phone and actually immerse ourselves fully, so that we can truly appreciate the multi-sensory experiences and healthy ageing benefits that mother nature provides.

re-building my self-esteem during menopause

Menopause changes you – well, for me it has. I remember my grandmother talking about ‘the change’ and it sounding like something I definitely did not want! Naively, I also thought that I was so ‘healthy’ that menopausal symptoms wouldn’t affect me and that the only ‘change’ I would experience was that I would no longer have a period.

Of course, reality hit with a hormonal bang and I experienced more menopausal symptoms that I even realised existed. Symptoms such as night sweats (more like night rivers), heavy bleeding, aching joints, weight gain, belly fat etc were obvious. Less tangible (though maybe more debilitating) were the physiological issues that often happen as our hormones fluctuate uncontrollably and then flatline forever.

For me, I also experienced unexpected feelings of loss as I realised that my child bearing days were over. It wasn’t that I wanted another child with 2 demanding teenagers at home but having this biological ability taken from me without my consent maybe highlighted that I was ageing, regardless of how well I took care of my health.

As my estrogen depleted, my skin changed – thinner, less elastic, more wrinkles, more sag. And, it wasn’t just on my face. My knees, my thighs, my previous quite ok bottom – everything lost its ‘pertness’ and dare I say ‘youthfulness’. No matter how many lotions, potions or scrubs I apply, the fact is that my skin just isn’t the same anymore.

Add sleep issues, pelvic floor problems (anyone else actually wet themselves in public?!), my osteoarthritic toe joint preventing me from wearing the high heels I used to love (comfort shoes only now) and my favourite clothes not fitting me the way they have for the last 20 years.

With all that joy (I’m being sarcastic!) came a severe knock to my self-esteem.

I am the first to acknowledge that in the scheme of things, I am very lucky. I have gained a little weight but managed to keep it relatively under control without doing anything extreme, I am very fit and healthy and I have dealt with most of my menopausal symptoms utilising diet and lifestyle modifications. So far I have not needed to take any hormonal treatment. Really, my self-esteem issues are minor. But they are also real. How your feel about yourself impacts your life in so many ways.

Self-esteem can be a big issue for menopausal women. I am a member of several menopause Facebook groups and I read daily posts about women struggling with how menopause has adversely affected their life and in particular, the way they feel about themselves – often that they feel like they are becoming invisible, getting ‘old’ and grieving their younger body and self. It can be really confronting and sad to see women who feel like their best life is over and they can’t do anything about it. Realistically, we could possibly have another 30-40, even 50 years to live.

For me, although I admit that I have had my moments over the last few years where I have grieved my younger self, I have also become much more accepting of the ageing process. My face and body have changed and will continue to change. I’m not always going to love the changes but I am learning to be the best version of me at the age I am right now. With the loss of fertility there are also many benefits – no more contraception, periods or hormonal fluctuations (once you hit post menopause). I have also learned to be much kinder to myself in general – something I think is imperative as we age. And, of course I always remind myself that ageing is a privilege that my own father, who died of a sudden heart attack at 47, did not get to experience.

At the same time however, I’m not giving up – on my appearance, my life aspirations or my sensuality. I will continue (as I have done for the last 30 years) to try to make movement and good nutrition a part of my everyday life. When I am fit and healthy, I feel so much better about myself and my body, regardless of my age, ability or even my weight. I believe that health is one of the keys to ageing optimally. Fashion will always be a passion of mine and although I may no longer wear ultra high heel stilettos, I have found quite a few nice ‘comfort shoe’ heels that are much more attractive than the comfort shoes that my grandmother wore at my age. I also feel that this time in history is one where women are rewriting what it means to be menopausal and ageing. We are showing the younger generation of women that life can actually get better with age.

Personally, menopause has been the catalyst for me making many positive changes to my life that have not only rebuilt my self-esteem but actually enhanced it. I now feel more freedom to express myself, more confident about my abilities and more at ease being my authentic self. Although menopause can be a really challenging time of life, it can also be a time of beautiful transformation.

Tania

How AND WHY i created a meditation habit

Although I’ve never been a very spiritual person myself, I have always liked the ‘idea’ of meditation, yoga etc. I am however, a very evidence based, research backed advocate when it comes to health and wellness. And the research now shows that meditation can definitely provide us with many health benefits.

These benefits include improved emotional health, stress reduction, reduced anxiety, enhanced self-awareness, increased attention span, reduced age related memory loss, improved sleep, pain management, decreased blood pressure – the list is endless.

At midlife, hormonal changes, life changes and general ‘am I getting old?’ changes create additional stress in our lives. For me, I recognised that my ability to manage stress was not so good. My dad died of a sudden heart attack at age 47 and I feel that his lack of knowledge about how to adequately deal with stress contributed significantly. I knew I had to create stress management habits and meditation has been part of that.

So, for the last few years I have played around with meditation. I’ve read books, tried a few different methods and joined online courses. I would meditate regularly for a few days, even a couple of weeks but then stop when my life got too busy and stressful (exactly when I should have been doing it!). In the past I would also say that I failed at meditation – I have a very busy mind and I’d often sit there thinking about all the things I needed to do and become even more stressed! However, over the last year, I’ve realised that you cannot actually ‘fail’ at meditation. Your mind will naturally wander. It’s part of the process. Learning to bring the attention back to the meditation is the key. For me, sometimes it doesn’t come back and I accept that and try again next time. Changing the way I view meditation has allowed me to embrace it – there is not right or wrong when it comes to meditation.

Micro habit creation has also become part of my health regime. If possible, when I want to add a new healthy habit into my life, I start small, very small and it must be super easy to incorporate into my day. Using this method has helped me create a meditation habit.

I am currently using the Insight Timer app and I mainly use the guided meditations, though there is also some great music/non-speaking options. I started with 1 minute meditations once a day. I then added a second 1 minute meditation each day (generally when I wake and and before I go to sleep). It is simple, easy and even after a minute, I feel calmer. Gradually, I have begun exploring longer meditations but if I have limited time then I return to my 1 minute meditation. In stressful situations, I now also often think about my favourite 1 minute meditation and try to slow my breath.

My app showed me that I achieved 90 consecutive meditation days recently (which I found truly amazing considering my past efforts) but missed a couple of days here and there over the festive season. This was a trigger for when I could possible stop again for an extended time. However, I actually found I craved my meditation sessions. For me, that shows that meditation has now become a habit. I need to meditate to feel ‘normal’ – like brushing my teeth, it is a part of my day and I feel like something is missing if I don’t do it.

Although I’m not sure whether I will ever be someone who will meditate for an hour each day, I am interested to see where my meditation journey takes me. It’s definitely something that I’m pleased I have successfully incorporated into my daily life and hopefully I’ll be meditating myself into a happier, calmer and healthier life.

Tania

2021 – my year of midlife transformation

At 52, I suppose I’ve been classified as a midlifer for quite some time. However, up until now, I feel like I’ve been more in a transition period – at times quite a messy one. There was a lot going on.

Although no-one really knows when it truly starts, I think my peri-menopause journey commenced at around 47. Of course, you don’t just wake up one day and excitedly do a test like you do when you are trying to fall pregnant (and who ever really thinks of joy when you mention the taboo word of ‘menopause’?). No, peri-menopause sneaks up on you. Before you know it, your hormones, body and mind are going crazy, you have no idea what has happened and you have changed – forever.

I’ve experienced many changes throughout this transition – and they often haven’t been positive ones. Ridiculously, I naively thought that my quite healthy lifestyle would protect me from most menopause symptoms. Nope – over the last 5 years, I experienced symptoms including (but not limited to) severe night sweats, continuous heavy bleeding, uncontrollable rages, excruciatingly sore joints, nightly sleep disturbances (insomnia, frequent waking, numerous toilet visits, tossing and turning, sore joints), vaginal dryness, creepy skin, weight gain, muscle loss etc etc. I’ve also experienced weird feelings of loss – of my child bearing abilities, my youth, my waistline and also my femininity to some extent (things I never thought would concern me).

All that sounds horrendous (and at times it was) but now at 18 months post menopause, things seem to be settling down and I’m feeling good – thank goodness!

Over the last 5 years, I’ve educated myself, read widely, researched, completed courses and experimented. As a result, I have made quite a few changes to my nutrition, exercise and lifestyle which has helped to manage the majority of my menopause symptoms. However, something which I think has made the biggest impact is that I’ve also taken much more responsibility for my own health and overall life. I now consider myself to be the expert of me (after all I’ve known myself for 52 years now). I seek guidance from professionals but if I don’t get the answers I’m looking for, then I now speak up, ask questions and often get a second opinion.

As difficult as it has been, the challenges I have experienced and dealt with have allowed me to come out the other side feeling more confident, happier and excited about this next phase of my life. I feel much more in control of my body and I’m actually healthier than ever before. Although I only needed to make small adjustments to some areas such as my exercise and nutrition habits, I did have to make some big changes to other areas, such as the way I managed stress and prioritised sleep.

Of course, I don’t have everything perfect and that’s no longer a goal of mine. I am a continuous work in progress, there are continuous bumps along the road and things will continue to change as I age. However, I’m now ready to bloom, to thrive and to unveil the woman I have evolved into through this menopause process and transition. I’m ready to transform into the most authentic and best version of me.

2021 is my year of midlife transformation.

Tania