ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

How an ordinary, post menopausal woman became an Ironman

I am an Ironman. Around 30 years of wondering, 2 years of training, a 3.8km ocean swim, 180km cycle & 42.2km run later I was legitimately able to say those words a year ago. Definitely nowhere near the front of the pack but pretty amazing for someone who never ever in a million years imagined she could actually achieve anything like this.

As the Cairns Ironman event took place again this weekend, I’m sitting here (not so ironman fit) following the race and reminiscing about my own amazing experience (still not quite sure if I’ll ever line up again – but as they say, anything is possible).

For some reason, I haven’t written about it fully yet – somewhat like childbirth, big events like this take quite some time for me to recover from – physically and mentally!

The journey to becoming an Ironman was, for me, the most challenging thing I have ever undertaken in my life.

Becoming selfish

The time commitment for me was huge. Although generally the training load didn’t seem so large most of the time, I didn’t initially consider thing like going for a swim for example would add another hour of travel, shower etc. The recovery from long cycling and runs ate into my days as I tried to allow my body to adapt and I was often useless afterwards. When you head out for a 100km ride, for someone as slow as me, that means it’s going to take twice as long as a more gifted athlete. Over the long 2 years, although I did miss some training sessions, I think I only ever missed 1 full week. For me, this was incredible in itself and also a very long slog. When my training weeks were at their highest, I found it really difficult balancing life.

I also recall my coach telling me 7 weeks out from the event that now was the time I had to get selfish. I immediately thought, ‘gosh, I feel like I’ve been selfish for the last 2 years!’. Juggling 2 busy teenagers, a small renovation, a new dog, a new horse, study, some work (which I cut back considerably) and all the other things that go with life was confronting for this woman who had always put everything and everyone else first.

Add to that, literally the month I decided to start training and find a coach, I had my last ever period. That was when I say that my ‘real menopause’ started – and boy did it start!

Yes, I had fumbled my way through peri-menopause symptoms like severe night sweats, crazy mood swings, blood bath periods, sleepless nights etc but ultimately, I thought I had things all under control. To be honest, physically I looked better than I ever had in my life. During peri-menopause I achieved my lifelong goal of running a marathon and completed a half ironman triathlon. Unintentionally stripping back body fat during this training, I was looking and feeling pretty good. Of course, I thought I was managing quite OK –  menopause wasn’t so bad – what was everyone complaining about?

Well, the combination of ironman training and flatlined reproductive hormones put me back in my smug little box and decided to provided the biggest test of my life.

Menopause issues

With the change in hormones, it felt like literally overnight that I was not only losing muscle mass but also gaining weight at an alarming rate, despite training for an ultra-event. Whereas in peri-menopause when I was training for the marathon and half ironman triathlon, weight would fall off me and my muscles would become more prevalent, with the loss of my reproductive hormones, my body was definitely not coming to the ‘lean, mean, triathlon machine’ party I had imagined for myself as an ironman triathlete

But it wasn’t just physical changes. Despite not training considerably more than I had in the past, I just wasn’t recovering the same. I was exhausted all of the time. Although I was getting through my training, I wasn’t improving. I actually felt like I was going backwards. It was such a distressing time. I felt like an idiot and was sure my coach must have thought I was manipulating training peaks or something!

And, for the first time in my life, I was struggling to get out of bed. I recognised that I seemed to be in “overtrained” state but it just didn’t make sense with my reasonable training load. I then found myself continually googling things like chronic fatigue and adrenal fatigue. And, ‘what the hell is happening to me’!

Needless to say, I almost gave up my ironman dream numerous times. And, perhaps if I hadn’t started my ‘athletic’ career so late in life, then I would have given up.

Eventually, I realised that I needed to change things – as a post menopausal women, my body needed a different approach. I set about educating myself, visiting doctors, completing an athletic menopause course and talking to anyone with the slightest knowledge about menopause.

What I discovered? That my physical symptoms were possibly related to menopause (although there was no direct correlation). But more importantly, it was how I was managing my lifestyle during this time, when my body was going through this huge transition, that was probably the main problem. The positives that I took away from my research and studies? That there were ways to limit the detrimental effects that menopause was causing and also a way forward with my ironman training.

I’ve learnt from my ironman training experience, that we need to work with our own unique body and circumstances. What is ideal is not always what is possible – and we need to adapt and adjust things to suit our own individual needs.

Body image

As I moved forward with my ironman training, I also gradually adjusted my mindset – particularly about my body. I realised that now was definitely not the time to stress about my weight I needed to fuel my body to get through the training. And, I have to admit that this was really hard for me. There were times throughout the journey, that I had thoughts along the lines of – how can I complete an ironman at my heaviest weight in probably 25 years?

I also had times where I wondered what people thought when I said I was training for an ironman, as I wasn’t looking my best physically. Because, to be honest, I also naively held the notion that you needed to be ultra-thin to do these ultra kind of events. However, menopause has truly taught me, that athletic women come in all shapes and sizes. I might not have looked as stereotypically ‘fit’ as I was 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago but I was heading towards achieving a goal I never imagined was possible when I was younger or slimmer.

Snap lockdown

Around 2 weeks out from the event, I was finally feeling ready – finally. Initially I’d planned to do the Ironman 6 months after I started training but menopause issues, covid lockdowns and race cancellations had dragged that out for another 18 months. It had been 2 years of ups and downs – to be honest, an awful lot of downs.

When it was announced that Melbourne was going into yet another snap lockdown I was forced to make a decision – hope that it was going to be the few days they were saying or get myself out of town. Within 24 hours, I had thrown all my gear into a bag, booked a new flight, begged the bike shop where I had booked a bike bag to spend part of their last opening morning packing my bike for me, picked up my hired wetsuit, booked a maxi cab and headed to the airport.

On the way to the airport it was announced that anyone arriving from Melbourne in this 24 hour period would have to go into lockdown in Queensland. I recall sitting at the airport with my bags and bike bag around me feeling despondent and tears welling up. 2 hours before my flight and I had to decide to go and risk being in lockdown there and not doing the event or staying in Melbourne. I eventually stopped feeling sorry for myself and checked in – I had to try.

Arriving at my very basic accommodation in Cairns at midnight (that I had booked at the airport), dragging my bike bag and other bags up the stairs and into my room, I was still wondering if I had made the right decision. When the door wouldn’t lock and eventually fell off, I was really not sure!

As I was technically in lockdown I wasn’t even really supposed to be going out at all. The next morning, I risked breaking the law and dragged my bike bag the 2km down the road to the bike shop to get my bike put back together. Seriously wish I had this on film – it was a comedy – bike bags are really heavy and the wheels do not work well!

Eventually I settled into lockdown routine. I was able to go out to buy groceries and theoretically one hour of exercise 5km from my accommodation – I may have extended that a little but luckily I was tapering so it wasn’t so bad. The one bonus of arriving so early – I was definitely able to acclimatise to the warm, humid conditions of Cairns.

2 days out from the event my stress levels were partly alleviated. It was confirmed that I was cleared to race. Yeh!! What a relief as I’d spent all this time still not sure if I could even start the race because of the lockdown conditions.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the most idea taper but mentally, it had given me even more incentive that if I got to the start line, I’d give it my all. This may be my one and only chance to compete in an ironman.

The event

The race itself was of course really hard.

However, I was prepared. All those challenges throughout the 2 years of training had made me stronger.

The swim – the sea was quite rough at Palm Cove which isn’t unusual.

I recall seeing people being rescued before we even hit the first buoy. But, for some reason I felt relaxed. I was determined to soak up every part of this experience. As I swam, I looked out to the shore and saw the tropical mountains behind – something you can’t see from the sand. It was very calming. Initially I had hoped to draft someone slightly faster than me and conserve energy but everyone around me seemed to be zig zagging everywhere. Quite quickly I decided to just do my own thing – I settled into a rhythm, rolled with the waves and in no time at all I was powering with the tide into shore.

The cycle – the longest part and it was always going to be tough for me.

I’m not a good cyclist. The course is rolling (kind of feels like mountains) and notoriously windy, especially coming back. You ride to Port Douglas twice from Palm Cove (bloody hell!) and then back into Cairns – so it’s quite a big chunk into the wind. 180km is a really long way for me.

My goals were to stay in the aero position as much as possible, keep my core temperature down as much as possible in the tropics and not allow my heart rate to rise too much. Of course, I was in pain a lot – my back hurt, my osteoarthritic toe joint was throbbing and as the day began to warm up it was a constant challenge to manage my menopausal temperature. Amazingly, I only stopped once for the entire 180km to refill my pockets with food – a record for me and I’m still not sure how I managed to do that.

During the cycle I constantly chanted to myself – I am strong, I am prepared, I am capable – the words that had been part of my favourite guided meditation leading up to the event. I also sang the Ironman song, Hall of Fame, to myself – a lot! Watching the YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUlPrWg9Ef-IGsKRfDCPPew less than 3 minutes – take a look – it’s pretty inspirational) was something that had kept me going throughout my training and again I utilised this to get me through the event.

When my repair kit (that I have to admit I still didn’t really know how to use properly) flew off into the bushes about 40km from Cairns I was fairly nervous, especially as I rode past someone on the side of the road with a flat. By then there wasn’t a lot of support out on the course – the elites had finished hours before. But, somehow I made it safely into Cairns.

The run – almost there (kind of – just 42.2km to go!).

When I was in the change tent, I was smiling. I always knew that if I got to that point, I could probably finish. Of course, there was always the chance that I hadn’t fuelled or hydrated correctly (I’d never exercised for this long before in my life so it was still a bit of the unknown) and I could be one of those people who are taken away by an ambulance with 10km to go. But, I was pretty confident. I hadn’t overdone things on the bike and I had a good plan for the run.

Was the run easy – no, it was really hard. Apart from my osteoarthritic toe joint hurting continuously and my body feeling exhausted, I was also out there completely alone. As I had escaped the Melbourne lockdown earlier, my support crew wasn’t there with me. I’m not part of a club and didn’t really know anyone else in the tri world. Where I saw other people with their families and friends holding up signs of encouragement and cheering them on, I had no-one. At times people around me had friends come out and run part of the course with them to keep them going. Not me.

However, although I did feel a bit sorry for myself at times, I think being completely alone also made me stronger. There was only one person who was going to get me to the finish line and that was me – if I did get there then I deserved that medal.

As the day turned into night, and there were less people on the course it definitely became harder. I knew that there would be a few points in particular where I would have to dig deep and yep, those times came. Around 10km and 20km I started to wonder how I could possibly go on. My one goal on the run was not to walk any of the course except when I was grabbing a drink at an aid station. And that is what kept me going – yes, I was reduced to the ironman shuffle but realistically it wasn’t a lot different than my usual running style!

With 5km to go, the emotions started to roll in. The memories of all those hard training sessions where I’d spent a lot of time crying and my kids telling me I couldn’t give up were entering my mind and I was telling myself that it had all been worth it. This 2 year journey was coming to an end. I cried a little but pulled myself together.

The last 2km of the Ironman. I was sprinting. Actually, I was probably shuffling but I felt like I was sprinting! The hugest grin on my face and all the pain was gone.

I turned into the finish chute with the announcer and crowd singing YMCA. Thanks Pete Murray – I really wanted you to hear you call out ‘Tania you are an Ironman’ – but he was busy! I’ve tried to reframe that to be that I was sprinting so fast down the red carpet that he didn’t have a chance! A nice lady called it out which was fine. Did I need Pete’s voice to confirm that I was an Ironman?

No, I was here in Cairns completely alone. I had found every ounce of strength inside myself to get through the day. On 6 June 2021 at around 9.45pm at night, thirteen hours forty two minutes and fifty one seconds after I headed out into the sea in Palm Cove, I crossed the finish line and I became an Ironman.

Although my time was not extraordinary, I was a winner! It was such a euphoric experience – right up there with childbirth. One of the most incredible moments of my life! I was overcome with emotion, I was smiling while at the same time sobbing uncontrollably with joy, relief and happiness.

Somehow this shoulda coulda woulda woman who had spent most of her perfectionist life never stepping out of her comfort zone had, at 52, endured 2 years of training, transitioned to post menopause and completed an event that she never imagined possible even in her 20s or 30s.

I’ve said it before but we really are capable of so much more than we can ever image – regardless of our ability, our age or our reproductive status.

Anything is possible.

Tania

Embracing my menopausal curves

Would we dare tell our daughters that growing hips and breasts at puberty is unacceptable?

Yet, why do we often feel that gaining a few extra pounds and a little more belly fat at menopause is unacceptable for ourselves?

Menopause, like puberty, results in a change in our reproductive hormones and subsequently, there are often changes in our body composition. I don’t know the official stats or even the scientific data, however from the conversations I’ve had (a lot of them), I’d estimate that 95% of post-menopausal women would say that they have gained a little weight and some extra belly fat.

Are there things we can do to prevent this? To some extent, yes. Strength training, for example, will help to minimise the natural loss of muscle mass we experience with declining estrogen/age and subsequently minimise body composition changes. Other training such as short sessions of HIIT (high intensity interval training) may also work well with our new hormonal status.

However, are we doing ourselves (and our daughters who will also eventually experience menopause) a disservice by still aspiring to the type of lean physique that generally (there are genetically blessed exceptions of course) can only be achieved through strict exercise and dieting practices? And, is that actually healthy (both the extremes and the mindset)? 

Should we perhaps be viewing a post-menopausal woman’s belly and the more rounded shape that many of us gain, as something as beautiful as the breasts and hips we received at puberty?

Personally, I’ve contemplated these very questions myself (intensively) over the last couple of years as my body has changed – literally what felt like overnight when my reproductive hormones diminished.

Of course, I’m not about to stop exercising, laze on the couch all day, eat bucket loads of chocolate (though occasionally I may do that without guilt) and allow myself to become unhealthy. Health is important to me. It’s who I am.

I know that if I move my body intelligently and regularly, eat a relatively healthy diet (with some chocolate included) and ensure I optimise my sleep etc, then my body will naturally find it’s correct weight and shape. Will that be the same as it was 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago? In all honesty, I don’t think it will – and I have to admit that I have struggled with this idea. On the other hand, I’m also not prepared to undertake the deprivation/obsessiveness I may need to achieve an aesthetic that is possibly no longer realistic for me.

My daughter kindly reminded me recently ‘mum, you talk about how it’s normal to gain some weight and more belly fat at menopause all the time to other women but then you say you wish you fitted into your old clothes – you need to remind yourself that it’s ok as well!’ Thanks, my very wise 17 year old! So true! And, thank you for reminding me that you are always watching and listening to what I do and how I talk to myself. How I approach this time of life will undoubtedly impact my daughter’s own menopause experience in the future.

So, what’s my way forward? As I discussed with another lovely midlife woman recently, who articulated this so well, I know what my values are and what I want my body to be able to do in another 20 years or so. It’s not really so important what my body looks like. I’m more interested in whether I can still hike up mountains, travel and explore new places by foot and maybe even compete triathlons in my 70s and beyond. To achieve that, I can’t be a skinny, frail older lady. I need to be fit, strong and healthy. My thoughts just need to catch up with what I know is right (and good) for me.

My extra belly fat and my larger bottom? At 53, maybe it’s finally about time that I learned to embrace the curves seem to be part of my natural genetic makeup.

My heart on heart health

As a 53 year old post menopausal woman, I’m not focused on how big my thighs are or what I look like in a swimsuit (the accompanying photo is merely to hopefully get you to look and read a little deeper).

For me, it’s about my health – for now and as I age. Especially heart health.

The recent death of cricketer Shane Warne and Senator Kimberley Kitching (both from Melbourne and aged 52) of heart attacks has instigated lots of conversations about heart health in day to day conversations and in our press.  The leading cause of death for people aged 45-64 in Australia is in fact heart disease. The Heart Foundation in Australia has also reported a considerable increase in enquires from people about heart health – something I’m really happy about.

As you may know, my dad died of a sudden heart attack when he was 47 (no warning, no known heart issues, no family history – he just died). I can’t begin to describe the impact my dad’s death has had on my family

It was the 29th anniversary a couple of weeks ago and I still remember that time like it was yesterday. As the oldest child, a 24 year old who had never even attended a funeral, I organised my dads. My mum was in shock, so I fumbled my way through the arrangements – selecting his coffin and flowers was, for some reason, the very hardest part.

Even 29 years later we still feel his loss. We have all missed out on so much. From walking my sister and I down the aisle on our wedding days, to seeing my brother (who was only 8 when dad died) grow into one of the most kind and caring men (and now father himself) I know, to our children not getting to spend time with my dad learning to garden and seeing the baby lambs in spring like I did as a child at my grandparents farm.

My mum lost not only the love of her life but also her future life as well. Their dreams of retiring onto a farm disintegrated on that fateful day in February – the only nice thing (if you can call it that) was that my dad died on his beloved sheep property. We planted trees in the spot where he died but sadly, the property is now sold because again, the dream life my parents had for their future could not happen without him.

Other than the big things, it’s also just the little things I still miss. To be able to call my dad and discuss everyday stuff is something that I still mourn.

My dad’s death however, was the impetus for me becoming a personal trainer and why I have spent the last 29 years so passionate about healthy ageing. I have always said that if I can impact even one person to make positive changes to their lifestyle thereby saving them from dying of heart disease and preventing another family having to go through what mine has, then I will be happy.

As a post menopausal woman, I know that other than my family history of heart disease, the change in my reproductive hormones has increased the risk of me developing heart disease. What I’m doing about that? I’m proactive with my health. I move daily, eat a relatively healthy diet and I get regular heath checks. If I see any markers moving the wrong way, then I will be making necessary changes to my lifestyle. It’s an ongoing thing for me now. I know that in order to give myself every chance at living a long, healthy life, having the opportunity to see my children become adults and possibly become a grandparent myself one day, then I must take responsibility for and advocate for my health.

To be honest, in some ways it’s empowering. While genetics do influence our lifespan, we also have so much control over how we work with what we have and ultimately how well we age. Midlife can be an opportunity to re-evaluate where we are and how we want to live the rest of our life.

I choose a vision for my future of vibrant health and happiness and my heart full of love, not of disease.

One precious life

What will you do with the remainder of this one precious life?

Over the last 6 or so years in midlife, as I’ve transitioned through peri-menopause into post menopause, a lot has changed.

It all started with reaching the age my dad was when he died (47). This birthday catapulted me into truly coming to terms with my own mortality. What if I only lived a short life like my Dad? All those dreams I saw for my future life as a teenager (but never managed to attempt or achieve), began to bubble up through the maze of my crazy fluctuating hormones.

Midlife crisis or midlife reinvention? Still not exactly sure. First a marathon, then half ironman triathlons, hiking mountains, surfing, a solo adventure to a Greek island to celebrate my 50th, a full ironman triathlon, speaking on numerous podcasts and many other little things that I had always shied away from through fear and lack of confidence. I’ve probably achieved more in the last 6 years than I did in the previous 30.

But over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating again. Now what?

Undoubtedly at least half my life is over and what do I want to do with what’s left?

Initially, I imagined I would have grand plans but life has a way of showing us the way forward. Several things have happened within my life over the last few months that have highlighted what’s important to me.

My core values are family, health and lifelong learning.

So, that’s where I’m focusing my energy going forward. I’m prioritizing my family more, working on new health habits (for me, mainly creating more balance in my movement, nutrition, mindfulness – less extreme stuff and more sustainable long term health practices) and continuing with my love of learning by enrolling in new courses and broadening my skills in menopause health in particular. I hope to share my knowledge with other midlife women.

Such simple things but I’ve come to appreciate that in the end, it’s the little things in life that are what truly make me happy and content.

What about you? What will you do with the remainder of your one precious life?

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