I ran my first trail race on Saturday — an 8K at Lake Chabot — alongside the students with RBO. I've been fairly nervous about this one: it's the longest distance I've raced, and the weather forecast was sketchy. Rain is so needed here in California, but not really what I wanted for trekking up and down hills. But it went really well, and I did even better than I anticipated. I ran the course in under 45 minutes, coming first in my age/gender bracket. I was, in fact, the sixth woman and 25th runner overall. Not too shabby. I got a medal, impressing the students I run with (or so I'd like to think).
On one hand, it's easy to say that once you hit 50 as a woman, no one really expects much of you — athletically or otherwise. You show up; you're a winner. There isn't a lot of competition — there were only 9 women in my bracket, and only 150 or so runners overall.
That said, I think it's really important to celebrate what older women can do. I mean, I ran faster than most of the kids.
We don't celebrate menopause — hell, we don't even talk about menopause — and as of November 1 (or so), I am officially post-menopausal. (I guess it's official, right? Do I need a doctors note?)
How did I celebrate? I ran. And then I rested.
Recovery is key, I'm finding, to my running. Recovery — big big picture recovery — is key to everything. I like to remind myself that, physically at least, I am the strongest I've ever been, the fastest I've ever been. And I am getting stronger and faster.
Physically, at least. Mentally, I don't know. I mean, the recovery process there isn't quite so simple as a big meal and a good nap.
The stories we tell about aging are very rapped up in a belief that post-menopausal women are past their reproductive utility, past their prime — their bodies, already weak, can only diminish from here on out. "Science" says otherwise, but even "science" remains wrapped up in that patriarchal thinking (and a lack of much research), and while it might give me another decade or so to be physically strong, it still tends to describe post-menopausal aging as an inevitable decline and decay rather than growth, adaptation, resilience. Our culture never trusts women's bodies (women rarely trust their own); but as women age that mistrust often turns to outright disgust.
I'm very new in any "athlete" circles, and as an ethnographer, that's always a fascinating and eye-opening process. (I'm very excited, incidentally to go hear Alison Mariella Désir speak next week about her book Running While Black. Runners like to think of their community as very open. But it's one thing to say "everyone is welcome," and it's another thing entirely to build community with all bodies in mind.) I hear so many people younger than me speak with nostalgia about the athlete they once were. Me, I'm not trying to retain or regain my youth — some previous version of Audrey; I'm working on becoming the next me — and that next me is measurably (if incrementally) faster for now, but forever and ever also immeasurably stronger.