Older Faster StrongerTitle: Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer
Author: Margaret Webb
ISBN: 9781623361693
Pages: 296
Publisher/Date: Rodale, c2014.

My impulse was to say no. But how could I say no? My sister is 13 years older than I. And the beauty queen was honing in on my territory. Yet the thought of running a half-marathon–I didn’t even know how far one was at the time–seemed inconceivable, overwhelming, impossible. […]
My instinctive response to my sister’s challenge was to admit defeat before even trying to declare that I was well beyond my athletic prime and saw no chance of redemption. (3-4)

On that fateful day, author Margaret Webb, 42-years-old at the time, took up her sister’s challenge in honor of her elderly mother, who legs were affected by polio. That first run was all it took, and Webb continued to run, race, and train. Years later, when she was approaching 50, she wanted to use running as a spring-board to achieve her best health yet, like she saw other older runners, especially women, achieving. Working with physicians, nutritionists, other athletes, and her regular running crew, Webb sheds a light on the history and health benefits of women taking up physical activity later in life, spotlighting those who have paved the way, the differences between female and male athletes, and the science behind this athleticism.

The science behind this journey can be confusing. Webb attempts to break it down into less jargon and more layman’s terms, and sometimes succeeds. Starting with a checklist of things that aging contributes, such as more injuries, loss of lung capacity, dexterity, flexibility, bone density, balance, estrogen and muscle mass, and increase in fat. Where she lost me was discussing VO2, which she explains is the “maximum amount of oxygen my body can use to make fuel” (19) Those readers not scientifically inclined should be prepared to read these sections two or three times in order to fully grasp the information. For instance,

I’m hauling in air, but my heart and lungs are still unable to supply enough oxygen to my working muscles, tipping them into oxygen dept. Lactic acid floods my bloodstream as my body shifts to anaerobic metabolism, away from burning energy-rich fat-which requires oxygen– to burning a thinner (less productive and plentiful) energy source, carbohydrates, which are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. […] When all the glycogen in the muscles is used, the body will suck glucose from the blood, which will run out even faster.” (35)

Her chapter titled “Eating Smarter” is much easier to understand. It discusses specific snack options (like midmorning and midafternoon snacks of 1/4 cup of nuts) and stresses a nutritionist recommended diet of cutting out simple carbohydrates instead of carb-loading before a race. It works for her, and emphasizes the difference in men and women’s ability to process carbs and the ongoing habit of doctors and researchers to apply study results to everyone when studies splitting male and female participants have shown that those findings can not be universally applied. This was surprising to me, because I mistakenly believed that since women’s athletic abilities and health issues (like risks of heart issues or cancer) have always been compared to men, that studies concerning healthy living would follow-up to prove these assumptions. It’s also interesting to hear the history of women’s running, where women were banned from marathons, with Kathrine Switzer becoming the first female runner of the Boston Marathon in 1967 while facing down the race director who tried to throw her out.

The book is filled with statistics and studies that stress the importance of adapting an active life-style, so if you weren’t convinced before picking up this book, you just might be by the time you finish it. While we all wish that we could achieve the health and fitness levels of not only the author but of the other women she features throughout the book (including world record holders and trail blazing feminists), this book may not be best for casual runners. Webb revels that she spends 10 to 12 hours training each week and travels the world running Iron Mans and marathons. I wish she had spent more time on how she got started, and what her running habits were starting at square one. For the beginner, this might be something to aspire to, but not something they should attempt to duplicate immediately.

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