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Leslie Carlson: You can love your body at every age!


Ready to race

I started racing cyclocross at age 44, an age when many people are slowing down and a time when a lot of women start to experience the impacts of peri-menopause. Older women know that this can be a difficult time of life, but I’m here to tell you it can also be a great time of life. You just need to learn how to take care of the changing body you’re living in!

 

One of the things I had to learn was to pay more/better attention to my habits because you just can’t get away with as many bad habits in your 50s as in your 20s. I eat much better than I did decades ago paying attention to the amount of protein and fiber and fresh food I eat. Also, I try to have good rest days and get good sleep (though that can be hard as you get older).


I’ve developed ways to stretch and build strength through Pilates and strength training with Kirk and Jenny Whiteman of Tempo cycling & pilates studio. All of this has helped me continue to race at a high level while getting older. Of course, good recovery and managing injury is essential, which is where Dialed[In] Muscle Cream comes in. All this is how I plan to continue to be active into my 70s and 80s.


Why & how I started riding my bike


I started riding a bike at a very difficult point in my life. I was in my 40s, going through a divorce, the mother of three school-aged kids, and trying to start a business---all at the same time. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and stressed and searching for a way back to feeling good. And, while I had played soccer in high school and college and ran a little in my 20s, it had been a while since I’d moved my body regularly and with purpose.

 

I started riding my bike every chance I could, sometimes leaving my house in early morning darkness to get a few miles in before I had to get the kids ready for school. In addition, I rode during my spare time and found other women to ride with, which brought me a new social life when I needed it.


Racing in the mud can be fun


Soon, I found that riding worked better for me than anti-depressants or therapy---riding was therapy. When the chance to join an all-women’s cyclocross team came my way, I just jumped at the chance, even though I was so frightened to try something new. I had ridden off-road only a handful of times! It turns out that riding around a muddy, sandy, and gravel-y race course with a bunch of other nutty folks was exactly what I needed.






Building community and racing in the mud

Cyclocross is beginner-friendly, with a great supportive culture and pros and novices riding the same course as all the teams in their tents along the course yell good-natured heckles and cheer. It has provided me the opportunity to challenge myself, to laugh at myself, make new friends and sometimes, to scare myself in a very good way.




On being an athlete in your 40s, 50s and beyond

 

I’m my own worst critic, and I’ve often had to fight the urge to quit racing because bike racing---any competitive sport, really---is just not something that is socially accepted and understood. I started over ten years ago at the age of 44, and many of my family and friends thought I was nuts.




Spattered with mud, and satisfied

I spent a lot of time on the start line thinking about how ridiculous it is, and that I’m way too old to compete, and that I should just quit and be “normal.” I had internalized the idea that middle-aged and older women don’t race bikes! Yet every weekend in the fall there are a dozen or more women like me who line up to race each other again and again. And, we go hard every race.



I tell people to do things that scare them and that aren’t considered “normal.” I am at that stage in life where I have truly integrated the truth that life’s too short to worry about what others think. It is good for women of a certain age to push up against what is considered normal.

 

One of the things that inspires me today is how mainstream women’s professional athletics have become, with their own fan bases and television deals.

 

I am from the first generation of girls post-Title IX, the girls who got to play sports just like the boys. It is wonderful to see female pro athletes making a living at the sports they love, and that we all get to watch them do it.

 

My hope for the future is that we pay more attention to master athletes---people 40, 50, and 60 years old who are still competing at a high level. So much of being an older woman is feeling invisible because our culture does not yet value what we can be and do. I invite all the female athletes in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond to change that with me.


In her own words: written by Leslie Carlson


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