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R/C Race Team member Tom Sell on training, racing and physically surviving age 40+

I ain’t as good as I once was
But I’m as good once as I ever was

I used to be hell on wheels
Back when I was a younger man

Now MY body says you can’t do this boy
But my pride says oh yes you can

~ Toby Keith



If you have never used a rotary telephone, listened to an 8-track player, or seen an episode of The Six-Million Dollar Man then you should probably not waste your time reading this article. If you can totally relate to those things listed above than you should read on and take notes.

Unless you are a fine wine or cheese, the aging process is not kind. I like what aging does for my mind, but I’m not so happy about the changes that are taking place physically. There is no fountain of youth or way to reverse the aging process; but the good news is that by properly taking care of your body and understanding what to expect in your 40’s you can keep training and racing for years with minimal declines in performance.

The age of forty IS just a number but it signifies a point in life in which you can expect some subtle changes to occur plus or minus a couple of years. As I write this I am exactly a month away from my forty-fifth birthday and so I feel somewhat qualified to expound on the aging process. I have seen some recent outstanding performances by some 40+ dudes that continue to give me hope. Last years Mount Mitchell Challenge saw 42-year-old Mark Lunblad best the field by 10 minutes. My good friend 46-year-old Dean Thompson crushed the Dalton half-marathon winning, by over 3 minutes, in 1:16:06; and I witnessed a strong second overall by 52-year-old Hugh Enicks in Chattanooga’s Inaugural 7 Bridges Marathon, running an amazing 2:53. These guys are somewhat anomalies, but still give the rest of us hope that 40+ is not the end of our competitiveness.

Recovery time

The biggest change I have noticed in the last few years is my ability to recover from going hard in both training and in races. The day after a hard effort I felt like I was a piñata at a nine-year-olds birthday party. During hard efforts, cells are damaged. When you were younger these damaged cells repaired themselves very quickly. As you age, however, the healing/repairing process is much slower. You need to give yourself extra time to recover from hard efforts. I try to use a light active recovery workout(easy running, swimming, biking) paired with icing of the most affected areas and self massage using either The Stick or my thumbs digging deep into knotted tissue to help break up the knots. I do try to steer away from use of NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs aka aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) unless I am really in a lot of pain. I just don’t like putting unnecessary drugs into my body, not to mention that sometimes those NSAIDs will mask pain and lead you to push harder sooner and sustain an even worse injury. I stretch a lot and try to ingest high proteins and nutrient-dense foods as I continue the recovery process.

Loss of Muscle Mass

Your maximum strength occurs in your mid-twenties and starts to decline thereafter at the rate of (0.5-1% per year). That means that by the time you roll into your 40’s you may have lost up to 15% of your muscle strength/mass. The good news is that strength training neutralizes that loss to a certain extent and slows the muscle loss process somewhat. If you need help in the type of lifting that is beneficial, read my previous article here.

If you want to be successful in your training, running and racing beyond your 40’s, you either need to be genetically blessed or incorporate strength training into your workouts.

Slowing of your metabolism

In the same way that you are losing muscle mass, your metabolism is decreasing as well at the rate of 1% per year after the age of 25. (Muscle mass is tied very closely to metabolism in that muscles require calories even at rest.) Women will be hit harder than men in this area. More nutrient dense foods, less calories, and increased exercise are the ways to fight this battle of the belt. Even if you are very diligent, expect a natural widening in girth to occur. For some reason my body is just wider and thicker than it was ten years ago. I am not necessarily carrying a lot more body fat, but I am just thicker than I used to be.


I have never stretched much, but I am quickly becoming a fan of it. As we age our tendons and ligaments shorten and become less pliable. Stretching helps keep them from becoming tight and rigid. NEVER ever stretch while your body is cold. Think of your muscles as cold taffy and how taffy will not stretch while cold, but if you warm it up and work it in your hands you are able to stretch it. Same goes for those tendons and ligaments. Get them thoroughly warmed up before you attempt to stretch. Hold each stretch for five or ten seconds and release.

Rest and recovery

Rest and proper recovery from a workout is as important as the workout itself. If you are ever in doubt about if you are rested and recovered, error on the side of being over rested. Your body will remain in a state of disrepair and susceptible to injury if you are not willing to allow your body to rest. Learn to listen to what your body is saying and heed its signals.

Good Days

I do not have a scientific explanation for the following other than perhaps your body works on bio-rhythms or something. There are certain days that you feel like you could go forever and other days you struggle to get out of the house feeling lethargic and non-motivated. I feel like this a lot and have learned to go hard and long when I am feeling the love and back off and rejuvenate when I don’t feel the love. Professional triathlete Chris McCormack, who at age 37 in 2010 became the oldest Hawaii Ironman champion, describes it as “energy waves” and that when you feel good you should roll with these energy waves and train hard and when you are tired and stressed back off your training.

The bottom line is you cannot stop the aging process; you can only slow it down. You must take care of your body and not be as hard on it as you were during your 20’s. Lifting weights, good nutrition, careful recovery from races/workouts, stretching, and learning to listen to your body are all keys to staying fit and fast past 40. Use that wisdom and the experience that comes with age to keep on moving.

Rock Creek Team member Tom Sell recently won the masters title in the Chattanooga 4 Bridges Half Marathon and was the first over 40 finisher in the Stump Jump 11-Mile-Race. Tom is also the only man to win both the Stump Jump 50K and the Stump Jump 11-Mile-Race. He is a 2x Southern Conference and Southern Open Wrestling Champion, a 2x Chattanooga Track Club Runner of the Year, a 2x Cross-Country Coach of the Year, a 2x Ironman finisher, a 2x Mount Mitchell Challenge finisher. Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

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