The first time Mary Smith ran a mile was 10 years ago in her 40’s. Today, she’s worked her way up to 10k’s, marathons, 50k’s, and even a life-changing trek along the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. We dive into that trip, how she got started running later in life, how she stays motivated, and her advice to others.
When you’re over 40, how do you get started running?
Mary was not always a runner. But after raising four kids, she found her life had become pretty sedentary. She started walking to add more activity to her life.
She went for a walk every day until one day one of her kids suggested, “You should just run!” The next day, she jogged a few steps during her daily walk and she was hooked.
“Before, I had a lot of self-limiting thoughts, like ‘you’re older,’ ‘you don’t fit in,’ ‘I’m out of shape’…I saw a lot of people at the city park near my house where I’d go for walks, where it’s easy to get into a comparison mindset. But I realized that I’m not competing with anyone, and the barriers were in my head. When I was able to finally run that first mile without stopping, it was amazing! I never thought I could do that.”
So why did she keep running?
“The mental benefits have been huge. I was surprised with how much better I felt after running. It became my time each day to get away, clear my head, and feel refreshed. That’s what’s kept me going.”
She also joined a running group hosted by her local running store, Runner’s World Tulsa.
“We encourage each other a lot. It’s just amazing to watch other people succeed in their races and their goals. The community has become a big part of my running, too.”
What does training typically look like for Mary?
“I think in terms of training plans, where I run 4-5 days per week, but the big thing is consistency. I just really try to stay on top of my to-do list,” she says.
It can be harder to stay motivated in the cold winters in Tulsa, but she takes a more forgiving approach for herself.
“I know I probably won’t run as many miles in the winter, and that’s okay. The important part is just staying consistent, and getting out four to five days a week for some time. Winter is really about base-level and recovery training for me.”
Besides staying consistent and relaxing her training expectations for herself, she has another trick: “I make sure I have something to eat before and then something really great after to look forward to!”
Mary encourages others in her running group, as well as in her church.
And then there was The Camino de Santiago…
Besides the first mile, the first 5k, and the first marathon, Mary’s life was transformed when she was invited to hike along the Camino de Santiago—an iconic trek in Northern Spain.
“A group in my church was planning the trip, and I suggested they train for it leading up to make the walking much more enjoyable. I ended up helping them train and walked with a [back]pack with the group on the weekends.”
As the departure date for the trip neared, one of the group members was suddenly not able to go, and Mary was invited.
“I was already training with them, and we’d gotten to know each other really well.” She was thrilled to take the opportunity to go to Spain with the group and trek the iconic Camino de Santiago.
For six days, she and the other group member carried everything they needed on their backs, staying in “alberges”—the Spanish equivalent of a hostel—along the way.
“Normally, life just moves so fast—you get wrapped up in your own little sphere. Walking the Camino de Santiago, it was so different from Tulsa. Being in a different culture at—literally—the ground level for that long is life-changing. The culture is so different. Everyone has a garden. We walked through vineyards and saw shepherds. You’d never see anything like that in Tulsa,” she remarked. “And the people were so hospitable. Of course, they were used to having pilgrims—what the hikers following the Camino de Santiago were called. It was a dream.”
To Mary, experiences like these help her in her every-day life. “Finishing the first mile, the first 50k, or a trip like the Camino, it just changes you, helps me believe in myself, and it’s become part of me. Nothing can take those moments away, and I lean on that in every-day challenges in my life.”
To learn more about hiking Camino de Santiago, check out this REI blog.
Advice for people curious about running
When others first start running or are even just curious about how to get started, her advice is to just get out there and start, and don’t compare yourself with others.
“Even if it’s just a half hour to go for a brisk walk, it makes a huge difference. Movement and fresh air as so important to aging well. I’m stronger now than I ever was in my 40’s.”
You can follow along on Mary’s adventures on Instagram @marysgold.
If you’re in the Tulsa area and interested in joining a running group, make sure to check out Mary’s favorite group, Runners World Tulsa, and see what they’re up to on Instagram @rwtulsa