Making a 'midlife correction' through long-distance running

Julia Dawson is getting ready to run her fourth marathon this weekend. The 57-year-old grandmother from Harlem said she started running 9 years ago.

"I was 200 and some pounds and I didn't know what to do," Dawson said.

She lost the weight but the benefits stretched far beyond the physical.

"I got a glow. I'm never stressed out because I'm always running," Dawson said. "My body feels like I'm 17 or 18  years old."

Dawson isn't the only one to turn to intense physical fitness later in life. Paul Flannery, a sports writer, started trail running on the cusp of 40 in the midst of midlife depression.

"As I entered races, I realized my age group got more and more competitive the older I got," Flannery said.

Now 44, he ran over 2,000 miles all across steep, rugged, and unpredictable terrains while training last year. His experience prompted him to write an article declaring: Extreme Athleticism Is the New Midlife Crisis.

"The old trope of midlife crisis was people trying to cling desperately to youth," Flannery said. "The new thing we are experiencing is people, as they reach middle age, trying to achieve things physically towards endurance exercise."

Numbers help tell the story of a commitment to extreme fitness later in life. The largest field of competitors in the 2017 New York City Marathon was between 40 and 44.

"I certainly recognize the trend of people seeking a physiological state associated with youth around the midlife time," Dr. Leah Lagos, a clinical and sports psychologist, said. "And it's no longer this superficial quest for objects and materials but a quest for the feeling of infinity."

Getting older makes people think about how they want to spend the rest of their lives, she said.

"When you reach 40 or even a little above, you begin, like an athlete, to zero in on the track ahead and asking yourself existential questions, 'Who do I want to be in this time?'" Lagos said.

Flannery said that instead of a midlife crisis extreme athleticism is a sort of midlife correction.

"You all of a sudden get a greater appreciation for the time you have and the time you have left," he said.