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My Self-Challenge: Ten 5K Races for Turning 50

6 tips to mark a milestone birthday with optimism instead of dread


To be honest, I’ve been dreading turning 50 for a while — ironic since I work for a website that celebrates life after 50.  
 
In July, six months before my milestone birthday, I decided to stop dreading, take some of the great advice Next Avenue offers and face the half-century mark head on by creating a fitness challenge for myself. I would run ten 5K races before my 50th birthday for a project I dubbed 50Kfor50Y.  
 
This Sunday, I ran my final 50Kfor50Y race at the Jingle All the Way 5K in Washington, D.C.

I’m thrilled to have met my goal, and I highly recommend a self-challenge of any sort to mark a milestone birthday. 

(MORE: Milestone Birthdays Don't Need to Be the Big 'Uh-Oh')

 
Here are my six pieces of advice, in case you want to try it yourself:
 
1. Sign Up So You Don’t Chicken Out

Once I signed up for a race and paid the fee, I knew I would follow through. I used runningintheusa.com to find local 5K events on weekends and to sign up online for them. Races cost about $40 each, which includes a race bib and timing device, a T-shirt and sometimes a banana or bagel at the finish.  

 
Given a choice between a charity run or one sponsored by a for-profit company, I would choose the charity race. Over the course of my 50Kfor50Y, I supported and learned about a variety of local causes from Best Buddies to So Others Might Eat to the American Druze Society
 
2. Go as Slow As You Like

I’m not much of a runner, and I run slowly — some might call it a jog. This didn’t stop me. I started with a race in Baltimore, Md. where I didn’t check the terrain in advance, so the hills were an unexpected challenge. The live Dixieland jazz band at the peak of one hill made the climb easier, though.  

 
Each race was a challenge in its own way (hills, heat, cold, wind), but a rule I created for myself early on kept me going. I allowed myself to run slowly, but if I walked any portion of the race it wouldn’t count, and I’d have to do another to make up for it. This kept me trudging up the hills when I might have given myself a break. 
 
3. Find a Cause 

After my first few runs, I realized that I could turn my self-centered challenge outward by raising money for a teen journalism program doing great work in Atlanta, Ga. I started posting my upcoming races on Facebook and Twitter and asking friends to support me by donating to VOX Teen Communications. VOX, in turn, shared my challenge with its Facebook followers, who may be inspired to try something similar.

As of last week, I helped raise more than $1,500 in donations and pledges for VOX. This was in addition to the charities we supported through the race fees. 

(MORE: How to Check Out a Charity Before You Give)

 
4. Enlist Family Support

I owe my husband (an accomplished athlete who completed a half-Iron Man this summer) hugely for trotting slowly alongside me during all those races as people yelled “You can do it!” to him. Yes, he can do it. He could have finished 20 minutes sooner with the guys in the fancy shoes if he’d wanted to. 

 
He was a great trainer and coach. During one of our early races, as I struggled up a hill, he kept me going by recounting each day of a trip we took to Italy two summers ago. Him: “Then we had dinner outside and watched the sunset.” Me: “Oh,” (pant pant) "the place with the bolognese?”
 
Our teenage daughters joined us for the last run, Sunday. Neither loves running, so I was happy they agreed to get up at 7:30 a.m., stand in the cold wind surrounded by people dressed as reindeer and Christmas trees, and tackle the 5K with me. I crossed the finish line holding hands with my oldest daughter and looped back to cross again with my youngest. That really made it all worthwhile.  
 
5. Prepare to Be Humbled

The quest did have its share of humiliation. I was left in the dust by people dressed as turkeys, bananas and Woodrow Wilson (who knew he was a runner?). Women pushing double strollers trucked past me up steep hills. I only reliably passed the start-to-finish walkers and small children who had run out of steam after an impressive start. 

 
6. Spread the Word

I created a Twitter hashtag for my races #50Kfor50Y to let people know what I was doing; I really hope that others will use it for a challenge of their own. I also posted updates on Facebook and sent emails to family and friends who aren't on social media. It was a great way to feel supported by those who "liked" my posts and to ask for their support in a general, low-pressure way.  

(MORE: Why 60 Is Not the New 50)

 
What’s Next? 
 
Now that I've finished 10 races, I’m not done. My intent was to establish a fitness baseline before turning 50, and I want to maintain it long after I polish off the last bite of birthday cake.

So what should I do to mark 51? Maybe a biking challenge with three, 17-mile bike rides or a 51-mile walk over several days. Maybe I'll go to 51 weekly Zumba classes. Whatever I decide, I know that it will be the start of something and not the end. And that's the best way to greet a birthday. 
 

How do you plan to celebrate your milestone birthday? Tell us in the comments section below. 

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