As you’re a reader of this blog, you’re probably north of 35 years old and exercise at least 10-15 hours a week. I suspect you also don’t mind the effects that exercising has on your body and– I’m going out on a limb here– you own a fair amount of form-fitting lycra. You may also own a few running shorts that are a bit skimpier than the knee-length baggy shorts that basketball players have recently made strangely fashionable. If you fall within this demographic, read on…
My wife recently pointed me to an article in the DailyMail, “Oh the shame of being married to a MAMIL (that’s a Middle Aged Man In Lycra)”. It certainly does peg our demographic well. Unfortunately, the author’s husband is relatively new to the endurance athletics “bug” and has been buying a new (expensive) bike each year. Apparently, he hasn’t bought a top-end time-trial bike quite yet– otherwise, his credit card bill would prevent another bike purchase for at least five years.
As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help laughing– but in that nervous, uncomfortable kind of way. I’ve been running and cycling for quite a while longer than the author’s husband and, consequently, his workout attire looks utterly conservative next to mine. During the summer, I generally work out in a TYR carbon triathlon race kit (often one of my old TeamUSA kits) for my bike or brick workouts. When I’m running, I opt for a pair of race shorts as I really hate the feeling of baggy shorts. I just think that I’m more comfortable and will perform better if I’m wearing the same kind of gear that Craig Alexander or Ryan Hall are wearing.
I also know I’m not alone. I live right on the Burke-Gilman bike trail in Seattle and see older folks riding up and down it all day— and it seems as if at least one-quarter of them are proudly wearing their bike team’s race kits for their basic easy rides. And our team practices might as well be a walking advertisement for DuPont (the guys who invented lycra). As a demographic, older athletes are all MAMILs/MAWILs (I’m using “MAWIL” to be the female equivalent of MAMIL– a “middle-aged woman in lycra”).
Despite my obsession with athletic clothing designed for much younger people, I’m a fairly self-observant guy. Consequently, there is an annoying little worry in the back of my mind. It’s a little voice that keeps asking me in quiet moments if we’re just kidding ourselves. Are we the butt of society’s jokes? Do people say, “well, I may look silly– but at least I’m not THAT guy” as they point at us? Sure, we may feel that our nonathletic friends lead empty lives for not sharing our athletic pursuits, but we are definitely in the minority– and a good number of them think we simply look like silly jackasses as we zip by wearing form-fitting lycra in an attempt to keep up with athletes half our age.
Thinking about this issue a little more makes me question the assumptions underlying anyone’s criticism of MAMILs/MAWILs. If we saw an older man or woman riding in a fast-paced peloton but NOT dressed in lycra (say a pair of cotton gym shorts and knee-length socks), they would certainly stand out from the crowd and would be the source of even more jokes. In other words, an older athlete is always going to be singled out for ridicule– or, in other words, it likely doesn’t have anything to do with clothing at all. Instead, I think what some members of our nonathletic society find so disturbing about middle-aged athletes is simply the fact that they are working out vigorously and are middle-aged. It’s as if they believe that that getting older inexorably means getting lazy and giving up all sports except shuffleboard and golf. I refuse to make that connection– the only reason people get lazy and nonathletic as they get older is because they choose to become lazy and nonathletic.
But, as an old friend used to say, “wear your freak flag well.” It really doesn’t matter what other people think. You’re doing something you love and getting healthier than most other people will ever get in their entire lifetimes. Being able to even fit into form-fitting lycra in your middle age and beyond is an accomplishment denied to most people. And for 90% of those people, it’s only because of their own poor lifestyle choices.
I can understand the author’s bewilderment at having her “normal” husband suddenly transmogrified into a Tour de France wannabe in his forties. My ever-patient wife has no such excuses– the bug bit me long before we met. For the author, I can only recommend patience. I’ve noticed that my athletic buddies in their fifties and sixties look at least ten years younger than their nonathletic counterparts. While the constant influx of new bikes might not be a great investment, his cycling certainly is.
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