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50 Challenges was a concept that I originally devised as a personal ambition for myself, as I approached my 50th birthday: having come through the Foul Forties, I decided I wanted to mark the fact that I now feel stronger, physically and mentally, than at any other time of my life. A party didn’t seem enough of a celebration, so I decided to undertake 50 Challenges across my 50s.
When I talked to other people my age, I realised that how I felt as I anticipated this milestone was far from unique. Many of my peers told me they also felt stronger than ever, while others admitted to being in need of a new identity as their previous definitions – bringing up small children and developing successful careers – become less dominant.
The common denominator for all of us is that we are the first generation facing 50 – an era in which we begin to get time back for ourselves – in the expectation of another good 40 years, and the role models that we have from previous decades of mid and later life are obsolete. 50 year olds today are undertaking endurance events, swapping clothes with their teenage children and taking on new professional challenges at a time when previous generations were counting down to retirement.
So 50 Challenges developed into an idea to create a new blueprint for those aged 50 and over, to inspire, support and celebrate them to do more, achieve more and be more.
The idea, very simply, is to undertake 50 Challenges during your fifties. This not a mad, bucket-list dash for a year; it’s about creating a blueprint for how you want to shape your life over the coming decades.
We’ve grouped the Challenges into Mind Motivators, Body Challenges and Soul Goals, and we would anticipate people undertaking a balance of these. We’ve got suggestions on the website that include everything from organising a community litter pick to singing in a choir, from learning to unicycle to undertaking a Sudoku puzzle every day for a month.
Everyone’s 50 challenges will be different: they need to motivate you and they need to be relevant – they need to push your own personal boundaries. For example, if you already go out cycling once a week, you might want to step it up to two or three times a week, whereas if you have never been on a bike you might want to learn to ride.
We have an active Facebook community where you can pitch your idea for a challenge and get input as to how you might undertake it and how you will measure it. The group also provides accountability: once you have said you are doing something, we want to know how you are getting on!
Running is my sanity and my strength; it was key to helping me overcome severe depression in my mid-forties, so it seemed natural to launch 50 Challenges with a run. The New York marathon is the day after my 50th birthday, so it was a no-brainer for this to be my first Challenge; it felt like the planets had aligned to create the ideal opportunity to launch this new movement alongside the perfect setting for a big celebration with my family.
I have run three marathons before; I thought they would get easier the more you do, but they don’t! There are always new hurdles to frustrate and challenge you. I have been working hard to overcome an ankle injury, which is still twinging slightly. I have had a real problem with vulnerable toes caused by medication; I don’t normally lose toenails during training – only from the impact of 26.2 miles on race day – but I have already lost several. And I have become very intolerant of the energy gels, so working out how to fuel myself during the race has proved problematic; hopefully I have now got a solution that will give me enough energy to get round without curdling my stomach.
Very dear friends have the debilitating condition of Multiple Sclerosis, which affects 2.3 million people worldwide and more than 100,000 in the UK. It’s a Cinderella disease, with a real lack of funding for support for sufferers or research. One of my friends had a bad attack which meant she couldn’t get dressed, comb her hair or clean her teeth; it took two weeks for the MS nurse to phone her because she is so overstretched.
£50,000 is a scarily big number, but I am aiming to do this before I turn 60, so I have the whole decade. The first goal is £5,000 through sponsorship of my New York marathon.
Good question! I am going to read a book a month across the ten years, and also read all of Shakespeare’s plays over the decade. Before I am 51, I will also finish walking the South West Coastal Path (I have been walking a week a year with a friend for the last seven years; we have 80 miles left). I then want to do a general healthy lifestyle challenge, possibly walk 10,000 steps a day for the year. And then I need a good Soul Goal; possibly my first one will be to keep a gratitude diary for a year. After coming through the Foul Forties, I think this might be a good way to make me focus on all the good things that are going on in my life now.