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Photo by Heather Pollock
Margaret Webb. Photo by Heather Pollock

A Woman on the Run

As her 50s approached, Margaret Webb set out to run her fastest-ever marathon… and write a book about aging and fitness

Some people get a new sports car, others a new lover, but Margaret Webb’s response to a mid-life crisis was truly impressive: she literally outran the malaise, then wrote a book about her experience.

Four years ago, at age 48, Webb (BA, 1985 UC) was at a career crossroads. She was an accomplished, award-winning journalist whose stories ran in top publications such as Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Report on Business Magazine and Canadian Geographic. She was also the author of Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms, which won a Canadian Culinary Award silver medal for excellence in food writing. With 50 around the corner, however, she wondered what was next for her, in work and in life.

“I wanted a second act to my career, and I knew the only way to secure that future was to boost my fitness, so that I could be strong enough,” Webb says.

In addition to her fitness aspirations, Webb had also long wanted to write a book about the growth in women’s running. She combined those two goals into a book proposal that was eventually bought by Rodale, publisher of Runner’s World magazine.

Already a twice-weekly runner, Webb significantly raised the stakes, embarking on an intensive journey towards “super fitness” with the main objective of running her fastest marathon ever. Along the way, she reviewed the latest research on exercise, aging and sports psychology; conducted extensive fitness testing on herself with the help of U of T exercise physiologist Jason Vescovi; and enlisted a personal trainer and nutritionist to help her train.

Perhaps the most interesting part of her research was her interactions with several elite older female runners. Among them were 84-year-old Sister Madonna Buder, aka the Iron Nun, the current world record holder for oldest person to finish an Ironman Triathlon, whom she joined for a day of running training; and 53-year-old ultra-marathoner Pam Reed, for whom she served as a crew member during her participation in a grueling 100-kilometre race through the mountains of Wyoming.

Webb’s foray into the world of women’s running resulted in her, between ages 48 and 52, running five marathons, and accomplishing a personal best time of three hours, 38 minutes. She also made gains in achieving her long-held ambition of writing fiction, co-writing a screenplay that won an award at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival, and starting a novel. And of course, she completed her book: Older, Faster, Stronger: What Women Runners Can Teach Us All About Living Younger, Longer, will be released on Oct. 7.

“The deep question of the book is, what does it mean when women become physically strong,” Webb says, adding that the broader message is “with physical fitness, you can have more life and a younger life…it’s about condensing aging and living strong and healthy for as long as possible.”

Watch the video preview for Older, Faster, Stronger

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