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Cramp, a head like a tomato and lots of aches and pains – an introduction to running in middle age.

What do you do when you wake up one day and realise that you’re now somewhere between the ages of 40 and 50 and you have no idea how it all happened? Well, there are of course lots of answers to that question. If you’re a man, you may consider some form of mid-life crisis, be it buying a sports car, dressing like a teenager or flirting with people half your age. Actually, if you’re a man you might well do all three and then some, pushing hard to ruin your life! If you’re a woman, you might feel regretful about missed opportunities or low about your appearance, but ultimately you’ll be OK!

Whatever you are, you might want to make positive changes and a really popular change is to start becoming healthier. With the hedonism of your twenties having taken its toll and the hard work of your thirties now bearing fruit in the form of a mortgage, kids and an expanding waistline, you may well decide that you want to reclaim some of your youthful good looks and energy.

There are lots of things you can do. You may go back to a team sport like football, rugby, hockey or netball. You may try a new sport like squash or tennis. You might even fling yourself into the kind of pursuits you’d so far avoided like the plague, like yoga or pilates. Or, if you’re like me and many others in their middle age years, you might just go out running.

Running and health and fitness have been a major part of my blog. They’ve also been a huge influence on my middle age. The two things collided when I fell ill with heart problems aged 44. They advanced somewhat during lockdown and now, six years on, they’re a major part of my life.

So how might you get started with a pursuit like running when you’ve hit middle age? Well, I’m certainly no expert, but let me offer a few suggestions.

The first thing that I would recommend is a change of mindset. I see a lot of people, especially on social media, bemoaning the fact that they ‘can’t do’. That might be because of time and the perception that they’re too busy or because they feel that their fitness is too poor to try. When I was younger this was always my mindset. I wanted to get fit, but would tell myself that it was too rainy, too windy, my back hurt, my knee felt niggly, I was too tired and found it really easy to convince myself not to run. Even when I went out I’d hear a tired little voice in my had telling me I’d done enough and then I’d convince myself that I’d ran a few miles, when probably what I’d managed had been a very slow mile. Often, I’d not even make it out, convincing myself that I’d go when I felt just right. All too often, I’d find another excuse not to go or I’d go out and find myself settling for just a section of a planned route.

Needless to say, it didn’t work and I rarely found running a pleasure. My fitness didn’t improve and as a result, my running dropped off until it was non existent.

I started again following a health scare a few years ago. Despite telling myself – and probably anyone who’d listen – that I was ‘naturally fit’ I found myself in hospital with heart problems. It terrified me and speaking to a patient who had suffered multiple heart attacks seemed to flick a switch within me.

Once I was fit enough again I went out running with my kids. My mindset at first was that we’d run as far as I could. To start off with that’d be 10 minutes and I learnt to love the fact that I was able to do even that. But, by changing my mindset, I managed to keep making progress. I’d celebrate our runs, often posting on social media and I’d tell the kids that we had to run further next time and not just another minute or so, a decent amount. Within a year we did a 5km fun run in Roundhay Park and I’ve never cherished a finisher’s medal so much!

Nowadays, I don’t allow myself to have excuses. Reasons are fine; so recently I’ve been struggling with a back injury and was able just to tell myself to rest. I know I’ll be back out soon enough. Similarly, if I’m too busy, I’ll find time, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Unless it’s ridiculously windy or rainy, I’ll force myself out, whether I feel like it or not. My changed mindset says it’s a huge positive to get out and run. So, my first tip would be to change your mindset – don’t allow excuses and see every step and every minute as a positive. You could say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

If you’re beginning to run in middle age you’ll also need to set yourself small goals. At first that might be a lap around the block or a circuit of the park. You can build from there. When I ran with my kids we had a circuit around our estate and we’d always end up doing laps of the football field. Our goal was to do another lap every time, more if we felt we could manage. It worked. If your goals are realistic, you can reach them every time and it’ll feel great. Have a plan, set a small goal and then…out you go.

A good way of setting goals might be to download a running app. I use Strava and while I’m running I might well be thinking of other roads on my route that I could run down in order to lengthen my run next time (a good trick to keep your mind off how your legs are feeling, that one!). Failing that, I’ll look at the map on the app when I’m finished and target a route for next time. And 9 times out of 10 I’ll set myself a simple goal of running just a little bit further next time.

In terms of starting off and setting smaller goals, the ‘Couch to 5k’ app looks ideal. It’s free, easy to use and automatically sets the goals for you, working you up to a 5km run in manageable steps, which at our age is a really good thing!

Another good tip is to invest in some decent gear to go running in. When I first got back to running, aged 43, I simply bought a cheap pair of Nike runners from an outlet store without any real thought about what I was buying. They were there, they were in my size, they were cheap. They actually lasted me for a decent amount of time and were falling apart by the time I replaced them.

This time though, I’d done some research and read up on what I needed. I still didn’t shell out a huge amount of money, but made sure that I read reviews and took into account things like cushioning, weight and the heel to toe drop. The results were great. Firstly my times improved, but much more interestingly, especially given my age, my recovery time between runs got noticeably better. My legs ached a lot less and I wasn’t frequently waking up in the night after a run with shocking cramp! Furthermore, I didn’t feel 30 years older the next day either. So, I’d thoroughly recommend doing a bit of research and spending a bit more money on trainers that are going to be of more benefit to you.

This led to me spending a little more money on kit like shorts and running tops, which if I’m honest just make me feel better because they fit better! As a middle aged runner whose face turns tomato red after about a mile, having nice kit could be an essential distracting factor as I run past people in cars. In short, if my kit’s better, they might not notice my hilarious face! That said, even having better running socks feels like it’s of benefit, so a slightly bigger spend is a great idea. And if you’re worried about money then just keep an eye out for the sales when it’s easy to grab yourself a bit of a bargain. Oh, and buy shorts with a pocket; handy if you’re taking a key out or you just want to take a bit of fuel. I always make sure I have pockets to put some jellies in, which I find give me a much needed sugar rush at certain points in my runs!

As a new, middle aged runner you’re possibly going to feel a bit self conscious. I’m not a fan of my body and it’s safe to say that it’s got worse as I ticked over into my fifties. So, the idea of the horror show that is this tall, skinny middle aged man with a little pot belly running around the streets clad in clingy material haunted me from the word go!

One good idea for this problem would be to find some like-minded individuals. You might have friends who are keen to start running, but if not, there’s always a running club that you could join. A quick Google search is almost certain to reveal some kind of running club in your area and from what I understand, they’re always a friendly bunch. Being a bit of a grump, I still run on my own, but even I can see myself joining a club at some point. It’s got to provide a boost and maybe looking forward to meeting up with your running pals might help you resist the urge to stay in watching telly and resting your still aching muscles! Running as part of a group is also a lot safer too, so it’s definitely a good idea if you can find the right people.

The final piece of advice I’d give you if you’re starting to go running in middle age is to listen to your body. I’ve found running to be quite addictive, particularly as I’ve got fitter and been able to achieve certain goals. But I’ve really had to temper that readiness to go out running. The simple fact is that if you’re starting to run in your middle age, your body isn’t going to bounce back like it used to do! Rest is absolutely vital at this time of life, particularly if you’re pushing yourself. And the more you ignore your body, the more likely you are to pick up niggling injuries that will only get worse. So my advice would be to enjoy your running, but make sure that you not only give yourself good recovery time, but recover properly too; drinking lots of water and getting the vitamins back into your body is vital to being on top of your fitness when you go back out again. I find that eating cranberries or bananas gives me back that limited feeling of vitality that I have in my fifties!

So, there you have it! Hopefully that might give some people a bit of a push or maybe even some inspiration. Personally, I can’t recommend running enough and I genuinely feel like I’m, in a way, revitalised by going back to it in middle age. And given that none of us are getting younger, maybe we all need a bit of revitalisation!

Top Ten Hazards for the Middle Aged Runner

Now some people would take one look at the title of this particular blog and question the need for a Top Ten. In many ways, I would be one of them. I mean, as a fairly regular middle aged runner I can testify to the fact that it’s often no fun whatsoever. In fact, there are times when it’s nothing short of sheer hell. I enjoy it, in a strange way, but I can’t kid myself that it can be sheer hell too!

In the recent heat, there have been more than a few moments where I’ve wondered if my thumping heart, trembling legs and sweaty face would actually make it through the next few moments, let alone allow me to get back through our front door. I could argue that my face when running, resembling as it does a prized, agricultural show-ready plum tomato, is hazard enough to just give the whole running lark up. But, if you insist on continuing to run into your forties and fifties, then I suppose I’m providing a bit of a public service in telling you the kind of things you should look out for. And simultaneously ignoring my own advice as well…

Hazard 1 – Hills. Going up. not going down. Although even going down a hill can play havoc with the knees these days. But it’s the going up that presents the hazard. A friend of mine once commented on the town where I live, ‘Morley, built on 7 hills, like Rome. And that’s where the comparison ends’. I’d argue that this is not true as we have crumbling buildings and crazy drivers too, just like Rome, but that’s beside the point. Morley was indeed built on seven hills and this means that when running locally I cannot escape the bloody things. So beware, fellow middle age runners, hills mean an increasingly worrying heart rate, jelly legs and the production of many a strange wheezing noise.

Hazard 2 – Van drivers. Well known for their stereotypically lewd comments to women, van drivers are often not the runner’s friend either. Strangely while some are just downright abusive, others appear to think that they’re either running coaches or cheerleaders and many’s the time I’ve been shouted at to “get those knees up” or just told “go on lad”. None of this does any good for my motivation and if you too are a fifty something runner, I daresay it will only inspire muttered threats and swearing.

Hazard 3 – Wind. Just to clarify, that’s the weather related type rather than the arse related. Although I find that sometimes a good burp can do me the world of good while running. But that’s besides the point (and possibly another blog…). At a certain, respectable age wind can become less of a challenge and more of a factor to keep me indoors. It’s battle enough chasing times running a 5 or 10k without having to throw myself headlong into a 20mph headwind. I don’t mind said wind behind me as I’m heading home though!

Hazard 4 – Cobbles. Now this is a niche hazard, I’ll grant you that. But where I live in West Yorkshire, cobbles are still quite common. And before you say ‘just avoid them’, it’s not that simple. I don’t have to run on entirely cobbled streets much at all, but there are certain sections of the roads that I run on where there are still cobbles that are more or less unavoidable. If I don’t run on the cobbles the alternative is to run on the main road connecting Wakefield and Bradford, which as you’d expect, can be rather busy. So while my elderly knees and ankles are put at risk on cobbles, I’ll take my chance with this hazard rather than getting clipped by a truck! If I can continue to keep my balance and stay upright, everything will be OK!

Hazard 5 – Dawdlers. Slow walkers. Like, perilously slow. The bane of my life when I’m out running. Now you may think that this isn’t just a problem for the more vintage runner like myself. So let me explain. I’m out, I’ve established a rhythm and I’m not even giving any thought to how I feel. I’m just running without really having to think too much. And then, up ahead there’s a dawdler. I’m suddenly aware of the width of the pavement or just conscious of the fact that running behind them might give them a bit of a fright. But if they can just make it to that opening or the wider bit of pavement I can give them a wider berth and not slow down. Because I can’t slow down or stop as I might struggle to find this rhythm again! Of course, they never make it to that wider section at the right time and so I’m forced to take evasive action, like running up a grassy bank or into the road. Not a problem at all as a younger runner, but now it’s the kind of thing that could knock me off balance or just drain the legs of what it turns out is absolutely vital energy! Dawdlers: the incredibly innocent looking hazard that you hadn’t even thought about!

Hazard 6 – Dog walkers. Before I go any further, I’ll just say that I know that the majority of dog walkers are wonderful and responsible people. Some of them though, are just dicks! Now this hazard can be similar to your dawdler, which as we know represent a tricky problem. But then you throw in the dog. And here’s the deal. On numerous occasions I’ve been leapt at by dogs, twice sending me crashing to the floor in an ungainly fashion. The first time led to me completing the final half of my run caked in mud – hair, face, arms, legs – and the latest saw me sent sprawling to the concrete and subsequently taking the skin off my hands and knees. And on each occasion the humans involved were unapologetic and worse than useless. I was jumped at recently by a couple of scrawny rat type things and when the owners just grinned I’m afraid my response wasn’t particularly composed. Instead it was riddled with expletives. But I think I made my point. I’m 50 years old and doing my level best to stay fit and healthy. My body does not need to be hastily considering evasive gymnastics while I’m out running.

Hazard 7 – Young runners. Put simply these runners are younger than us, fitter than us and most likely quicker than us. In my case, they probably look better in their running gear too. But they certainly represent a hazard to the middle aged runner like myself. Lots of us will be the same in that we still retain a competitive edge and thus, when I see a young runner out and about, I only ever see a challenge. If I’m ahead of them, I’ll try to stay ahead. If I’m behind, I’ll lengthen my stride and try to catch them. Both are terrible ideas at my stage of life and only ever result in a struggle to actually finish my run! The lesson is to not try and take on people 20 or 30 years younger than me. If only I could learn the lesson!

Hazard 8 – Friends in cars. Admittedly, not the worst thing in the world, but believe me, when you’re 50, approaching the end of a run, sweaty, disheveled and your face looks like it might just explode, you do not want to see one of your mates go past in the car!

Hazard 9 – Chip shops (see also Indian takeaways and pizza shops). An easily avoidable hazard, but one where I never seem to learn my lesson. All of the above are regularly on my running routes simply because I live in quite a large town. Let me tell you, they are not good for moral! The wonderful aroma of chips, garlic or curry never fails to leave me wondering what the hell I thought I was doing when I had the idea for a run in the first place. Surely, ordering out and then sitting down and tucking into any one of these delights would be far more sensible and enjoyable than dragging my weary lycra-clad self round another 10k?

Hazard 10 – Beer Gardens. I regularly go out for a run after work on a Friday. I leave as early as possible, get home and changed quickly, stretch and then out I go. And it always seems like a great idea. I can rid myself of the mental fatigue and stress brought on by the working week and just be alone with my thoughts. Until that is, I spot a beer garden up ahead. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I smell a takeaway, but worse. Worse, because as I look up, it seems like every other middle aged person in town has decided to head to the beer garden and they look to be having such a great time. Would it not make sense for me to deal with my stress just like them? Well, yes, it would! And yet, here I am attempting to recapture the fitness of my youth, like an idiot while the inevitable wag glances up from a cold pint to call out to you to ‘get those knees up’. He probably came over in his van as well!

It should be a very simple thing to do, go out on a run. Staying fit in your middle age should only really be a battle with your own body. But as you’ve just read, it can be far, far more than just that!

Fighting the flab – my battle with ‘Dad bod’!

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So many temptations with which to add to that dad bod!

As a young man I never dreamed I’d have any kind of problem with ‘body image’. I’d grown up a skinny kid, partly down to health problems and partly down to being a fussy eater who was indulged by a somewhat doting mother. I was active and sporty, meaning that I struggled to gain weight as I was always on the move. Therefore, as the possessor of barely any noticeable muscle at all this led to sometimes merciless name-calling and cruel comments about my size. They’d call it bullying nowadays, but at my rough comprehensive school it was just a way of life. Some people would exploit any weakness that they detected and unfortunately, my lack of bulk and legs that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a passing flamingo, were often a target, especially as I got older and everybody else filled out. As I got older and stayed relatively small those that grew to be more of an adult size would find fun in pushing me around. Still though, it didn’t particularly bother me and I was never unable to function as a result of it.

However, it must have been something that sat there, dormant, waiting for its chance as in adult life it became a problem that would hold me back. Not in a terribly debilitating way, but in a self-conscious sort of way. I have a seven inch scar down my chest which stopped me from removing my shirt on sunny days. I’m hardly well built either, which made t-shirts my friends at all times! As previously referred to, I also have legs that would look better on certain types of wildlife, meaning that shorts were often in, well, short supply I suppose.

The notion of ‘body image’ however, seems to be a relatively recent thing and at the risk of sounding like my dad, they didn’t have it when I was younger. I was always conscious of my size or of my body, but it was just something else to deal with. I never thought to talk to anyone about it, let alone write anything down. Until I was around 15 I was only just over 5ft in height as well, so bodywise I had literally nothing going for me save for a Hollywood smile and an earlier than most bumfluff ‘tache!

For a short while I joined a gym in the hope that lifting weights and exercising in different ways would help me to bulk up. It didn’t and more to the point it bored me and ended with me feeling even more self conscious. After a while I just accepted what I was and eventually (and I really mean eventually) when girls started taking an interest I began to feel a little more confident in myself. I could make people laugh and hold the interest of at least some girls; I didn’t feel the need to lift heavy weights, wear vests and sweat like a stallion. But I still didn’t like my body. The skinny legs, the stick-like arms, the scar on the chest…I didn’t particularly feel manly. Add to this the fact that one side of my ribs juts out at the bottom as a result of not being put back together properly after my heart operation – surgery wasn’t as precise a science in the 70s – and you begin to feel like you should have been picked up by the circus at some point.

University helped me to love myself a little bit more (not like that; stop sniggering). Maybe it was being away from some of the same people I’d been around for years who’d possibly gotten used to their own clever banter and didn’t feel that it could possibly be hurtful. My dad, for instance, was forever mocking my legs – if I played football in shorts he’d tell me to put my legs away because – and I quote – ‘there’s a spuggy up there feeding young ‘uns. She’ll think there’s two worms down here.’ Classic. No, really, hilarious. Especially when it’s repeated three or four times a week. Maybe it was the sudden independence that somehow boosted my confidence or maybe it was the fact that I was now around a foot taller and at least felt I finally had something going for me. Whatever it was, those three years made me feel a lot better about myself in terms of my body. I simply wasn’t mocked anymore and as a result I felt at least a little bit of confidence.

The issue of body confidence has never gone away though. And annoyingly, with the onset of middle age it feels like it’s getting worse. I think the young people call it a dad  bod, but whatever it is, it’s not particularly comfortable.

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m any kind of mess. But moving into my forties, and speeding towards my fifties has definitely brought plenty of unexpected body issues to go alongside the ones that I’ve carried around since my teens. Actually they’re more irritations than issues, but still, they bother me enough to actually spend time thinking about them. And that’s quite a surprise to me.

The biggest body irritant has to be my belly. I’ve never been in possession of a six-pack; not a proper one, anyway. In my early twenties, when I played football and ran a lot more often there was a lot less flab and some definite abs and even now I don’t exactly look like I might be 7 months pregnant. But there is a belly. And, try as I might to reason with myself about age, lifestyle and the stress of work, it really bothers me. Having spent most of my life worrying about being underweight I never thought I’d have a belly, especially as I’m still probably underweight! But it’s definitely there. And because it’s so unexpected I think I overplay its importance and worry about it far more than is healthy or even reasonable.

Nowadays, for the style conscious middle aged man, having a belly is a bit of problem whether it bothers you or not. You see, clothes are a lot closer fitting. Everything you look at is available in ‘slim fit’ and some even in ‘skinny’ fit. Style wise this is great. I can remember the 80s and 90s when clothes would literally hang off me and so now, when things actually fit properly, it’s much better. But things fit everywhere. So any slim fitting t-shirts that I might buy are sure to hug. But they can’t hug my belly. Not enough to actually hug it away. And so I find myself feeling self conscious a lot more. About four months ago my wife bought me an expensive compression top which I could wear while out running, but when I put it on I was appalled. It’s incredibly tight fitting, but despite its quality it couldn’t contain my belly and looking at myself in the mirror, I felt ridiculous. Needless to say it went back in the wardrobe and it’s only appeared in public in the last week or so.

In truth, I find that I try to hold my stomach in these days. On holiday, or if we go swimming it’s a conscious decision. While I have no real problem with the scar on my chest anymore, I now feel self conscious about a paunch that my wife assures me isn’t really there. I find myself walking around just that little bit more tense and sucking in the belly. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m not kidding myself that women (or men, the cheeky devils) may still cast a glance in my direction. But I do try to hold my belly in when I remember. I don’t want to feel like I’m being judged and I don’t want to feel like my nearest and dearest are quietly thinking, ‘he’s let himself go’.

On the belly front I’ve tried various things to help out. Sit ups, weights, running, walking, cutting back on certain foods like chocolate, crisps and beer, but I simply don’t seem to have the long term will power to make a difference. When I was exercising regularly and for a more significant and sustained amount of time it did make a difference and you could actually see the beginnings of a six-pack. But nobody’s impressed by a two-pack, least of all because actually divulging such information makes it sound like all you’re actually doing is informing them that you’ve got testicles. Even something as simple as a mere glance at my name tells you that there’s a fair chance I’ve got them anyway. And so, the exercise and the food sacrifice went south…a little bit like my belly.

With body image in mind, I’m currently trying to be much more disciplined about what I eat and drink. As lots of you will be aware I had a health scare last year and while I wouldn’t say it had a profound effect, it did make me think about my choices in terms of food and exercise. I’ve never been a big drinker, but for the last 6 months or so I’ve managed to restrict beer consumption to at the most 3 times a week. And even then it’s very rare that I’ll ever have more than one drink.

I’ve almost completely cut out crisps, which have always been my nemesis in terms of fighting the flab. Crisps have always had a heroin-like pull on me and I could eat them all day and still not have had enough. Even the thought of them makes me kind of wistful! The box of chocolate biscuits that used to reside in my desk draw at work has also now gone and has been replaced by two bananas a day. And even as I type I’m munching on my most recent dietary addition – a small daily tub containing pumpkin seeds, cashews and macadamia nuts.

But am I only kidding myself? Despite my size I’ve always loved my food and I live in constant fear of some kind of relapse. Walking around Asda on a Saturday morning can feel like some kind of purgatory as I try to avoid aisle after aisle of delicious fatty rollbacks! In fact, I can’t even walk down the biscuit or crisp aisles anymore, which I suppose is some display of discipline, however sad it might seem. Such is the hold that body image can have though. And it must be the same for thousands of middle aged men. We’re at a certain age; our bodies simply can’t exercise enough anymore and years and years of sampling various foods has led to this – a belly that suggests that you might just be about to go into labour.

And then there’s man boobs, or moobs as we’ve christened them for short. I can’t lie; I’ve spent a lifetime in love with lady bumps, but I’ve never actually wanted a pair myself. And it’s so far so good on this front, but I worry that it’s only a matter of time. While I don’t have impressive pecs, I do have something that actually resembles a masculine and muscular chest (small, but definitely made of muscle, all the same) and the thought that this could turn into something resembling snooker balls in a sock dangling from my chest area terrifies me. Because if slim fitting shirts and t-shirts bother me now, imagine how I’m going to feel if I develop moobs! Consequently, I don’t think I’ve ever been more serious about exercise!

As a middle aged man I’ve started to worry about lots of different aspects of my body. One of the more unusual aspects that I’ve begun to consider is the state of my backside. And no, I’m not about to reveal that I’ve got piles or anything like that. I’ve written some awkward paragraphs in my time on this blog, but the piles paragraph simply won’t be one of them. For one, thankfully middle age hasn’t brought that particular horror and for another thing, I don’t think I’d ever write about it if it had happened. I want to be sure that people can still look me in the eye if need be.

In fact, and almost as embarrassingly, what I worry about in an arse sense is actually whether or not it’s still pert. Yes, you read that right. As a slim fella I’ve always had a small bum. Pert too. But recently it occurred to me that, given my age, this might not be so anymore. I’ve even gone as far as checking it out. Not in an obsessive way, but briefly having a quick glance in the mirror. Thankfully, it’s not threatening to start hanging behind my knees or anything like that, so for the time being I’m fairly pleased. But of all the things I thought may concern me as I got older, this wasn’t one.

I think it says a lot about body image that as a man in my forties I’m concerned about having a saggy arse and it made me wonder if this is the kind of thing that other middle aged men worry about. I couldn’t bring myself to ask though. I mean, if it’s not considered wholly masculine to worry too much about your body shape, then I’m sure I’d be derided for asking that kind of question of any of my mates. However lads, if any of you have any concerns or have conducted any of your own personal market research, then I’m happy to talk. We could make a night of it – a proper boys’ night with some takeaway, a nice bottle of wine, candlight and a romcom. You know where I am…

Gaining grey hair was a sign that middle age was approaching. However, what sealed the deal with middle age, and simultaneously started me worrying was when I noticed that it wasn’t just the hair on my head that was changing colour; my chest hair was also going grey…and white in some places. I can’t lie…I began to pluck. And I kept on plucking. This was a visible sign of my body’s failure and its obvious lack of youth and I hated it with a passion. I’m not young enough in my outlook to think that shaving my chest is OK. That’s for a different, weirder generation. For me chest hair is cool and it made me feel decidedly masculine. But grey chest hair? This was calamitous.  But the more I envisaged it this way, the worse it got. I seemed to be forever spotting new grey and as a result, forever plucking. In turn, my worry grew more. I didn’t want to be old!

In the end a combination of being unable to keep up with their growth and a gradual acceptance that I couldn’t win helped me relax. Nowadays I’m comfortable with it and in actual fact, this metamorphosis has slowed. I only really have a small patch of grey and white on my chest and the rest, perhaps due to my more relaxed attitude, has remained resolutely black. So while I have I kind of Cruella de Ville look going on with my chest, it’s not up there with the belly in terms of how it dominates my life. In terms of my body image and my ‘dad bod’, it’s OK.

The final area that concerns me more and more with my middle age is what it’s doing to my skin. Specifically, my face. I’m getting wrinkles. Not loads. I don’t yet look like I’m made of leather, but there are definite wrinkles and again it’s a concern. Vanity plays its part here. I think it’s widely accepted that men age better than women in general and they’re certainly not judged by how they look as they get older in anything like the way that women are. But I can’t shake the worry of wrinkles. I don’t see that wrinkles may make me look more dignified, full of character or interesting; I just see age catching up with me.

I’ve tried to combat this particular body image worry for years. I’ve used moisturiser for some time now in order to keep my skin looking at the very least acceptable. But even that is a balancing act. While vanity tugs at me urgently to look after my skin and not worry about what people might think should they find out about me using moisturiser, some misguided sense of masculinity tells me I’m committing some kind of crime against manhood. You see, where I’m from – and my dad and many uncles will back me up on this, once they’ve gotten over the shock of my skincare revelation – men don’t put cream on their face. And all joking aside, I think I’m from an era where lots of my peers probably don’t see it as normal either. And thus, although I use moisturiser to try and keep age at bay at bit, I don’t use it anywhere near enough for fear that I might just turn into a girl or something!

As someone who’s regularly been told that he doesn’t look his age, actual middle age has come as quite a shock and body image, something that’s always been quite an issue for me, has crept more and more into my thinking. I’m not prepared to accept my fate though. The idea of a ‘dad bod’ is fine, but let it happen to someone else’s dad. The belly can wait, as can the moobs and I’ll keep kidding myself that people – not just women, but people, after all I’m a modern man – are checking out my pert little behind. I don’t think I mind being objectified (or at least telling myself I’m being objectified), but I’m damned if I’m not going to fight middle age all the way!