©istockphoto/Henk Badenhorst

Can a decade real­ly make such a pro­found dif­fer­ence in a sport that, at its most basic lev­el, is sim­ply putting one foot in front of the oth­er? Yes. Yes, it can. And some­times, that decade clear­ly hates you…but there’s always a sil­ver lin­ing if you squint hard enough.

Run­ning changes the longer you do it. Most of those changes are for the bet­ter, as you get into bet­ter shape and learn more of what to expect and how to pre­pare and train. How­ev­er, some changes are inevitable sim­ply due to aging—and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Some runners—especially my fel­low females—avoid talk­ing about (aka admit­ting) some of the fol­low­ing, but trust me, we’re all expe­ri­enc­ing it.  Here are a few exam­ples of things that change for female run­ners from their 20s to their 30s.

Bath­room Breaks are a MUST
You no longer see a port-o-pot­ty and think, “Should I? Hum­m­mm, it looks dirty. I can prob­a­bly wait until I get home.” If you’ve had babies in the past decade, it’s not an option any­more. Dirty or not, you’ll be damn lucky just to get in the door before the flood gates (or, more accu­rate­ly, the unfix­able leak in the dam) makes it mark on your new run­ning skirt for all to see and snick­er about. If we’re real­ly being hon­est, it no longer mat­ters if there’s a port-o-pot­ty near­by or not, you’ll set­tle for some bush­es or—if it’s real­ly a’comin’—a tree with a wide trunk.

Route Changes
Your route map­ping now fol­lows con­struc­tion projects with port-o-pot­ties and pub­lic places with bath­rooms. (See above point for an explanation).

Bare Cheeks All the Way
You no longer wear a stitch of make-up when run­ning. In fact, you can’t com­pre­hend why you ever did in the first place – espe­cial­ly mas­cara, which just end­ed up melt­ing, drip­ping, and caus­ing your eyes to water and squint in sear­ing pain there­by com­plete­ly defeat­ing your inten­tion of look­ing pret­ti­er while run­ning. It took a few years, but you’re final­ly real­iz­ing that the smile you get from run­ning because you’re doing some­thing for your­self which makes you feel good, healthy, and hap­py is far more com­pli­men­ta­ry than make-up. In fact, it’s damn sexy!

Your Body and Mind Stop Talking
You are 34; your mind fre­quent­ly for­gets that and approach­es a work­out with the same gus­to and naivety as when you were 22, and your body it just con­fused and becomes con­vinced you’re actu­al­ly 78. While ice baths, stretch­ing, prop­er hydra­tion, and con­sum­ing the appro­pri­ate bal­ance of pro­tein and carbs after tough work­outs (if not after all work­outs) is smart and help­ful in your 20s, it’s an absolute require­ment in your 30s – unless you want to be con­stant­ly bat­tling injuries.

Run With­out Fear
You’re far less like­ly to be fair-weath­er run­ning after a decade of the sport under your feet. While you may have allowed your­self to take a short­cut, skip a run, or walk when things got hard in the past, that’s all behind you now. By your 30s, you’ve been through things much big­ger and hard­er than run­ning (heart­break, child­birth, career changes, death of loved ones, marriage…that sort of thing) and run­ning is just not some­thing to fear. It’s rain­ing? Great, your pit stains won’t be as vis­i­ble. It’s hot­ter than hell? Okay, bring an extra water bot­tle and run slow­er. You’re think­ing of sign­ing up for a marathon? Hell, may as well make it a 50k – because what’s 5 more miles if you’re already com­mit­ted to run­ning 26? The atti­tude of a run­ner in her 30s is sim­ply less intim­i­dat­ed over­all. We don’t have time to be afraid.

Yes, run­ning in this decade of life is a bit more con­sum­ing — both in time and pas­sion. There may be a few new­er — and quite unpleas­ant side effects — to run­ning in the decade rapid­ly approach­ing mid­dle age, but there are also some effects that can­cel all that oth­er crap out. Run­ning in your 30s is worth every bit of extra effort that goes into it, as it makes you hap­pi­er, health­i­er, and feel younger than ever.