This Unstoppable Trail Runner Is Making Fitness After 40 Look Easy
But for Willie McBride, it meant climbing the highest peak in Victoria, Australia, completing two double crossings of the Grand Canyon, traversing 50 miles across remote Iceland, and running the New York Marathon.
And that wasn’t even all of it.
The professional trail runner checked off a total of 40 remarkable endurance feats this past year in celebration of his 40th birthday—a project he dubbed “40 for 40”. Spanning hundreds of miles and multiple continents, the events involved climbing up rocky mountains, skiing across snow-covered trails, hiking through steep wooded forests, and competing in high-energy marathons.
Many of McBride’s “40 for 40” exploits would be impressive bucket list items in their own right—Vancouver Island’s formidable 29.2-mile Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, for example, or a grueling trek through Death Valley, the lowest point in North America.
The Los Angeles Marathon. The Vancouver Marathon. The Chicago Marathon. The list goes on.
Yet McBride managed to squeeze all 40 endurance events into one jam-packed year.
“I've often said that with any really big challenging adventure, at some point you should question why you're doing it,” he laughs. “And I definitely hit multiple points where I was like, ‘What am I doing? This is ridiculous.’
“It's mind-boggling to think about the past year and all of the things I've been fortunate enough to do. It's such a jumble of things. It's been amazing.”
He wants people to know that getting older doesn’t have to mean slowing down or resigning to permanently shrinking muscles and expanding waistlines. You can stay fit and have fun at any age, he says. In fact, some people hit a new stride in midlife that brings their fitness to a whole new level. It's all about your attitude.
“Don’t listen to the stereotypical hype about getting older,” he says. “In a lot of ways, being 40 and beyond, you're better than ever.”
That doesn’t mean everything stays the same, he says. McBride is the first to acknowledge that your body changes as you age, and that it’s important to listen to it. Chronic injuries are more common and stiff joints begin creaking for attention. Certain movements won’t feel as fluid anymore, and there are some activities you have to modify, or even refrain from altogether. And recovery definitely won’t be as quick.
However, you also have a host of assets that you never had in your youth—some of which you may not even be aware of, he says.
McBride points to strengths like patience, discipline, mindfulness, motivation, and mental toughness, all of which tend to increase with time. You also have more life experience, which provides strength in numerous areas of your health and wellness.
One of the biggest drivers of their success, he says, is the shift in mindset that often accompanies midlife. It’s a time when people begin overcoming limiting beliefs about themselves. They start picking up new hobbies and viewing themselves in new ways.
“So much of what controls us when we’re younger is preconceived notions of ourselves,” McBride says. “We put ourselves in boxes saying ‘I'm not a runner’ or whatever baggage we’ve picked up.
“But then, at some point we snap out of those things. We think, ‘Maybe I can run. Maybe I could climb a mountain.’ Things that always looked interesting to us, but that we always told ourselves we couldn't do because ‘we’re not adventurous enough’ or ‘we’re risk-averse’ or whatever we’ve told ourselves, they suddenly become attainable.”
These shifts often come about as a result of major life events such as divorce, death, or family crises, he says. People go through health scares or have “come-to-Jesus moments,” all of which can provide exceptional fuel for fitness journeys.
“Something shakes you up enough that you start to think about your potential in different ways,” McBride says. “And that can definitely inspire us to do some interesting new things.
“A lot of these life experiences, both good and bad, can really propel us to do big things. To travel. To go to new places, to try new challenges.”
When it comes to the exercise component, McBride is a big advocate of functional fitness, or training that prepares your body for the fundamental movements and activities of everyday life.
It’s also important to enjoy what you’re doing, he says. Whether you’re a fitness veteran or someone who hasn’t exercised in years, you need to like what you’re doing if you’re going to continue it into old age. The activity you pick isn’t as important as the consistency with which you do it, he says. It could be an aerobics class or a type of martial art; a sport like basketball, soccer, and tennis; or an outdoor activity like skiing, hiking, biking, or trail running. Ideally, it will be a combination of things.
Whatever it is, pick something you look forward to doing.
“It’s about finding a way to move that you enjoy, that doesn't feel torturous to do regularly—and then weaving that into a lifestyle,” he says. “If you really love it, it starts to become part of life. Not, ‘Should I train today?’ but ‘Do I get to do this thing that I love to do?’
“So experiment with movement, find what you like, and do it.
“Then get out there and do it again. Any time we repeat an action, we're strengthening that muscle.”
Walking is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stay in shape, he says. People of all ages can do it and it doesn't require any special gear.
“As humans with two legs, walking is our basic form of locomotion,” he says. “Yet so many people avoid it or hardly ever walk in our modern lives. But walking is a very accessible place to start. And it gets you in that practice of getting out and doing something. It’s sort of a stepping stone. I like to call it a ‘gateway movement.’”
“Being outside is essential for people of all ages,” he says. “For our mental health, it is so powerful.
“If it's running, that's awesome. If that's hiking, biking—even stopping to sit and eat a snack and look at the view. There are so many different ways to spend time outside and move your body.”
Wy'east Wolfpack runs a podcast called “Get After It PDX” and one of his mantras is “seize the day.” This maxim forms the basis for his personal philosophy on life, he says, and the reason he wanted to do the “40 for 40”: he didn’t want to keep putting things off.
“Life could literally end at any second,” he says. “That's apparent in so many ways, especially since the pandemic—how drastically life can change in the blink of an eye.
“I wanted to experiment with doing as much as possible now instead of putting it on some list that maybe won’t ever get done. I wanted to start ticking them off. To look at the calendar, plan for it, make dates to do them, and get them done.”
One of his favorite moments in the last 12 months came during a 27-mile hike he took with his fiancé to the southernmost point of mainland Australia. They hiked down to a place called Wilson's Promontory, and watched the sunset over the ocean together back at camp. It was a simple moment—eating food, sitting next to one another, and celebrating life. But it made him feel immense gratitude, as well as excitement about the future.
“I felt so grateful to be alive and that we got to move our bodies in this way,” he recalls. “Every time we get to go outside, every time we get to wake up and do these things is such an incredible gift. I want to be moving and adventuring in different capacities my whole life.
“It's exciting to me, especially after this crazy year, to think that at 40 years old, I could be only halfway through. That I might have 40 years or more of these adventures ahead of me.”