Not Too Late

The Power of Pushing Limits at Any Age

About the Book

An award-winning journalist tells the inspiring story of her unlikely midlife journey to master the daunting sport of obstacle course racing—a powerful, science-based account of the change possible at any age when we push limits.

“This story of personal transformation is thrilling.”—Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project and Life in Five Senses

In her midforties, Gwendolyn Bounds attended a dinner party where someone asked a little girl: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It struck Bounds: In middle age, no one asks you that anymore. So she put the question to herself. The answer set her on an unexpected five-year path of transformation from an unathletic office executive glued to her screens to an age-group medalist and world championship competitor in obstacle course racing—a demanding military-style sport requiring speed, endurance, mobility, and strength. 

In Not Too Late, Bounds explores how tackling something new and hard upended her expectations for middle age—while also helping her reconcile regrets of her youth. Her story takes us from playgrounds and gyms, where Bounds relearns childhood movements (swinging from monkey bars, climbing a rope); to far-flung Spartan Race courses, where she strives to master running in difficult terrain and to conquer challenges such as scaling tall walls, crawling under barbed wire, and carrying heavy loads of rocks up mountains. 

Bounds’s journey offers inspiration and a road map for anyone craving more out of life. Woven through Not Too Late are insights from scientists, longevity doctors, philosophers, elite athletes, and performance experts on how to reimagine our limits and who we think we are. Through Bounds’s story, as she changes her body and mindset, we learn about humans’ capacity to tap inner reserves, face fears, locate intrinsic motivation, and push boundaries at any life stage.

Ultimately, one message prevails: When unleashing our full potential, age can be a secret weapon.
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Praise for Not Too Late

“An inspiring guide on how to unearth a “second wind,” from someone who’s been there.”Kirkus Reviews

“Thrilling.”—Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project and Life in Five Senses and host of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast

“A must-read for anyone at a crossroads!”—Rich Diviney, retired Navy SEAL and bestselling author of The Attributes

“A fantastic page-turner of a story.”—Alex Hutchinson, New York Times bestselling author of Endure

“Those of us tethered to our devices or trapped by our own perceived limits will find inspiration here.”—Kai Ryssdal, host of Marketplace

“No matter your age, Not Too Late will inspire you to make big positive changes—to do hard things you didn’t think you could.”—Michael Easter, New York Times bestselling author of The Comfort Crisis and Scarcity Brain

“A must-read for anyone seeking to break free from the constraints of age and redefine what is possible in their life.”—Joe De Sena, Spartan founder and CEO and New York Times bestselling co-author of 10 Rules for Resilience and Spartan Up!

“Bounds captures the powerful lure of discovering ‘flow’ in midlife as she embraces something bold and once unimaginable.”—Chip Conley, bestselling author of Learning to Love Midlife

Not Too Late is so addicting that I was torn between reading another page and getting out the door to power through a run.”—Deena Kastor, Olympic marathon medalist and New York Times bestselling author of Let Your Mind Run

“An ode to the value of sport: a sense of belonging, intimacy, and mastery that’s good for not just the body and mind but also the soul.”—Brad Stulberg, bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness

“Bounds not only changed her own life; her irresistible story will change yours.”—Joanne Lipman, bestselling author of Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work

“Anyone who has ever felt the pull of the couch and midlife malaise will want to dive in.”—Matthew Futterman, author of Running to the Edge

“Honest, humble, and very funny.”—Jason Gay, New York Times bestselling author of I Wouldn’t Do That If I Were Me and Little Victories

Not Too Late will resonate with anyone who has hit midlife only to wonder: Is this it?”—Jeff Bercovici, author of Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age

“For anyone who has ever wondered if there’s more juice to squeeze out of life. So—basically everyone.”—Scott Keneally, writer/director of Rise of the Sufferfests: A Film About Mud, Masochism and Modern Life

“An intimate first-person story of pivoting in midlife to embrace challenge, persevere, and triumph.”—R. Douglas Fields, PhD, author of Electric Brain and Why We Snap
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Excerpt

Not Too Late

1

When You Grow Up


Summer 2016

Saturday morning. The quiet click of the wall-mounted air-conditioning unit’s fan turning on and the first pink daylight creeping over the hills through our windows bring me awake. I stretch my legs in the cool sheets and focus my sleepy eyes on the trees. They are fat and flush this time of year, dark-green leaves hiding a ridgeline of the Hudson Highlands. In the winter, when the landscape is stripped of its plumage, the hills are visible as a gently curved line, like a woman lying on her side.

Usually, I spend a few minutes studying the tree line and getting my bearings for the day, but this morning, something feels off immediately. I went to sleep unsettled, and the source of my unrest is fighting to surface from a night underwater in now fuzzy dreams.

I sift quickly through events from the past week. After nearly two decades working as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, I’ve taken a new job overseeing the magazine and website at Consumer Reports, a historic nonprofit that rates and reviews products and that fights for improvements in laws protecting what we eat, drive, and buy. My days are spent amid a sprawling network of laboratories where our engineers and scientists dig into the performance of everything from washing machines and smartwatches to cars and snowblowers. We’re dealing with all sorts of new competitive threats to our business, but work isn’t what’s bothering me now.

My mind keeps sifting. There’s a lot to do, as always, weekend catch-up kind of stuff—house chores, errands, email, calling my parents back home in North Carolina. I should probably try to get in some form of exercise, maybe a short jog. Same as most weekends.

I yawn. And then I remember. That little girl at the dinner party.

We’d been at our friends’ house the night prior for a small gathering. The hosts’ two almost-teenage children, a boy and girl, flitted in and out of the dining and living rooms, engaging briefly with the adults before retreating to their lairs and gadgets. At one point, a man in his late sixties, enjoying his gin, attempted to make meaningful contact and pulled the young girl’s sleeve with a persistent tug.

“Young lady,” he said with a formality that made her eyes narrow with suspicion as she instinctively pulled back to reclaim her sleeve. He held on firmly. “Young lady, so, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I listened in, sipping my drink. The young girl’s face relaxed and her eyes visibly brightened. This was a safe question. A fun question! She bounced lightly on her patterned-sock-clad toes, buoyed by the possibilities—so many they came spilling out in an excited, unorganized tumble.

“Well, I’m thinking I should be a veterinarian because whenever I see the dead birds on our road, I want to help them, but my dad says you need to go to school for a long time for that, and so I was thinking maybe I’d be a painter because I get good grades in art. I can show you something I drew of a unicorn marrying a caterpillar. Oh! And I’m better at the computer than my brother, so I could go work at Apple, that would be fun. . . .”

And it went on and on from there. I watched the old man’s watery eyes fill with regret, sorry he’d ever asked, topped off my drink, and then stood up to look around the room for my wife, Lisa. After catching her eye and seeing her give me the Look (translation: Rescue me), I joined her and two guests who had broken the unspoken “no politics” social rule and were debating the upcoming 2016 election.

As I began looking for an opening to change the subject, the old man’s voice reverberated inside my head.

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I stood mute for a few moments, losing sight of my purpose until Lisa nudged me gently; she’d been at this conversation for a while and wanted out. Refocusing, I resumed searching for a cue to extricate us elegantly, but then it happened again.

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

The phrase was still there, a hanging chad.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

And that’s when it hit me.

Nobody was ever going to ask me that again.

Like, ever.

It was two months before my forty-fifth birthday, which, based on the average life span, brings with it a definitive declaration of being fully grown up and—hard swallow—having at least one foot firmly planted in the camp of the middle-aged. I’ve never been one to dwell much on the number. Ever since I survived fleeing my lower Manhattan apartment on the morning of the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks, as the twin towers collapsed around us, I’ve known there are far worse alternatives to another birthday.

But still, all those things that little girl named, they sounded like fun things to do, to be. She might choose them. She might be them. She had time. Enough time. They were still possible.

I am a lot of things already, but there are more things I am not. I’ve always felt young enough to become those things in the future if I chose to. But what if I’m too old to be anything more than what I already am?

I drank too deeply from my champagne glass, a defensive measure to quell my mental ramble. Come on, I thought, pull yourself together. That’s what people ask little girls and boys. It’s fine. Get us out of this conversation.

And so I did, with some thin excuse about us helping the host in the kitchen. (She was in the bathroom.) But I carried the panicky feeling with me for the rest of the night and then took it home with us.

Remembering now, here in the clarity of morning, I shift my legs restlessly, which makes Lisa’s rhythmic breathing next to me pause for a moment. I force myself to stop, be still, and recount all the good things I know to be true. I love and am still in love with the person I met eleven years ago and have since married. My job is hard, but overall, it has purpose and meaning. My parents are alive and healthy. I am alive. I’ve come to terms with not having children—maybe not completely, but without letting it burn up all else that’s good—and filled my life with the kids of my friends. A lot of boxes are checked. And I’m busy—so very busy!—tending to the carefully constructed infrastructure of my adult life—commuting, house maintenance, dog walking, vacation planning, volunteering. There’s no room or time to be or do something more, even if I wanted to.

Yet the unsettled feeling from last night . . . it won’t go away. My laptop is lying next to me on the floor where I dropped it after answering some emails late the night before. I pick it up, give our fourteen-year-old golden retriever, Dolly, a kiss on her soft forehead as I do every morning, and walk into the living room. Scan the news for a bit. Make a pot of coffee and realize I’m a little hungover from the champagne and the conversation. Return to the computer.

Then I click open an empty Google browser.

I’m not sure what I think Google can do for me. And I’m not even sure what I’m looking for when I start tapping out the words “What are the hardest things you can do . . .” It’s just a half-formed thought, but Google’s algorithm is ready to help with suggestions of common search queries made by some of the other 7.4 billion people currently on this earth who’ve clearly wondered the same thing. I see a drop-down search option suggestion for “What are the hardest physical things you can do?” and mindlessly click that, since I don’t have a real end destination in mind.

Among the search results is this post on Livestrong.com: “The 10 Toughest Endurance Challenges (You Can Actually Do).” I recognize things like the Boston Marathon and Ironman. That’s serious athlete stuff—way out of my league. There’s also something called “Spartan Race,” which I’ve never heard of.

Mostly out of curiosity, I click the link and start reading. And then I keep clicking and reading more. Spartan racing apparently is some sort of extreme endurance sport—a “sufferfest” is what some people dub it online. Running up and down mountains, climbing ropes, hauling buckets of gravel and heavy sandbags, lugging blocks of cement, crawling under barbed wire—crazy stuff they call “obstacle course racing.” It’s apparently a booming business and nothing my angular, 122-pound, five-foot-ten frame can comprehend. I struggle curling a ten-pound arm weight for more than ten reps at the gym and still can summon the humiliation of childhood team-picking for sports and being among the last names called.

Still, it’s a good distraction from the memory of last night.

About the Author

Gwendolyn Bounds
Gwendolyn Bounds is an award-winning journalist and author whose career spans influential media brands including The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Consumer Reports, CNBC, SmartNews, and more. Her first book, Little Chapel on the River, earned wide acclaim for its poignant portrayal of life inside a small-town pub after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Raised in North Carolina, Bounds now lives in New York’s Hudson River Valley. More by Gwendolyn Bounds
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