“In all honesty, I’m absolutely fine about turning 40.” Pause. “But…”
I wait while Ben looks out the window.
“Every now and then you get this thing where you think, OK, I”m nearly 40, which is basically nearly 50, that’s nearly 60, 70..and you’re dead.” He laughs. “30 felt close to 20, 40 feels closer to 50. But generally, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest in terms of numbers.”
I ask Ben whether he had any thoughts when he was younger about what 40 would be like. He says: “No, not really, apart from maybe thinking, oh, that’s really old. Like, you should have made it by the time you’re 40. You should have a Ferrari and a massive house and all that sort of stuff. Then you look back on those predictions and think well, I’ve failed.”
He laughs and tells me he’s much more of an estate car man anyway.
“When I really think about it, at 40, you’ve only really lived twenty years as an adult. Previous to that you’re just learning stuff, so if you think of all those things that have happened in 20 years, and you have all of that to come again, and that’s before you even think about retiring, that’s a huge amount of time still to go.”
Ben’s Mum passed away when he was 5, and his Dad when he was 21. He says: “It was literally like right, you’re now out in the wide world on your own. That took over any thoughts on what life was going to be like. We [his siblings and him] didn’t have the stereotypical family, so it was hard to look forward.”
It was only in his late twenties that he felt settled enough to start thinking about the future. By this time he’d met his wife Inga, they’d moved into a flat in Cheltenham, he’d gone back to University and felt like life was back on track.
At 40, Ben is now fitter than he’s ever been, and life seems pretty well rounded. They have a daughter Bella, he got another promotion at work this year and they’re moving house shortly. He says: “I did think at this point we’d have liked to have had another child by now, but that hasn’t worked out for a number of reasons. From the point Inga and I started trying, it took 8 years for Bella to turn up so I think we’re accepting it’s highly unlikely it’s going to happen. But at the same time we feel so lucky with what we have, and in the last 2 years life feels like it’s all come together. We’ve got our family, we’re settled here in Cheltenham and I feel like we’re in such a good place now. If Bella wasn’t here I think we’d be having a very different conversation.”
Ben’s wanted to do a triathlon since he started to get fit back in 2012 after sitting on the sofa one day feeling unfit, and has done a few sprint and half Ironman distances over the last four years. His goal though, has always been to do a full Ironman distance, and is training for one in July this year. He says: “I thought to myself, if you’re going to do a triathlon, there’s only one to think about, and there was a certain sweetness to doing it in my 40th year. I go along to BB [a fitness group] and see all the younger guys who are so strong, smashing out the press-ups and I’m like ‘oh, am I now in the older camp’? So there’s an element of proving, both to myself and others, so I can say ‘Fuck you, I’ve just gone and done an Ironman’.”
He laughs. “It’s something to brag about. There’s a sense that 40 feels like you’re not quite past your prime, but you’re definitely getting to a plateau. I read somewhere that when you’re younger you have all your fast twitch muscles, so if you’re going to be a sprinter, do it in your twenties, but endurance type fitness comes in later. So I’m like fine, yep, let’s do that, let’s do the endurance thing. In 10 years time, when I’m 50, I want to be a good role model for Bella. She’ll be 13 then, and I want to still be active, still be doing challenges and pass on all the positivity that comes with that.”
“I’m in a place where I think I’m totally fine with being 40, and as Inga is five years older than me I already have a slight sense of already feeling in my 40’s because of it, but there’s a part of me that wonders if I’d have started being more active and fitter when I was 25, could I be a better version of myself now? Have I missed an opportunity at some point? Could I be driving around in leather pants and a Ferrari?”
I laugh, and tell him maybe the Ferrari is his goal for 50 then.