Boulder, Colo.-based athlete Ellen Hart’s story could have ended as a tragedy about natural talent flushed down the toilet with the food she purged. (You may remember seeing the movie made about her in high school health class called “Dying To Be Perfect.”) Instead, when Hart hit middle age, she flipped the script—writing her own incredible comeback that proves, in both sports and life, second chances are there if we make them.
More than 40 years ago, Hart was one of the fastest runners in the world. In 1980 she made it onto the Olympic team, but she missed her chance to compete due to the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games. Four years and five world titles later (not to mention a degree from Harvard University), she got another shot at the team, but by then her struggles with eating disorders had consumed both her life and her body, forcing her to hang up her shoes.
When she hit middle age, she became determined to start a second life—Life 2.0. After years of therapy to address her eating disorders, a divorce from her high-profile husband Federico Peña (who was the former mayor of Denver), and raising three children, Hart found love again, and with it, a second athletic career. She remarried and, at age 50, her husband bought her a bike for her birthday. That gift steered her down the path to triathlons.
Now, at the age of 63, Hart has finally found her stride. She’s won 18 age-group world championships to date and is gearing up for the elite invitation-only Kona Ironman World Championships in October. (For those who don’t know, that’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run—which Hart completes in roughly 10 hours.)
How does she train so hard and compete at such a high level as she advances in age? The answer is surprising: She has learned how to rest, she says during a recent video interview from her home in Boulder.
Hart is a warm woman with short, gray hair, an excitable voice, and skin that crinkles around her eyes when she smiles (which is often). She’s beautiful—not because she looks young for her age but precisely because she doesn’t. The lines on her face tell her story: one of struggle, persistence, and joy.
Being competitive is in her nature, and she knew aging would be an enormous struggle for her if she got caught up in comparison to her younger self. “Even if you want to run really fast, which I do, at some point, your body just can’t do it,” she says.
She discovered that if she could learn to compare herself to her peers, instead, she could let go of the self-judgement that would ultimately defeat her. “Age-group competition is fabulous,” she said. “There’s an image I used to have of old people—I thought I’d have a foot in the grave by age 63. And now here I am, thinking I can’t wait to turn 65 because I move into a different competitive bracket. What woman do you know who wants to get older?” she says, laughing.
When it comes to her training, she has also had to let go of her previous expectations and change the way she views herself. She no longer thinks of herself as a machine that she can push endlessly past its limits. She has learned to appreciate her body and what it does for her, and with that has blossomed a desire to give it the fuel and rest it needs. Some call it “self-care,” which, for Hart, boils down to recovery. Her success, she now knows, depends on it.
“I look at all the things that can help with longevity self-preservation and recovery. I can’t train the way I used to train. My body would break down, and I wouldn’t last two weeks. I’m more aware of things now. I realize that I have abused my body in the past, and I’ve gotten a second chance. I’m not going to blow it.”
Hart also works as a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children in Boulder County, so she doesn’t have the time to make training and recovery her single focus. “I don’t get massages every week or anything,” she says. Instead, she leans on simple things she can do to relax: sleep and CBD. (“I also try to meditate, but I’m not great at it,” she says, laughing.)
Her favorite CBD product is Miraflora’s Recovery Balm, which combines organic full-spectrum hemp flower oil with shea butter and coconut oil. “I can tell it works right away,” she says. She also uses the +Sports tincture and soft gels, which she says help with muscle soreness and relaxation. “This has been a really amazing thing to add into my regimen.”
These days, as she ramps up her training for Kona, it’s clear she’s having the time of her life—she radiates joy. “The old model is that the older you get, the worst things get, and the less fun you have. That’s not what it feels like,” she says, shaking her short, gray hair emphatically. “I am so much better at taking care of myself, and I have things like CBD that help with that process. It’s exciting.”
Aging, of course, is inevitable. But for Hart, it comes down to one single question: “What are you going to do with that situation?” she says. For her, the answer is easy: win.