Running at 50 – Balancing fitness and life.Running marathons may have helped her meet her husband, but this 50-plus dental hygienist has kept up her healthy lifestyle in spite of her age.It’s not easy being a marathon runner in New Orleans. “Our culture is all about food and drinking,” laughs Maria Martinez Ducote. “To not partake in that is hard. Being a mom and keeping up with my schedule is hard. Dealing with hormonal issues as we age is hard. Those are just a few of the struggles I have as an athlete.”Ducote wasn’t always an athlete. “I was never active in school,” she says. “I’m from a very intellectual family. I have a Spanish father and a French mother. I was never the kid who was picked to be on a team.”But one thing Ducote had going for her is her family’s longevity. “My relatives have lived long, healthy lives. My mother is 93. She grew up on a sugar cane plantation and grew everything they ate. She’s lived a good life, and she’s taught me so much.”Maria and husband, Marc.Although she studied to be a dental hygienist, Ducote did a very New Orleans thing when she opened a restaurant/bar/catering company.“It was successful, but the lifestyle was killing me,” she says. “I finally had to pull the plug and go back to being a dental hygienist for my own well-being and peace of mind.”Feeling the need to be more fit, Ducote began running. She wanted to meet other people who led a healthy lifestyle.“I wanted to meet men who didn’t drink,” she recalls.She began biking in addition to running and met her husband, who also enjoys biking. He is from New Orleans, but was living and working in Los Angeles.She began participating in marathons, winning her age group in every marathon she ran in Louisiana. She did so well that she qualified for the World Championships in Hawaii.“I got there on my own, with no athletic background,” muses Ducote. “I only thought it was hard then. I tell these young women in their twenties and thirties that they need to enjoy what they’ve got.”Running for the Ducotes is a family affair.A late-in-life mom, Ducote had a daughter 11 years ago and life changed in a drastic way.“For a world-class athlete, the changes on the body when you give birth to a child are drastic,” she says. “There were hormonal changes and the natural metabolism changes that happen in your forties. I had to re-establish myself as a runner, but work on it around my family. It’s a balancing act, for sure.”Making the commitment to an athletic lifestyle can be one thing, but getting a family onboard can be a challenge. Ducote says the struggle is worth it for their health.“I have to find my time, my way of staying fit, but it causes everyone around me to change their schedule,” she says. “I’ve learned to work around kid’s preferences by finding products like healthy chicken nuggets at Whole Foods and prepping food ahead of time. I have to make sure I keep healthy food on hand, such as chicken, salad, fish, avocados, pasta, protein bars, and plenty of water.”It’s Ducote’s desire to inspire others with her healthy lifestyle.“I have trained people, and the biggest hurdle is getting them to be all in,” she says. “I also work with children whenever I can. I’ve helped coordinate three kids marathons because it’s important to keep kids moving and promote good health. I’ve also worked to help get bike lanes established in New Orleans. I want my child to see that I’m doing things to improve myself and the world.” Susan Marquez has been a freelance writer since 2001 with articles published on topics from homes and garden to business profiles and more. She is also a member of the Association of Food Journalists and Southern Foodways Alliance.