A CrossFitter's Journey into the Endurance World
In pursuit of my fittest self after age 50!
My Friends! The magic of the fitness journey of mid-life is the opportunity to seek new frontiers, goals and challenges. The physical changes that come with age - and even worldwide pandemics - serve as opportunities to expand our fitness horizons in ways we otherwise never would have, had we not been faced with these challenges. Today I share my personal journey as a CrossFitter who is taking on her fitness nemesis - running! Enjoy! -Carla
The “Master’s” population (age 35+) is the most rapidly growing demographic in the CrossFit world. In fact, in 2021 two new age divisions were added for men and women age 60-64 and age 65+, and just a side note, 60% of CrossFitters are women.
“CrossFit” is defined as “constantly varied functional movement at high intensity”. What that translates into is a fitness program with an expansive repertoire of physical movements programmed in various combinations to achieve a multitude of training stimuli. But one of the best things about CrossFit is that it can be scaled for any level of fitness or physical limitation, lending accessibility to many demographics. The high variability, range of physical skills, and mental grit prepare the athlete for just about any type of physical encounter. Basically, CrossFit is training for whatever life throws your way.
It’s no wonder it has caught on in the older population. Varied and scaleable training is exactly what we need to face the physical challenges of aging, prevent chronic disease, improve physical mobility, and maintain quality of life. This type of training is particularly good for mid-life women. Weight training and plyometrics support metabolism, muscle, and bone health, and opportunities for high-intensity interval training support cardiovascular health.
So at age 45, I drank the Kool-Aid, took my fitness to a whole different level, and became a more resilient, well-rounded athlete than I was in my 20s and 30s. I became a student of the methodology and earned my Level 1 Credential as a CrossFit Trainer shortly thereafter. The foundational principles that really resonate with me are that “fitness happens beyond the margins of our experiences” - which basically means moving outside your comfort zone and “training your weaknesses” to become a more diverse athlete.
Fast forward about 8 years. I’m still drinking the CrossFit Kool-Aid but along the way met an amazing athletic population in the endurance world. I have had the pleasure of meeting women who became triathletes in their 50s, an 81-year-old who is still competing in triathlon and so many others. Being inspired by these women motivated me to take on my fitness nemesis since childhood - endurance running!
Being a typical CrossFitter, I shudder at the 1800m runs that one commonly sees in the workout of the day (WOD). So “endurance” running for me was any run lasting longer than 5 minutes. Yes, I’m serious.
My amazing coach @erika_snyder_ imparted the value of “running headfirst into your weaknesses” and I felt, what better way to do that than to venture into the endurance world!
This journey has been fun and I’m managing 5K distances without a problem, but I would now like to get faster and maybe log even longer distances. So Erika recommended a fantastic running coach to give me some guidance on how to achieve this next level. Enter “Hill training”!
As a physician, trainer, and menopausal athlete, I have read - and posted - on the benefits of high-intensity interval training. Dr. Stacy Sims and others have blogged about this extensively. We see this type of training in CrossFit all the time in “monostructural” workouts where the WOD could simply be a progression of rowing intervals with different ratios of work and rest. Some workouts have combinations of movements such as thrusters, deadlifts, or push-ups in 2-3 min sequences with 1-2 minutes of rest in between. So how different could hill training be?
In a sentence, hill training felt like I was on a different fitness planet. Running in and of itself has taken me so far out of my comfort zone that I sometimes forget where that zone is, so adding hill training to the running fun has been HARD - but AMAZING!
After a gruelling hill-training session on my neighborhood “Heartbreak Hill” (ironically, 2 miles from the starting line of the Boston Marathon), I messaged my friend, Selene Yeager to whine about it. She quickly reminded me how good this is for me - and for any other menopausal woman and pointed me in the direction of her blog “The Magic of Hill Training for Menopause”.
This is a great read and even though conceptually, I felt like I should know this, this type of training is in a category all its own - and I didn’t realize this until I experienced it for myself.
There are many ways to start hill training. Selene’s blog has a great description of this, but some quick highlights including my own experience are as follows.
First, you need to find a moderately steep hill that you can run for quick spurts. Second, make sure you warm up properly with some dynamic stretching (I like the Modified Hinshaw warm-up from TFW) and some quick, easy jogging intervals on flat ground for about 5 minutes. Warm-up is key!! Don’t skip it!
One approach is to start with intervals ranging from 10 - 30 seconds of running uphill with 1-2 minutes of walking/rest in between depending on your fitness level and running experience. My coach suggested 3 min intervals of hill repeats, running up, and a slow jog down with 3 minutes of rest in between each 3-minute interval. This is really hard, and I’m struggling with it, but I’m managing and improving every time I try!
As difficult as this new fitness journey is, I feel invigorated seeing real improvements the longer I stick with it. For me, this mid-life fitness journey is about becoming the most resilient, well-rounded athlete that I can be to support this next half of my life.
As a first-time CrossFitter at age 45, I expanded my fitness horizon to include Olympic lifting, gymnastics, plyometrics, and the soul-crushing classic CrossFit benchmark workouts (see “Meet Fran” from earlier this week). The aches and pains of age and menopause drove me to mobility work and yoga - and now I can do headstands and control my body in ways I never could before. Mindfulness practice and breathwork are new for me and so powerful for helping me overcome self-doubt and bring my cortisol response back to baseline. This path to aging is difficult terrain - but if you are willing to get your hands dirty and turn over a few rocks, you’ll find real opportunities and new paths that you may never have considered before!