Stronger, Faster, Older

September 16, 2015

IMG_0241I spent 10 days in the desert at Burning Man, in a camp of a 100 people who came together to form a lovely temporary community. The winds and the dust were fierce, but I still danced every day, sometimes for eight to ten hours—for those 10 days, that was my fitness.

And somehow I still managed to injure myself. A member of our camp had been given a portion of Timothy Leary’s ashes by his family, and she thought it would be fitting to recremate them in the “Totem of Confessions” (in a Burning Man ritual, the art and architecture is always burned to the ground during the last days of the Festival). When it came time to pick up the litter on which the reliquary that held the ashes sat, some members of the camp volunteered me. It looked like it was made out of paper mache, so I leaned down and picked it up with all the form that you would use to pick up a Kleenex. It wasn’t paper mache. And like that: tweaked back.

It was a fitting end to my month of rest after the Games. No one disagrees that rest is needed after such intense exertion, but people do vary in the amount they suggest is optimal. Some tell you not to take more than a week off. But I struggled to return to the gym. Unlike someone like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, the CrossFit world champion in 2014, who has the goal of the next Games and the incentive of her sponsorships to keep her motivated, I did it solely for the challenge of working up to my potential. I don’t plan to compete again.

Plus, I had a road trip already planned, which didn’t lend itself to a lot of gym time. But, me being me, I didn’t totally veg out. I stuck to the running program that genius trainer Chris Hinshaw created (he uses an amazing algorithm that takes all your performance numbers and spits out a personalized set of paced intervals). And I feel the gains: I’m stronger, fleeter, and can go much farther than I’ve ever done before.

IMG_4888That success has pointed me toward my next goal. We’ve all seen what happens with age: we slow down, muscles and joints start to ache, and the training that kept us fit and active for years begins to lose its efficacy. We hit a peak in our early thirties, and it just goes downhill from there, even if we train for general physical preparedness—the CrossFit model of “functional fitness”—which is the best way out there to train.

But does it have to go downhill? My experience with running tells me it doesn’t have to; that a generally fit individual can take steps to counteract the effects of age, and maybe even improve beyond what he or she was capable of doing at the peak of fitness. It won’t always be easy—as with anything in life, the worthiness of a task is often equal to its difficulty—but I believe that I can find ways to continue improving.

Almost two years ago, I set out to reach my fullest genetic potential by training for and competing in the CrossFit Games. The feeling of pushing my body to its limits and beyond was exhilarating. But I’ve had countless people say, “I don’t need to do what you do because I just want to fit into my clothes.” Fine. But if you can’t squat down or bend over to pick up something without thinking about it, if you can’t live in a dynamic way well into your 50s and 60s and 70s (and beyond, I hope), then what is the point of those hours slogging away in the gym or around a track? Instead, think about training as giving yourself a gift: the gift of living a joyful life, where there are no limits.

So one great goal—competing in the CrossFit Games—has come to an end, but a new adventure awaits. Through experimentation, consultation with experts, and, of course, more hours in the gym, I hope to find some answers to the conundrum of staying fit while aging. And when I do, I’ll post them here.



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  • Reply PhotoGirl September 17, 2015 at 9:20 am

    How I wish I’d kept up with my fitness; I so admire you! We are more or less the same age, but when I look at you and then at myself, I’m a bit despondent. So I have a question for you: if you had to start from scratch with fitness at this time in your life, and if you were significantly overweight, where would you begin? Would you worry about exercise at all or just concentrate on your diet? And where do you find the inner strength to persevere? Actually, that second question is probably more important than the first. If I knew how to do that, I might not feel so overwhelmed about the rest.

    I know that you’re not a medical professional, but I would still love to have your opinion. Thanks so much.

    • Reply Sandy Hill September 17, 2015 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for writing and I am happy that you found some inspiration here. What you eat is the fuel for your efforts, even when you are starting out. So make your initial changes there. Set a realistic goal which will train new eating habits rather than thinking about pounds and calories at first. Have you heard of the Whole30 []? I know lots of people who have had success with that plan. At the same time, join a gym which supports your efforts to improve. CrossFit affiliates are very good at this, but any gym which programs functional fitness will do. Most CrossFit gyms offer group programs specifically targeted at habitualizing eating well and regular workouts, and a coach who can coach you through these challenging lifestyle changes with compassion and understanding. Thanks for asking and I look forward to hearing about your progress.

  • Reply VC December 14, 2015 at 12:04 am

    Hi Sandy…I’m the mother-in-law of your nephew; I happed upon your site after his “like” on one of your posts popped up on my newsfeed awhile back.
    Your writings certainly reflect the same drive I see in your family members I know. Like them, you seem to continually challenge yourself to grow and successfully master your pursuits, whether they be physical, spiritual or intellectual. When reading this particular post of yours, I thought of another woman I’ve heard of who embraces her age while continuing her passions in life. Following is a link of an interview she did several years ago at the age of 91. She’s now 97.
    Cheers to you, Sandy, as you welcome the coming seasons of your life – may they hold joy, continued curiosity & growth, and most of all, the love of family and friends. After all, no matter the accomplishments of our lives, it’s what’s in our heart and how we’ve shared that which will remain our greatest legacies.
    “I don’t believe in age. I believe in energy. Don’t let age dictate what you can and cannot do.” ~Tao Porchon-Lynch

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