Fittest by 40 - Leslie's Challenge

Leslie on top of Mt. Washington

Leslie on top of Mt. Washington

Many of us know that there is a stigma when it comes to aging and physical fitness. 

"It's all downhill from here!"
"I'm too old for ______!"
"It's too late for me."

One of our athletes, Leslie, took on a special challenge when she turned 39. She called it Fittest by 40, and she employed the support of the coaches and the community at CFCL to accomplish a list of goals that would make her the fittest she had ever been. 

Tell us about your Fittest by Forty challenge.

About five years ago, I made the decision to turn my life around and get committed to a healthier lifestyle; cue: my introduction to CrossFit. As I think back to those first days, I recall struggling to even make it through the warm-up. I was extremely out of shape and incredibly insecure, but I had promised myself I wouldn't break my commitment, so I (thankfully) stuck it out.

Over the years I made significant progress, but on my 39th birthday, I realized I had become complacent. I had no doubt I was working hard, but I knew I was capable of more and just wasn't pushing myself as it was out of my comfort zone. I was hungry for a challenge. Knowing the next birthday was a big birthday, I decided I wanted to be the fittest I've ever been before that day rolled around. I also decided "fittest" was too subjective and too vague, so I figured it made the most sense to create a list of goals (17 of them!) to use as a benchmark along the way and to help me keep objective accountability. And then I posted it on Facebook for ultimate accountability - giving myself exactly one year (my 40th birthday) to accomplish the list.  

What inspired you to take on the challenge?

Honestly, the day I turned 39, I felt immediate dread about what was going to happen on the same day 12 months later; 40 was just (really) tough to swallow. Since I had been spending time working on understanding the power and impact of reframing your thoughts, perceptions and attitudes, I wondered, "What if I take complete control of this dread, flip my mindset, and turn this into something positive instead?" And thus the "Fittest by 40" challenge was born. I wanted the obvious benefits that come along with increased fitness, but I also wanted to work hard for something, to feel good about about something, and to stare my fear straight in the eye.

Leslie at a competition. 

Leslie at a competition. 

How did you choose what to do? 

To begin, I had a meeting with Coach Mat. We spent about an hour talking about not only WHAT I wanted to accomplish, but he also had me explore the WHY behind each task, which ended up being the more important piece because those reasons became the driving force when the training got really hard or when the doubts crept (or stormed) in. I wanted my list of goals to include some of the obvious gym stuff (i.e. hit personal records on certain lifts, hold a plank for 3 minutes, do full-form push ups, etc.), but I also wanted some of my goals to include experiences. After all, the whole point of CrossFit is to prepare your body for life outside of the gym ("functional fitness"), so it only made sense to put that to the test and include those type of activities (i.e. run a 10K, run the full Harvard stadium steps, climb Mt. Washington(!), etc.) on the goal list. I also included some items, like participate in my first competition, because I knew I had a huge fear of failure and a huge fear of being out of my comfort zone that needed to be addressed. Both Coach Mat and Coach Dan helped me figure out the specifics of all the benchmarks, and we made those decisions by figuring out what would be very challenging to achieve but within the realm of possibility if I spent the whole year training hard. The last factor that went into deciding what to put on the list was that I wanted to have fun (i.e. a Spartan race!).

Finished the 10K. 

Finished the 10K. 

What were the biggest "reaches"? 

Haha - when I sat down to answer this question, this was my thought process: "Oh, it was definitely.... no wait, it was definitely... actually no, it was..." and then I realized I had gone through the majority of my list in this manner, so I guess most of the tasks would be considered big "reaches" when I began this journey; there wasn't one item on there that I wasn't skeptical of achieving. However, I think I would put climbing Mt. Washington as the biggest reach, which it proved to be. That was the big one - I had no idea if I could do it, but I was determined as heck. 

Talk to us about fear. How did fear play a role in this journey, before you started, during, and after. What did you learn about fear? 

Oh, this whole idea was built on fear. I had a fear of turning 40, I had a fear of not being good enough, and I had a fear of failure. But I had two choices: succumb to it or face it head on. Throughout the process, those fears absolutely existed (old habits die hard), and they still exist today, but I now cope with them in new ways. I learned that my fear of turning 40 could be swapped out for gratitude (I'm healthy, I'm happy, and I'm alive!). I learned that my fear of not being good enough was completely self-imposed and that constant comparison to others no longer needs to be my barometer. And finally, I learned that fear of failure (which is so, so deeply rooted) is ok (and common) to have, but now instead of letting it dictate what I do/don't do, I just focus on having an awareness of its existence, and I accept it and challenge myself to push through anyway. 

What were the Top 3 highlights?

1) Reaching the top of Mt. Washington. Going into it I knew it was going be incredibly difficult, but it turned out to be even harder than I ever could have imagined. My brother hit the nail on the head when he said, "Physical fitness will get you to the base of the ravine (4500ft); mental fitness will get you to the summit (6200ft)." To this day, I have never challenged myself both physically and mentally as much as I did when I climbed that beast. When I say it took everything in me to make it, I mean EVERYTHING. Thankfully, my dear friend, Grace, stood (climbed) by my side every step of the way. Taking the final steps to reach the top was indescribable... and the tears just poured out.

2) Hitting my snatch goal... with only two days left to spare before my deadline! That lift became my nemesis. It's so technical, but what proved to be most challenging was getting out of my own darn head. After months and months of working on it,  I knew I had the technique, I knew I had the strength, but as soon as I was aware of the weight on the bar, my crazy head took over and I would "miss" the lift even before I picked up the bar. Eventually we found a workaround and decided I would start doing blind lifts; weight would be put on the bar but I wouldn't know what it was, I would just do the lift without looking ahead of time or doing the math. And sure enough, two days before my birthday, Coach Cassi jumped up and down and ran over to hug me and tell me that I met my goal. Another moment I will never forget.

3) Hands down - the overwhelming support I received. I don't think the CFCL community will ever know how much they contributed to me reaching my goals and how grateful I am to be part of something so awesome. Over the span of a year, there wasn't a day that went by that someone didn't help push me along in this journey. From quick check-ins to see how it was going, to long talks in the locker room when I had self-doubt, to excitedly offering to join in on an activity, to keeping me company during some extra lifting, to sticking around to hold some planks with me, to whatever...  and I almost never had to ask; they just showed up. Additionally, having the support of all of the coaches, especially during the endless hours spent with Coach Dan and Coach Cassi (my "Dream Team") who pushed me when I needed to be pushed, and who believed in me enough until I could believe in myself. To say the CFCL community is amazing is a bold understatement. 

Leslie and Grace P. post-Spartan race. 

Leslie and Grace P. post-Spartan race. 

What do you want to tell people who are turning forty (or any age!), who may feel that their peak physical years are behind them? 

First, that may not be true (see: me). Second, even if it is, it is irrelevant. What matters most is what you do today. You have a lot of life left to live, and every day you put in the work to take care of your mind and your body, you give yourself an advantage. Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who is in his 70s. He was reflecting on his past and telling a story about how he used to sail boats. In the middle of his story, he said, "But then I turned 40 and, well, you're that age so you know, everything goes down hill from there." And I just happily thought to myself, "No, sir - I'm just getting started."

Final thoughts?

I went into this with a goal of improving my fitness, but what I got what was so much more. The hard work and training may have happened at the gym, but the rewards were reaped in all aspects of my life. At the end of my year-long challenge, a good friend of mine who has known me for years, Gretchen, commented on my list of achieved of goals: "The thing this list doesn't show is how confident you've become over the last year. It's noticeable, inspiring, and so impressive." That increased confidence, something I have struggled with my entire life, is a direct result of this experience, and something that has translated far beyond barbell. 

I am happier. I am healthier. And I am forever grateful.

Rachel Binette