This badass conversation started on July the 5th, 2019. Yada yada, I’m ramblin.
Jennifer how young are you?
I am 52.
What was it like the day you turned 50 years young?
Honestly, turning 49 seemed so much more dramatic and dire, by the time 50 starting rolling around I was actually looking forward to it. As for “what it was like” on the actual day – I only remember it being fun. We ate watermelon, my parents had me and the family over for a cookout, we watched fireworks. My birthday is on July the 3rd, I usually feel free to enjoy the collective celebrating of the country and project it onto myself – haha.
Can you explain why you were looking forward to turning 50? Most dread it.
Well, I can’t say I was all “Yay, Whoo Hoo” about turning 50, but I wasn’t upset either. I was looking forward to 50 in this way.
Lets just get on with it and stop focusing on the numbers. There was no reason for me to be upset, depressed or fearful of turning 50.
Why would I want to have negative feelings about the opportunity to be alive and having “more” in my life than ever?
Why wouldn’t you?
No reason to look back and either regret or reminisce for what you did or didn’t have, just move forward and make the best use and enjoyment of what you DO have.
Turn intent into action.
A lot of people do not have this mindset or point of view. Why do you, and what helped form it?
This point of view just makes sense to me. Change is inevitable, adapt or perish. And, when you change and adapt, one would hope it was for the better.
When you change you are pruning yourself, making modifications (subtle or drastic) yes – but in a way that makes you fuller and more beautiful in the end.
Some of this POV is shaped by my parents, they are awesome – they travel (I feel like they’ve been everywhere in the world, I can’t keep up with their plans), are active, are spontaneous, generous, optimistic, embrace and enjoy everything life has to offer but not it an “excess” greedy way. Their influence has shaped who I am today. I never hear them say, “Oh we are old, we can’t do that, we shouldn’t do that,” they adapt and get on with their goals. In fact, last January (the DAY after my Dad’s last chemotherapy for brain cancer) they went to Patagonia for a month of adventure. He’s doing well now, we just got back from a big family European adventure. Was it “exactly” a picture-perfect situation health-wise for him? NO, did that effect our enjoyment and seizing of the days? No!
Sending much peace and health to your dad, no question, just my compassion.
Thank you, he’s doing a lot better than we expected at first.
You don’t seem to allow FEAR to effect the way you live your life. How do you manage FEAR both on and off the course?
There are many versions of fear. I will start this answer with my meeting of a mountain lion on a run at 3:30 in the morning all by myself. I would say that is a situation for straight-up fear. I wasn’t as much fearful as I was on auto-pilot action mode. Thankfully I remembered the “tips” for an encounter and it worked (or it took a look and my skinny, scrappy body and decided I wasn’t worth the effort). I wasn’t face to face, but definitely just a few steps and pounce away. It just sat there and looked at me.
Honestly, it was miraculous and breath-taking and I was in an alternate reality. I felt that I should be afraid, but I was in awe and maybe shock.
Afterward, I told my family that I came straight home, but I actually finished my 14 mile run (going in a different direction) thinking about it all. The mountain lion meeting never stopped me from running in that area again (although I won’t go quite as early and the insistence of my husband and mom). It entered my mind that I could meet my friend again, although I think the odds are low, but I wasn’t going to let fear stop me from running. Fear could have stopped me from doing something I loved, although being aware, prepared and smart is important, you just have to keep going. So cliché, but you could walk out into the street and get hit by a bus.
In a spartan race and other sports, there isn’t much I fear, not heights, not enclosed spaces, not getting dirty or the possibility of getting hurt, not the suffering that comes with bonking. There are things I dislike very much, but it’s not fear, specifically COLD WATER, and being WET COLD. This is my biggest legit physical battle. Occasionally the fear of not doing my best, that’s a personal struggle of high standards.
Normally, I would just ask people (or myself) in a fear-inducing situation, what’s the worst thing that could happen? What is the chance that that would happen? How are you going to feel during and how can you manage it? How will you feel after? Do you know that you will still be awesome if you try and fail (fail is harsh word, how about “try and aren’t as successful as you imagined).
Would you rather get hit by a bus or attacked by a mountain lion?
I guess a mountain lion because I would more likely be outdoors enjoying running, hiking or whatever and have those good feelings as my last memories, except the mauled to death part. Oh well, where a bus just probably meant I was slogging through chores, going here or there, just being, not living.
Unless it was a bus on a tropical island, now that’s a different story.
What are your feelings or relationship with failure?
Well, I don’t really “like” failure, I’m pretty hard on myself, but it’s a necessary part of life. You know, there’s the quote, the master fails 1000 times more than the student. You just pick up and keep going, you don’t get stuck in the failure, you just learn from it. You are sharpened and opened by your failures and if you keep having the same fail, well, then there’s a problem. I’m pretty good at moving on but I will say, some are harder to pick up and dust off from than others.
On a day to day basis do you take pride in your age or do you try and hide it? If you do, why?
I’m not proud or ashamed of my age, it is just my age. I accept and am thankful for what I have been given and work really hard to optimize what my body/mind/spirit can do at every stage in my life thus far. On my own volition, no nips, no tucks, no magic cream or pills. Over the last few years, I have struggled a little bit with trying to reconcile (without success) my younger self to present self in terms of performance. Going from a legit elite marathon and endurance athlete to a “you’re really good for your age” athlete. Starting around age 47 everything has become much harder, and I yet I work harder, but to be fair, I am stronger now than I ever have been. Speed is not evaaaaarrythaaang. I notice that when I’m able to appreciate the effort and the journey rather than just the raw numbers, I’m much happier. There is no reconciling, there is only being in the now. I’m starting to ramble, I bet you can shake more out of me in your future questions.
No nips, no tucks. No magic cream or pills.
I feel a sense of pride in your strength to show your honest self at this stage on your path. Can you talk about how you don’t succumb to the trappings of societal vanity?
Well, as a female of my age many of us were groomed early on to the protocol of “pretty and proper” – myself included. Ugh, but that really put me in a box. I realized later a box I really didn’t want to be in. I realized that the way I looked on the outside was so, so, sooooo less important that what my body and brain could do for me.
Now, I would much rather hear someone say, “She is such a badass” or “so creative” than “she’s pretty”.
The process to get out of that mindset took a while (and is still a work in progress), I’d say I stopped succumbing to the trappings of societal vanity starting in my mid twenties when I was running marathons at an elite level, for the first time I was getting recognition for actually “doing something well” than how I looked. I’d say more changes in this attitude came during my 30s, when I spent a decade in various stages of pregnancy, nursing, etc with my 3 sons (that is a game-changer on the perceived value of a female body). And then in my 40s, more changes when I decided to get stronger and take charge of my fitness and aging and also take on the Spartan races (hard to be vain when you’re covered in mud and stickers).
How do you get through the struggle with your speedy younger self and your stronger current self? What are your tools that keep you centered and living in the now?
I won’t lie, this is hard. When your 2 mile pace is your previous 26.2 mile pace, it makes you question yourself (why am I doing this? I must really suck) which then tests your motivation. So, for a couple years in my late 40s I just stopped running with my watch, garmin, etc – I just ran watch-free so that I could enjoy running for running and not a personal judgement on myself. I still ran a variety of distances, different types of workouts like intervals, tempos, pick-ups, but I just didn’t time myself, unless in a race obviously. I do wear a watch about ½ the time now, but am not a slave to the info and I also rarely log my miles or keep track of my race times (although I have a general idea of both). I guess what I’m trying to say is that all the data (the paces, the intervals, the heart rate, the weekly miles, etc) was not helping me embrace the NOW that I was/am in. When I needed an ego boost (egad) plugging any race or training times I did collect into an Age Grade calculator would make me realize that I was doing okay.
Why do you say you are stronger at 52 than you ever have been?
Physically, I’m much stronger. When I was younger I just focused on running, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I decided I needed to do more to keep up, keep competing, keep feeling good or feeling better. Things change, adapt or perish, right? Then I realized that I really liked being stronger, loved the new challenges, won’t lie loved the competition (always have). Stronger mentally too – not so much in the sense of being able to gut it out when the run/workout hits a tough patch (that’s always been a strength), but stronger mentally in the sense of accepting/embracing that while these fitness things are a huge part of my life and passions, they don’t define me or put a value on my worth, win or lose.
I love that you brought up being stronger mentally in the sense of accepting. Accepting doesn’t get much limelight as a sign of strength. How did you achieve that strength?
When I realized that “accepting” doesn’t mean giving up or acquiescing to the situation – it’s not like “oh, I’m old now, so I get a pass, I don’t have to try so hard or do my best.” OF COURSE I DO, but I now accept that I have limitations as a human and that the “strength” is to keep moving forward with your A game, whatever that A game may be at the moment.
You brought up the idea when you need an ego boost you plug times into an age calculator. What is your current relationship with your ego at 52 compared to say 25 years of age?
Ego, most people associate the use of the word “ego” in a negative way, like being prideful, arrogant or selfish. But the ego is not necessarily that, it’s what helps you manage reality, problem solve, function within societal norms, and keep the primal, chaotic, impulsive Id from taking over and effing everything up. Ego just magnifies the good or not so great sides of us, right? So, typically I see nothing wrong with the current state of my ego as long as I stay grounded in reality and not creating any sort of false self illusion. For example, using the age calculator just shows me that I AM working hard, as hard or harder than at 25.
Today I can see that I am a fluid work in progress, while at 25 I was more in a fixed state, like the finished product “the fast runner,” the younger Jennifer had a little more self-absorbed ego. Yada yada, I’m ramblin.
I feel and hear an immense level of gratitude in a lot of your answers. How would you define your relationship with that word?
I do sincerely have gratitude that my body can still do many of the things I want it too – and that I was given the gifts in the first place, and that I am blessed with a level of comfort and family support that allows me to do what I do. However, so many days I DO take it for granted and have to remind myself.
1) that I am very fortunate (in addition to working hard)
2) that my value is not / should not be attached to winning, competing, etc.
“I decided to get stronger and take charge of my fitness and aging and also take on the Spartan races.” I love this sentence, why Spartan racing?
Even though I had always been a runner all my adult life, I was functionally weak. Sure, I was one of those fast girls your mother warned you about (haha), but after a marathon – the sorest part of my body was my lower abs and back. I could only really do 1 pull up and lunges were my kryptonite (they still kinda are). So, around 42, I started doing CrossFit. I liked it, and noticed that it was really helping my comeback to running after having three kiddos. I was less injured, it was keeping me in the game, it resolved some postpartum issues I was having, my core was freaking strong now and it never hurt running, Suddenly, I could do more pull ups that I ever imagined possible with relative ease. However, I didn’t really like the heavy Olympic lifting part of CrossFit – I liked the actual lifts and still do them, but not trying to be the strongest girl or get a max rep. This gave me some struggle bus on the CrossFit competitions because in every other area I was competitive (and I mentioned that this is one of my motivations for sport, or at least trying to be the best I can be), and the heavy lifting would almost break me. So, DUH, lightbulb went off and I realized since I was a runner, LIKED running distance, had upper body strength and a gymnastics background that Spartan might just be a good outlet for me. I signed up for my first in spring of 2015 and talked my fit husband into doing it too (he initially didn’t want to). We both loved it SO MUCH and have done as many as we can (which is not as many as I’d like but 5 or 6 a year juggled around my other races and fitness events).
If you feel comfortable could you share your struggles with postpartum and how you overcame them?
Not much to report here, it’s just tough being a new mom, and with three kids, the cycle stretched on for a decade. Due to pregnancy difficulties, I didn’t exercise much – although I had been an athlete before. I did some running and light gym, but not what you see some of the pregnant ladies doing now. Everyone knows what’s best for them. I look at this as my “taking a break” decade, although my “break” was taking care of 3 kids. Honestly, in hindsight, I think the break was a great time for me to heal from past running and postpartum, not pushing, pushing, pushing into an injury. I think mentally it was good for not getting burned out. Like I mentioned, when I turned 40, I kicked the intensity back up.
What is your favorite part of spartan racing and what is your least favorite?
Favorite part of Spartan racing it terms of actually racing is being out there on the course, dealing with all the unknowns that come at me. Will it be cold, will the obstacles be wet, how technical is the course, etc. I’ve often told people that after years of marathons, I knew EXACTLY (almost) how a 26.2 would play out and where I would have trouble and where I would bonk and where I thought I would die. In a Spartan race, I still feel like I might die, I just don’t know how it’s going to happen. Being a little dramatic, but I once had a friend who said she never felt like she was “going to die” in a race, and I’m like (jaw drop) YOU ARE NOT RUNNING FAST ENOUGH, YOU ARE BEING TOO SAFE AND COMFORTABLE. Also, I have to mention the community, its like no other. Obviously, no one is helping me out on the course, but I LOVE hearing and seeing all the people out in the Open heats just getting it done, helping each other out, empowering each other. Least favorite is just being cold, it’s always COLD and that is my kryptonite. Lordy, just THINKING back about that water in Tahoe makes me shiver.
Being too safe and comfortable, how do you avoid that in your life off the race course?
Being too safe and comfortable, I think one of the reasons I like Spartan and pushing myself to be uncomfortable in my “sports” life is that my everyday life IS pretty safe and comfortable. We have it good, my husband is employed, we have our health, we let our kids be their own people and they are pretty cool people (17, 20, 22). We travel, we have all the food we want to eat, we have money to send our kids to college and to take care of emergencies, we will probably be able to retire in the next 7 to 10 years. We haven’t taken any huge risks in life, we pretty much always have taken the expected path — BUT, perhaps for me, the biggest risk was not going back to work after my kids were in elementary school and instead working for myself, first as a freelance writer, then a blogger, I still have the blog but do speaking, recipe development, consult on healthy living topics with companies, develop content for companies, etc.
There is always a lot of hustle involved, no official “benefits,” like insurance, time off , but I have been able to do what I love, when I want (mostly), and get paid for it, so that’s a win.
You do recipe development. What does that mean? And how does one become a recipe developer?
Well, I’ve been making my own recipes since I was 8. I don’t have any formal culinary training (I’m a rogue chef), but have spent a lifetime learning skills and love to making tasty food that fuels my needs. A long time ago before I did it as a job, I entered cooking contests and won a lot, everything from a Hatch Green Chile Cook-off Queen to a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake Off (where the prize was $1 million dollars and I sadly didn’t win) and lots of others. Oh, another fun one – I won a BBQ Sauce contest and was invited to be a judge at the Jack Daniels Invitational BBQ Festival in Tennessee, which apparently is a really BIG DEAL in the BBQ World. So as a “recipe developer” not knowing another name for it, I do work with companies to create recipes using their products – these could be featured on my blog, but more often than not, it’s used on their channels, product packaging, website, cookbooks, and even in-person events. My long time friends that I work for on an ongoing, monthly basis include Texas Beef Council and National Watermelon Promotion Board, Lite house foods (they make fresh salad dressings, artisan cheeses), NOW Foods (large natural food company). Other people I have made recipes for frequently include various fresh meat and fish companies, other produce companies and commodity boards, yogurt companies, and tons, and tons of protein powder and supplement companies that want recipes. Recently, and I’m kind of excited about is a new line from Optimum Nutrition called Fit40, a protein powder that will address the specific needs of those of us super active but over 40 athletes. Often my services will go beyond just making a recipe and taking photos. I do everything from television segments, cooking classes, in-person cooking demos at events (I did one huge fresh produce industry event in Atlanta once that had 1400 exhibitors and my client won “best of show” – I was the “guest chef” in there amazing expo check and my job was to come up with all the recipes (incorporating the new products they were pushing, combined with our facility cooking limitations, overseeing the cook and sample, talk to the companies and media about the product). That was a fun job because it was so over the top. In October, I will be going to San Diego with my National Watermelon Board people to be the spokesperson at The Fit Foodie Fun Run and Festival and I will be both on the culinary stage and leading a watermelon workout. They are a really awesome client because they let me just run with my creative ideas. Did you see my recent Watermelon in Paris on my Instagram stories?
Have you always been a creative person?
YES! I have and my mom likes to rattle that off as one of my gifts. If you were to say, “3 adjectives that describe Jennifer,” okay, now I know you’re going to ask that, so I will pre-answer.
Creative, independent, action-oriented.
So, I always loved art and music as a kid, and would also get wrapped up in books, dreams, and fantasies when I was little. I can remember my mom telling me many times, “no honey, that didn’t really happen, it was a dream.” Sometimes it would really bum me out. When I was a kid, I did art and music lessons, but also loved to cook, sew “fashion,” and make things out of nothing, like an early day, ECO DIY-er. My first real life jobs were in advertising, then somehow I ended up in more business-y stuff, like Strategic Planning. After my babes were born, I took on freelance, more creative writing jobs. I’ve had a couple long-term clients in the past that were so fun, like one were I wrote product descriptions and long character biographies for their elaborate Victorian, Wild West, Steam Punk, and other historical clothing. I had another ongoing job where, wait for it, I wrote Toasts and Speeches for people. Best Man Speeches, fundraising speeches, retirement speeches. It was fun getting to “know” the people and I was always amazed that people would want to hire out this sort of “personal” job. As I mentioned, another creative outlet was all the cooking contests and then later to continue cooking and the start of my blog. Healthy food that people would really want to eat, make it taste good and look pretty in pictures. Honestly, the work for thefitfork.com is too much for one person if I want to continue to grow, but I’m happy, it makes me an okay living and it’s authentic.
It’s MY creativity and not someone else’s idea of what “it,” whatever “it” is, should be.
Have you considered a BBQ flavored protein powder?
Seriously laughing, you may be onto something.
What are some of the other races and fitness events that you compete in?
Well, I try to do one marathon a year to keep it in the wheelhouse, although I missed last year. I’ve done a 50 miler, but decided ultras aren’t really my thing. I competed in the Cross Fit open for 6 or 7 years, but stepped back from that until I turn 55 and can get the Master’s adjusted weight, because the RX open weight is really hard for me at my size (although I’ve pushed through but been trashed for the entire week until the next WOD). I just felt like I was asking for an injury. I also like hybrid type fitness events, I do the CG Games an Austin FitTest for example. So fun. Love it.
Why was the ultra distant something you didn’t feel was your thing?
Some people love it, I said I would never do one, but a couple friends wanted to run American River 50 and I got peer pressured into it. I didn’t train, had just come off winning a half marathon the weekend before, really I went in just thinking I would pace them 20 miles and drop out to drive our van. But it WAS beautiful out there, I had flown all that way there and I knew they’d like the continued support. I finished, and in the scheme of things did okay and felt okay. But I didn’t get the bug, and was not going to play the game of “you are a better or more accomplished runner” because you do ultras. Although beautiful scenery, it just felt like a really, really long day of manual labor. There were no obstacles, no speed, the M.O. just seemed to be “go slower and manage discomfort”. I want to go fast and manage discomfort, no way I could do that for 50 miles. Plus, I felt for me, that training for ultras would take me away from the other fitness things I like to do and also put me at risk for injury. I totally respect the folks who do them, you included. Whether people are running the 100 meters, the mile, 10 miles, 100 miles, it’s all the same respect.
I am one of your many followers on Instragram. I see that you do a lot of yoga and stretching. Beyond the physical benefits what does yoga do for you?
Yoga was a really good thing for me a while back when I went through like 2 years of insomnia. Hormones, stress, personality, it was a way to relax and just be. Also, it was humbling, you see that I can do a lot of the inversion poses and those that use arm strength, but then more straightforward poses like forward fold or just getting into a seating lotus and others are a challenge for me and have to be modified because of extreme hip and hamstring tightness, that just doesn’t let up.
So, yoga also “puts me in my place” so to speak and reminds me that we are all on a unique journey, not one person better than the other.
I relate deeply to the idea “puts me in my place”. Do you search out things that do that to you or do they find you?
Probably both, I’m always like “Oh I can totally do that and then, oops, maybe not as well as I thought.” I think the optimistic assumption that you are going to succeed is good, it gets me out there trying something (rather than the people who say, NO WAY could I do that) It shows me where my weaknesses are, areas I could improve. Assuming you are going to succeed is such an important thing, I tell my kids, my friends, whomever, that I never start something and think I could fail. Race analogy, I never show up to a race thinking, “I might not be able to do this, I might fail, I shouldn’t be here.” Instead, I always bring the attitude that I’m going to win (figuratively) the win is doing your best and getting it done and self-learning in the process.
Self learning in my opinion is the highest form of education. How did you become the teacher and the student?
Being the teacher and the student is the best way right? Sharing what you know, but being open for more learning and improvement. One time, someone really said something that resonated with me.
They said that many women tend to undervalue what they do, minimize what they know, not put themselves out there as an expert.
While being an expert does have a certain level of experience attached to it, it doesn’t me that you are THE ONE AND ONLY EXPERT in the whole world, or that you KNOW EVERYTHING. Instead only that you are well-versed. Educated, passionate and open to share what you know with others. I was in a room with at least 1,000 people and the host asked for people to raise their hand and, say off the top of their head what they were an expert in, and 3 or 4 reasons why. I jumped up and said “I am an expert in protein as part of a healthy diet.” I panicked silently for a few seconds after that, but then listed my reasons why in an authoritative but not boasting way, and looked around the room, people were listening to me as if I was the expert. Later during the week at the same conference, I had at least 20 people stop me to ask questions about protein, it was awesome, So, I guess that’s more me being the teacher, not a self-learner (although I did self-learn to make myself heard and to put myself out there). About other self-learning, I think, I hope that is a process that doesn’t shut down.
As I age, I am much more willing to say that I don’t know something without being defensive or feeling inferior – and to seek out the answers.
Also, self-learning about oneself, raising kids can really do that to you, and put everything under a microscope as these mini-me people are running around, having flaws and egos as teens do, and I’m thinking, OMG, he is just like me. There is also a lot of self-learning that goes on in keeping a marriage alive and well for 28 plus years, while navigating the proverbial obstacle course of life.
If 52 year young Jennifer could go back in time and speak with 25 year old Jennifer what would you tell yourself?
Some people will love you, some people will not care for you so much, maybe even outright dislike you, really NEITHER matter. What matters is that you love your God, love your figurative neighbor, show compassion, and also love/honor/respect yourself as a precious, unique, valuable human you were specifically created to be. As an introvert (*), I would also tell myself that relationships and creating/maintaining communication is so important to being connected with people and keeping the door open for the two-way sharing of gifts. I am still an introvert in the sense that I recharge by being alone with my thoughts and creativity, but I know longer have that feeling of “shyness” or that I have to do certain things to be accepted by others.
What is your favorite sound?
The sound of waves at the beach.
What do you hate?
Hate is so harsh. I dislike the taste of seaweed, I dislike it when someone tells me how I should be feeling, I really dislike cold water. But “hate” that’s extreme, I haven’t had a life experience that has made me hate.
Maybe I almost hate people who do extremely evil things, but at the same time feel compassion for there suffering and what may have led them to that extreme behavior
You have written toasts and speeches for others. If you could write the first three sentences of your eulogy what would they be?
We are gathered here today to honor the memory of Jennifer, a wife, mother, daughter, sister and force of nature. She would want this gathering to be a joyous occasion, a celebration of her life, because in hours before her passing, she was filled with JOY and in CELEBRATION of her life as she ran down a trail toward the final sunset of her days here on Earth.
So many people are already “dead” in in their everyday lives, but Jennifer was a testimony to living each day to the fullest, whether it was in the undertaking of an epic adventure or just marveling at the simple things.
Jennifer Fisher, a wife, mother, daughter, sister and force of nature.