How to Climb a Mountain
Interview by Kirsten Ahrendt

Meet Jenny! Jenny has been a member at Invictus for 2+ years. She is a nutrition coach and is no stranger to CrossFit. She was a coach and gym manager in Chicago prior to moving to San Diego. Early on in the pandemic, Jenny experienced debilitating pain from a back injury that shifted not only what she was physically able to do, but also reoriented how she viewed her fitness and health. Jenny had to rebuild herself brick-by-brick (or in her case, step by step), and redefine what (and who) she was rebuilding in the process. Thus began her 14-month journey that culminated this summer in her successful completion of Yosemite’s Half Dome hike and her single-day, 21-mile ascent of Mt. Whitney – a mountain that stands 14,505 ft in elevation.

WHY DID YOU PICK THIS GOAL?

I started hiking with some friends during the pandemic in 2020. It was an activity to have to look forward to that was safe for us to do during the lockdowns. Our original goal was to complete the 6 Peak Challenge and summit Mt. Gorgonio. Unfortunately, the fires in 2020 prevented us from achieving that goal, so we picked it back up this hiking season. Around then a former client reached out to ask if I’d want to do Mt Whitney and Half Dome with her. If I’m honest, I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to get permits for either, so I agreed. (Joke on me!) We drew both permits.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS CHALLENGE?

So many things. For one I regained a sense of myself. 17 months prior to summiting I’d experienced the most debilitating injury of my life. I went from being an able-bodied athletic person to overnight struggling to walk to the bathroom myself. From March 2020 to present I struggled to build back to the person I once knew myself to be in the gym. My body changed, I changed. 

Training for this climb was very much an experience in regaining a piece of myself. It’s crazy to think that I went from not being able to take 100 steps in a row, to walking 64,000 steps (or 21 miles) in one day.  

Another is it taught me so much about the value of setting a goal, breaking down actionable steps toward achieving the goal, and having realistic expectations. As we got closer to the end of our training, slogging out 16+ miles in one day I’d think so much about how climbing mountains relates so closely to setting any goal in life.  

So often we have this unrealistic expectation about how long it will take us to achieve our goals. We want things to be different RIGHT NOW. When climbing a mountain you never just assume that you can hike 20+ miles in a row to elevation, or at least I never did. That just seemed ridiculous. 

It was clear that we needed to train, slowly increasing our distance, elevation and elevation gain. I had a few hikes that didn’t feel great  and I questioned if we would be ready for Whitney. Was it working? Was this all worth it? etc. One literal step after another we’d make it up these mountains and back down testing our bodies, minds, and patience. It was such a good lesson in the value of patience and perseverance when working toward a goal.  

You aren’t always going to feel like what you’re doing is working, or worth it. Some days will feel fantastic, others will feel like garbage. You have to have faith that what you’re doing is taking you to where you want to be while continuing to push through. You also have to give yourself space and time to achieve the goal. 

For Whitney we started training 4 months from our summit date, but in reality I started training 17 months before that when I was able to bear weight on my right leg again to walk. Walks around my immediate block became walks around my neighborhood, which then became runs (that was short lived), that led to hiking, which led me to get back to lifting weights again, and eventually back to Invictus to take class again.  

I was training for the mountain before it was even my #1 goal. Which again, is another life metaphor. I think we often feel stuck, like we’re not going anywhere, not achieving the things that we want. So much of the time, when we feel that way we are in fact working toward that next thing, just like I was training for the mountain I’d yet to identify as my goal. 

Just because you can’t see where you’re going doesn’t mean you don’t have direction.

WHY WERE YOU SUCCESSFUL?

I’m an all-in kind of person. Once I’ve bought in to something and decided I’m going to do it there’s nothing that can get in my way of completing the task.  That being said, one of the biggest factors in being successful was having someone to train and commiserate with. An accountability partner if you will. 

Having Morgan and Alyssa as training partners was a game changer. Alyssa wasn’t able to train with us as much, which meant that Morgan and I spent a lot of quality time together on these long training hikes. Having someone to be excited about the goal with and hold each other accountable to the task was important. I’m not sure I could have made myself get up at 3am and do the longer training hikes solo. 

In addition, we each brought different things to the table when it came to hiking. Morgan’s a great navigator and awesome at going up the mountain. I was good at planning our training strategy and getting us back down the mountain. It’s different having a shared experience and struggling with another person. I really couldn’t have done it without her. 

HOW HAS INVICTUS HELPED TO PREPARE YOU TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL?

Invictus was instrumental in my training. I started back to class in April of this year, 4 months prior to the hike date. I was very excited to focus on Motor and Muscle classes to help build both my strength and stamina for the longer training hikes. For the first couple of months I split my time, taking 3 Motor and 2 Muscle per week. Two months out I switched exclusively to Motor classes. They made a HUGE impact on my readiness for the hike. To be honest, I wasn’t even really sore after Whitney, just tired. I attribute that to both the training I did at Invictus and the long hikes we completed to prepare for Whitney.

HOW HAS DOING THIS SHIFTED YOUR FOCUS AT INVICTUS?

I absolutely view my training differently now. Having an injury really sucks! Training for something outside of the gym allowed me to reconnect to my passion for working out. My focus was no longer about putting X on my back squat or snatch, getting a ring muscle-up, or shaving seconds off of my “Grace” time. It was about, “How can I just be in the best physical shape that I can be, to ensure I’m pain free, and also that I can walk up this mountain and back?”

Having the ability to take non-CrossFit, fitness-focused classes allowed me the space to also pursue this goal without the mental burden of my ego pushing me to do things that my CrossFitting-self would have done. 

Congratulations to Jenny and her Invicti Hiking Team for identifying a goal, taking action, and enjoying the fruits of their labor (you hiking psychos!).

If you have more questions about how she specifically trained for these hikes, you relate to an aspect of her story, or you want to set an outside-the-gym goal for yourself to conquer, hit us up – we read every message! 

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J Ryan
J Ryan
October 13, 2021 10:20 am

What was her back injury? I have no space BTW L4-L5&S1, avoiding surgery by doing Decompression breathing. But getting worse. Can she share any tips?