About a year ago, as a representative of the silent masses, I shared an open letter with the community about my experience with CrossFit. I shared that as a silent (although somewhat less quiet now) backyard CrossFit addict, I enjoyed my five-step stroll to my backyard workout area too much to join an affiliate. But, I still felt a great appreciation for the community and the rich development CrossFit had seen. Two months later the Open began and it all exploded.
My first impression of the Open format when it was announced was slight trepidation and huge doses of curiosity. How would this whole mess work? How could people really put their lives on hold for six weeks? How could you design a workout that would be a truly good measure to separate the crème de la crème of the elite, and still be inclusive of the general populace?
It left me intrigued and curious enough that I strolled into CrossFit Full Strength a couple miles from my work to find out how they were going to make the whole thing work at a local level. I chatted with the owner, Gayle Shalloo, who, at 5-foot tall, I describe as having far more energy and power than her stature would hint at. She was very welcoming and in a very gracious manner persuaded me to overcome my insecurities and “just go for it.”
The problem was, I didn’t think about the timing at all. It was a complete impulse buy that I made without even taking a look at the calendar. I just thought it would be fun; you know, the sick kind of fun that leaves you crumbled on the floor in the fetal position.
For some of those out there like me who are not firebreathers or didn’t make it to Regionals or the Home Depot center, I would like to share some of the lessons learned from my experience.
Life on hold
One of my first concerns was how I would be able to participate week in and week out for six weeks. In Phoenix, a few affiliates got together and rotated weeks through the affiliates where a different affiliate would host the workout to lessen the burden on any one affiliate and to increase camaraderie among athletes. But they made the expectation that all participants would be as prescribed with no scaling.
Problems began at the very beginning. I neglected to notice that my wife had planned a vacation during my son’s spring break and I would be camping in a national park from Tuesday evening through Sunday, which was the exact time when I would need to submit a video for the first week. In addition, I neglected to check my schedule or notice that I was committed to participate in two triathlons during that period.
Fortunately, the technical difficulties of the CrossFit Games website favored my schedule and I was able to participate in the second week of the “first week.”
For the weeks were I had other competitions I threw caution to the wind and just went for it. CrossFit does do a surprisingly amazing job at preparing us for the unknown, unknowable, unexpected or unscheduled. I was able to participate without any major physical consequences, aside from the potential semblance to Pukie that accompanies most CrossFit workouts. I didn’t have to put my life on hold and, instead, had the pleasure of boring my extended family with lengthy descriptions of the workouts and my experience each week at family gatherings.
Our capacity is greater than perceived
One of the common statements we hear in CrossFit is that the workout was harder than expected. But every single week I heard people exclaim with excitement about some PR they had personally achieved, from a first double under or a PR on squat clean and jerk.
Week four was a major concern for me. When muscle ups were posted, I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t have muscle-ups. I tried for three days when I was fresh to get a muscle-up, to no avail. As a consolation, in my practice I was barely getting through the overhead squats and figured the lack of muscle-ups wouldn’t be much of an issue if time ran out before I got that far.
I woke up early Saturday morning and in an annual tradition went and competed along with my 12-year-old in a sprint triathlon. I rested for a little bit and then I went to CrossFit Full Strength where they were judging the workout.
At “3,2,1, go,” I drove through the bar-facing burpees and finished the overhead squats when I realized, oddly there was still time left on the clock. went to the rings and my first attempt was utter failure. In my second attempt, I kipped with every ounce of energy I had left and caught myself in a very deep dip and realized, “I think I can press out of this.” With a grunt and scream that was probably far out of proportion to the accomplishment, I pressed into my first muscle-up.
Beaming from ear to ear, I dropped to the ground and thought, “Let’s try this again.” I was able to get one more muscle-up before time ran out. I was even fortunate that there was a media crew on site that captured my first two muscle-ups on film. I have video proof!
Beyond the personal bests achieved, the weekly requirement to perform as prescribed forced me to push harder that I would have otherwise. I scale workouts based upon my perception of the workout’s intent and my perception of my capacity. The requirement to not scale forced me to readjust my perception and push beyond my threshold. I have readjusted how I scale on a weekly basis since then and have realized a much greater improvement this year.
There are always weaknesses
Each week as the workouts were posted, I expected one of them to play to my strengths, but each and every one seemed to have at least one major component that was punishing. Whether it was my lack of proficiency in double-unders, my complete absence of experience with muscle-ups, or my personal kryptonite of thrusters, each week was revelatory in new opportunities to improve a glaring shortcoming.
I was surprised to hear so many of the interviews with firebreathers include discussions on things they perceived as their weaknesses and express the way they work on their “shortcomings.”
But the beauty of the adventure of life is that we are here to learn and grow. This encapsulates my personal philosophy in life. Each learning opportunity is presented to us in different ways until we chose to learn it. CrossFit is an avenue that permits us to face those weaknesses and address them.
Data is fascinating
I am a data junkie and I love comparing things. As dismal as the news was that I was so far down on the list of rankings, I still had a lot of fun tracking my progress as the weeks went along.
I created a table of my ranking by world and by region. I was able to track the comparison between my performance for the workout and my performance cumulatively through all the workouts.
Just by sticking around and pushing through all the workouts, my ranking progressed from week to week. I had fun comparing my performance to other competitors with similar demographics and reading the profiles of the people that performed similar to myself, but were from vastly different backgrounds. I followed the performance of friends in other states and sent congratulations when they excelled.
Human performance is amazing
I became a CrossFit Games site addict and watched every video posted and read every article. Stories of people overcoming insurmountable odds, changing their lives through weight loss, improving leaps and bounds … inspired me and increased my determination to perform better and push harder.
Participating in the same workouts as everyone around the world in the Open increased my awe. In what other sport can you watch the competitors and then try your hand at the same thing?
All of the competitors on the podium deserve the accolades that go along with that accomplishment. But, what is just as astounding to me is the depth and breadth of incredible performances across the spectrum by the near countless individuals that were close.
As far as my performance in competition, let’s just say that I am not on the radar as competition for the people who are not on the radar as competition for the Regional competitors (yes that repetition was intentional and reflective of how far down I am on the totem). I am not in danger of competing at Regionals in the near future, but the Games taught me and pushed me to new experiences I didn’t anticipate.
If you are wondering right now whether or not to be involved, or are concerned with if you will perform up to expectations, throw those concerns to the wind and know that you will push yourself to places you haven’t been before and learn things you didn’t expect.
I am ready to sign up for the 2012 CrossFit Games Open.