February 26, 2014
First Time? Bring it! I'm in.
By EM Burton

But it's my first time. Now what?

If this is your first time it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ve never done anything remotely like this before. 

Some people love the competitive stuff and dive right in. They scan the Leaderboard, find a name, and with a certain amount of good cheer, think, “Yeah, that one. That’s the one I want to beat.” Others think they can beat Rich, and, hey, more power to them.

That’s not me. I’ve never felt the need. But the decision to do the Open this year—and I am still a bit surprised—was prompted entirely by the triumph of will over ego.

Now what? It goes without saying I will be working very closely with my coach, but how on earth do you wrap your head around a first-time Open competition?

Three athletes at my affiliate were rookies last year and I asked them for an idea of what to expect. As their responses show, you just can’t expect the unexpected.

“Why should I do the Open?” The hint of sarcasm was less a conscious iteration than a defensive one. Like I could beat Froning.

There are as many motivations and reasons to CrossFit as there are people who do it. Mine have always been more centered on how the workouts make me feel and how CrossFit improves all aspects of the quality of my life. This is a rather casual attitude, I know; but I’ve been content to keep my relationship with it on this level without feeling the need to delve into the science of my quantified self.

So far, it’s been enough that my young child sees her parents moving and eating and living life the way it should be lived. She can’t wait to take her own children to the gym, or so she tells us. Satisfied with incremental gains, we measure success in other ways, and slow and steady wins that race.

This year, however, I changed my mind, and very quickly.

“Because we’re all doing it,” said my friend, a colleague and fellow athlete at the box. “You’re a part of the team!”


After wrapping my head around it, all the possible reasons not to do the Open started to sound like excuses. Time to face some truths. Time to take scoring seriously. Time to let go of my ego.

Not hard really, letting go of ego. You lose your grip on it as you cross the threshold at my box—a training facility that manages to produce the fourth-ranked team in Northern California and several NorCal Regional individual competitors, and yet still coach people like me.

There are some athletes in the gym who did the Open last year for the first time, and they graciously let me draw on their experience.

On the eve of their second Open, Eddy de la Rosa, Brad Hoffeld and Chris Wichmann talk about doing it for the first time.

Were you intimidated by the prospect of doing the Open for the first time? 

Eddy: I was less intimidated by signing up than I ought to have been. I’d always been a gym rat, you know… that globo-gym guy. I used to measure my fitness by how I looked. The first few months of (doing CrossFit) were relatively easy for me, frankly. And then the Open came. I thought I'd crush it, but I hesitated to register because of the fear of being judged by my results.

Who would judge you?

Eddy: My peers, of course, and when I say ‘judge,’ I mean, "What, that's all you could do?!” But after 13.1 was announced, I was scared and excited at the same time. I knew I could do 135-lb. snatches, I just didn't know how far I could get. After "time" was called, I felt miserable and wanted to do that workout over again. But I checked my ego and let it go. Everyone else was in the same place.

The ego thing is huge. I think ego-checking is a critical CrossFit experience, especially so for first-timers.

Eddy: The judgment I anticipated feeling didn’t happen, of course. I had a lot of support from everyone in the gym.

And this time do you think you’ll surprise yourself?

Eddy: This time around I know exactly what I can do and what to expect. I don’t think I’ll surprise myself more than I have during this past year, just getting ready for this competition. This time, the ego is in check.

Would you say that's the big difference for you between this year and last? Now that you have more of an idea of what you're in for, and you've spent more time preparing, physically and mentally?

Eddy: Definitely. I know now what aspect of my fitness will be tested the most, so I’m mentally ready for that.

Which aspect is that? 

Eddy: Mental toughness! That and metabolic conditioning.

Would you say that going for the Open was when CrossFit got real for you?

Eddy: That’s exactly how it is.

Brad, what was your first time like? 

Brad: That 135-lb. barbell is the strongest memory I have of the 2013 CrossFit (Games) Open, my first-ever Open experience. I just stood there looking at it for 7 minutes. Sure, I tried to snatch it a few times, but couldn’t even come close to hoisting it overhead. This year will be different.

What would you say to someone who’s giving it a go for the first time this year?

Brad: If you’re on the fence about registering for the Open, don’t be intimidated. You will be challenged, and some of it might be scary, but you’re not doing it alone. Well over a 100,000 people are fighting their own personal battles during the Open. While the community is huge, it’s really just a big, friendly competition every year.

What a difference a year makes.

Brad: Yes, this year, everything changes. I will be ready. I’ve spent the last year training to be better in every possible metric, and I know it will pay off in this year’s Open. We train for general physical preparedness, sure, but along the way there are opportunities to test our limits, and the Open is great for this. It gives me enough motivation and excitement for an entire year of training. Whatever we see for 14.1, I will attack it just like any other workout.

You’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid …

Brad: Honestly I am most excited to compete with my former self. But I’ll be doing the workouts with my wife, an Open rookie this year, who is just as nervous as I was. We’ll do this thing side-by-side.

Chris, what was your first experience of doing the Open?

Chris: To be honest, the main reason I signed up initially was because I worked for the Games team. I felt it was appropriate.

I first started CrossFit in May of 2012, about a month after the 2012 Open ended. I knew about the CrossFit Games from what you see online or the random ESPN shot, but I had no idea how the entire process worked for the first six months or so. A lot of people from the gym were and are involved with CrossFit and the CrossFit Games, so little by little, I started to learn more, not only about the Games in Carson, (Calif.,) but about the entire process. 

You’d been doing CrossFit for less than a year. Were you concerned about that? 

Chris: Even after I was brought on to the CrossFit Games team in early 2013 I still wasn't sure I was ready to compete. Someone explained the Open process to me, however, and I was immediately struck by the idea. It was exciting and immensely daunting at the same time—the idea of competing against thousands and thousands of people all over the world? I still understand the misgivings that first-timers have about signing up for their first Open.

What helped you overcome those feelings?

Chris: The real turning point for me came before the first Open workout in February of last year.

One day I arrived at work, and Angel (Forbes) asked if I had clothes to work out in. When I said yes, she told me go downstairs to the gym/studio, find some guy named Matt and tell him I was going to work out with him. I did so and met this enthusiastic guy who was very happy to have someone else to work out with. He explained we would be doing Open Workout 12.1—a 7-minute AMRAP of burpees.

I had never done an Open workout before, and I had never looked into what they involved, so when he explained that something as straightforward as doing as many burpees as possible in 7 minutes was the workout, I was a little surprised. I always pictured the Open being on the same level as the CrossFit Games, but with a “3-2-1, Go!” we were off and doing burpees.

When we finished, we compared scores, mobilized a bit and I went back upstairs and got to work. When Angel asked how it went, I told her that we did 12.1 and that Matt had beaten me by a solid margin. She replied that the gap between our results isn't all that surprising since Matt had finished in second place in the 2012 CrossFit Games.

So, though I didn’t know it until it was over, I had just done 12.1 with Matt Chan.

This was the exact instant that the pure awesomeness of the Open and the entire Games season became clear to me. Right then I decided to get serious and take on the Open workouts to the absolute best of my abilities.

OK, now, that is pretty good. I don’t think one could anticipate that.


When “the worst that can happen” involves anxiety about scoring and ranking, you know that’s an excess of ego. No one cares about my score; only I do. That’s the beauty of it. We are all athletes and if we choose to compete, it’s just a score. Realistically, there are those with better and worse squats, deadlifts, knees and overall capacity in these Games. But my era of the quantified self begins.

As for what to expect—it’s moot. I’m going to remain open to the process, enjoy every minute, cheer my friends on and do my best knowing that this year is my baseline for next year. Because it’s not about this year. It’s not really even about next year. It’s about all the years to follow.

Perhaps it won’t quite register, but hopefully, my offspring’s offspring and so on will think it’s pretty darn cool that their forebears were among the first wave of this incredible, awesome movement that swept the globe and changed human life on the planet for the better.