What Am I Doing Here?

February 19, 2015

Greg Lambert

I am the everyday athlete struggling to get fit. 

I stare at the drops of sweat that pool on the black mat. Tonight, we are doing squat cleans and bar-over burpees. I wonder how many drops I have contributed so far. I cough lightly and laugh at myself. I hear coach Molly proclaim there are five minutes left in this workout.

What am I doing here?

I tell myself to work faster, to rest less, and to get back to the bar and don’t drop it. I glance at the person next to me.

He’s killing it.

This workout is killing me. I’m not elite. I’m not even average. I am the everyday athlete struggling to get fit. I try my hardest and need to scale many workouts. I work out with everyone from the firebreather to the rookie and the vast majority of us that lie somewhere in between. I find inspiration in everyone.

I begin to hear people yell “Time!” as one by one they finish today’s WOD. I’m still working.

In my first CrossFit Games Open last year, I finished in 70,616th place. I had no idea what to expect going into it. I pushed myself hard mentally and physically; I think that was what I was supposed to do. I still finished next to last. I don’t regret doing it; you never regret the workout once it’s over.

But a couple months ago, I wasn’t sure I could go through it again. “I’m NOT going to sign up for the Open,” roared in my head. I was scared of knowing. Knowing how much the Open is going to hurt. Knowing my limitations. Knowing exactly how far down the leaderboard I stand.

The first lie I heard in CrossFit is “You only compete against yourself.” I should only compete against myself. Instead, I measure myself against someone in the gym. Or I measure myself against what I think I should be doing in the gym. I get caught up in my own performance. And then in the Open, I compare myself to the world. I compared very poorly last year, but I guess someone had to anchor the bottom of the Leaderboard. If I only compete against myself, I sometimes feel like I never win. This mindset holds me back.

I’ve put in a lot of work in the months since then. I’ve even purchased a fancy jump rope and enrolled in an Olympic-lifting basics class to help build my skills. I know that nothing but hard work and practice will get me the skills and strength I want.

I believe that I have improved over the year, but my doubts still whisper to me.

“Did you work hard enough?”

“Have you improved enough?”

It’s crazy—I know it is—but I fight my own expectations of myself.  

The workout continues as I keep grinding out reps and raining sweat. A 13-year-old firebreather named Derek finished the workout minutes ago, and is now telling me:

“Get moving!”

“Keep going!”

“You can do it!”

The entire class is now watching me. They are done.

I pick myself up off the mat. Coach Molly announces there are 45 seconds left. Sweat drips into my eyes as I hop over the bar and start another burpee. Derek demands that I get back up and do another. I do.

Finally, mercifully, I hear Molly call “Time!” Five burpees short of finishing, I am time-capped. I hang my head and catch my breath.

As I clean up my barbell, Derek gives me a fist bump and says, “You killed it, man.”

This kid tells me that I killed it.

I don’t know that I killed it today. I used to laugh and imagine that people cheered for me to hurry up and finish so they could put away their bumper plates and go home. But now I know different. We cheer for each other because we care. We care about the success of everyone here.

The coaches at CrossFit Industrious have designed my success into their programming, and the other athletes have coaxed it out of me by being a number on the leaderboard that I can chase, or another moving, sweating body silently encouraging me to go on, to keep up, to fight this one through. And on nights like tonight, my success is coaxed out of me by a loud, fit kid cheering me on even when I want to have reached the time cap already.

I’m going to sign up for the Open for them. I will put those fears and doubts aside, and trust in the people who encourage and believe in me.

It will not be about the place I take this year. The Open will be a milepost on my fitness journey that I can use to mark how far I've come, and celebrate the progress, not just lament how much further I have to go.