Speed Bumps

February 1st, 2013

I committed myself to get serious about my training and the pains and discipline required to significantly improve my performance in the 2014 Crossfit Open. My goal was to prepare myself to finish in the Top 100 of the Master’s category in the South East Region. There were many skills in which I needed to hone my proficiency, my nutrition would need to be better, and my strength numbers were going to have to improve significantly in order to achieve such a lofty goal. And believe me, it was lofty. I had no desire to qualify for the Regionals, but I wanted to give one year of complete dedication uninterrupted by school, work issues, or other endeavors.

September 1, 2013

Everything was lining up as it should. My nutrition plan and strength training were yielding significant improvements in my Power and Olympic lifts, my skills were getting better, and my met cons were yielding results that were exactly in line with where I wanted be. My Fran time had dropped from 6:53 to 4:04. I was “thumping”. And then, as often is the case, life threw me a few speed bumps. Speed bumps that were completely unexpected and created a cruel intersection of circumstances that challenged everything I had in me physically and emotionally.

October 18th, 2013

I had spent the week traveling between Switzerland and the UK on a blitz tour of a couple of facilities that my company owns. Between all of the connecting flights and layovers, almost 24 hours was spent on a plane or in an airport. Almost all of that time was spent sitting in meeting rooms. To match that, my workout schedule was slack, mobility was sacrificed due to time constraints, and I failed to properly hydrate following all of the flying. I left on a Saturday and returned on Thursday the 17th. I was excited about the 18th and the opportunity to lift something heavy and crush a metcon back at my home box. Too excited it seems because I forgot about all of the factors leading up to my workout. The dehydration, the lack of mobility, the tightness from sitting for so many hours, and the exhaustion from the travel and time changes. I jumped right in to a deadlift session that, ignoring all lingering effects from the past week, was ripe for doing something stupid. And that’s just what I did…something stupid.

I pulled a weight that was 10 pounds off of my deadlift PR twice. On the second lift, something in my back tweaked. I knew exactly what it was, I’d felt it before. I needed to stop, but there was one more rep to hit my total weight for the lifting session. So I lifted one more time and ignored everything circumstantial about the past week and everything my body was telling me in the moment.

The result, a herniated L5. Caused by sheer ignorance, bad form, and failure to pay attention. I thought my normal chiropractic adjustments were going to help me out until about 5 minutes into the next WOD when my body began to protect it self. The muscles began to twist and contort in a fashion that was unthinkable. Even though I was able to ignore what was signaled to me earlier, my body began to unleash an agonizing and painful response to my turning a deaf ear to it. There was no doubt that I wasn’t lifting anything in the near future.

The next few days were difficult. The reality of the situation being much more significant than a routine adjustment could help was hard. My doctor was pretty insistent that my goal for the Open was “just to participate” at this point in time. As always seems to be the case, I was pretty sure I knew better. I’m three weeks from the start of the Open and she was right. I was glad just to know I could sign up and participate. Top “Whatever” will have to work in place of Top 100.

And that’s when it all started. The negative self talk and blame. I had to take 5 weeks off completely. I was allowed to stretch and that was it. I spent those 5 weeks watching “everyone” PR, get better, get faster, and I felt like I had gone from Drive, to Neutral, to Reverse. I was seriously considering alternatives to Crossfit because I was afraid that I would have to work too hard to catch back up. I was angry at myself and everything about fitness.That’s good enough right, one big speed bump to slow me down a little.

December 11th, 2013

My youngest brother called and advised me that I needed to get to the hospital quick. My mother had taken a sudden turn in a crazy bout with bone cancer and I needed to be there. I arrived on the 10th and held my mother’s hand for the first time in 10 years. On the 11th, I held her hand as she passed away in the same hospital that she gave birth to me 41 years ago. If you’ve ever held the hand of a loved one as they passed from this life to the next, the experience is contemplative. This speed bump was completely unexpected and I was not prepared mentally or emotionally. This is where the cruel intersection of circumstances collided.

As angry as I was and as intimidated as I had become about the work required to get back into shape, I realized that my release for the past 4 years has been getting to the gym. Lifting weights, throwing wall balls, slinging kettle bells, and getting into that dark place where I face myself for a few minutes of dialogue that takes me one step closer to resolving the issues before me. I didn’t start Crossfit to shoot for a crazy and almost unobtainable goal of Top 100 41 year old Master in the SouthEast Region. I started Crossfit because my kids were running circles around me, I could barely breathe when I moved too fast, and I wanted a quality of life that wasn’t inhibited by my lack of fitness. What I have found is a mental and physical acuity that allows me to minimize how much a speed bump actually slows me down. What I have found is a community that helps each other out with constant support in rough times.

So life put two speed bumps in the way. One physical, which messed with my thoughts about why fitness has become so important to my normal routine. The other emotional, which brought me back to center and really helped me realize the importance of living life as vibrantly and as functionally as you can regardless of whether you perform at 65% or 100%.

Maybe one day I’ll get back to that tip top shape. Maybe. Even if I don’t, I’m doing just fine.

Dose of Reality

I was sitting in the passenger seat of my buddy’s car, jamming to Guns and Roses, when the car door was suddenly yanked open. In less than 1 second I had a grown man staring me in the face, with a menacing look, handing me the buckle to my seatbelt and demanding, “Put your seatbelt on son!”. I was buckled in less than half a second.

That was 26 years ago.  I still see that face every time I sit in a car and realize that I haven’t buckled up yet. I wince and smile at the same time when I recall this point in time. That moment had an incredible influence on me, but that’s not surprising considering the source. The guy with my belt buckle in his hand was Coach Dariel Daniel.

If you know Coach Daniel, you know he entered a room like a meteorite, rising from the impact of his arrival with his chest out and head on a swivel. He was going to make something happen in every moment and the ripple effect was going to have a wide circumferance. Sometimes that was positive and sometimes you were just going to get a whole lot of truth wrapped with unabashed accountability because Coach called things like he saw them.

Coach was highly successful in sport. As the wresting coach at Troup High School, his teams dominated the state tournament for 9 years in the 80′s and 90s’. The program was so prominent that, to this day, I can mention Troup wrestling in all parts of the state and people know the legacy of that program. He was able to get those kind of results because he demanded the very best from each and every one of his wrestlers. Coach was tough on his team, made them push themselves to limits that only those who wrestled for him can explain. Only those who pushed themselves to the places that Coach demanded will ever know how rewarding it was.

Most will probably will agree to this point. Of every letter jacket that cruised the halls of Troup County Comprehensive High School, you knew the ones that had pins on them were hard earned and that the expectations were high. Not only on the wrestlers, but anyone associated with the program. Ask the Cat Mats, the former wrestlers under his tutelage, anyone who watched a tournament.

Coach was also controversial. He took on the Troup County Board of Education for what he felt was excessive and out of control spending. Was he right? I don’t know, but he probably wasn’t that far from the truth if he latched on to it. Had he been gifted with a politicians tongue instead of a huge heart, he would likely run the Board of Education by now.

Unfortunately, life has cycles. Cycles where the styles of individuals don’t match the current day thoughts on how to get the best of people. Coach’s tough love, high accountability approach was often in conflict with today’s “gently encourage, be less accountable, and get a trophy for participation climate”. That being said, I’d put my kids on a mat with Coach tomorrow. I would tell them to see the intensity in his eyes, feel the passion in his words, and try to find a way to connect with people the way that he does.

Coach was able to transcend the mat and the classroom. I never wrestled for him, only had one class he instructed, yet I knew more about him and where he stood than almost any other teacher I have had in my lifetime. He knew the pulse of the school.

I’d be willing to bet that he knew the name of almost every student and knew something about them that was a more than what you would expect him to know. When Coach asked about your Momma and Daddy, he knew who he was talking about.

He took challenges head on.  Drugs a problem in high school? Coach took that on! He burned a pill that smelled like pot in the school so everyone knew what is smelled like and talked about drugs and what they were going to do to your body. In his words, “If you start to smell this, you are in the wrong place.”.

Teenage drunk driving a problem? Coach created one of the largest Student’s Against Driving Drunk (SADD) clubs in the country.  He mobilized a base of teenagers! Are you serious?….Teenagers! How does one exactly mobilize teenagers? He did. 

I received news that Coach passed away the night of November 19th. He died from a head-on collision while driving home from a wrestling match. His time on this earth and in this life is over. What he leaves behind is something that is so compelling and motivating that it is hard to describe my thoughts and feelings.

My dose of reality is that life is about the one thing the Coach had in abundance, the ability to make an impact. Life is about how hard you can hit the ground, how big of dust plume you can make, and how far you can make the seismic waves travel.  It’s about how much of an impact you can have on this world in the short time that you get to spend on it because that legacy lives on a lot longer than the body ever will.

Thanks Coach. I finally get it. And I’ll always have my seatbelt on.

Let’s Dance!

Starting in middle school, we were all exposed to that awkward experience called the School Dance. It was weird for all of the logistical, social, emotional, and mental aspects of arriving at the dance with who you were supposed to be there with, what the experience garnered while there, and the results after.

Then you have the Partner WOD at your local box. It’s pretty much the same experience with a few twists.

See, at my local box, we have Super Saturday. Super Saturday is the day you can expect a crushing workout at which you and a partner get to split the workload. While partner WOD’s can be seen as easier because you share in the workload, I can assure you that ours are not. And to add to the excitement, this is the one time in your Crossfit experience that your weakness can be offset by someone else’s strength. Pick your partner well.

Only one problem, like the high school dance, this can be a complicated process. There are so many facets to partner selection. Just like the groups that existed in school, we have our own groups.

  • The “Married Couple”- I use the term figuratively. Just the same as in school, you have the couple that, no matter what, is always going to do the partner WOD together. It’s truly the “married couple”, the two people that always workout together. This couple is linked together so tightly, that it’s easy to get caught off guard if they were to show up on a Saturday without their “significant” other.
  • The Whiteboarder- The person who just wants to finish on top. They try to get a sneak peak of the WOD before it’s announced on Saturday so that they can find a partner that aligns finishing on top of the whiteboard….or close to it. The classic example is when one of my fellow Crossfitters asked the trainer what we were doing for Super Saturday, on Friday. The coach let on that Thrusters were heavily engrained. So my fellow Crossfitter asked one of the members in our gym that was strong at Thrusters to be his partner first thing Saturday a.m. Then coach wrote double unders up on the board. My fellow Crossfitter then un-asked his partner to the WOD because he wasn’t good at double unders. Yes, that actually happened.
  • The Box Leaders- Very similar to the married couple with a subtle difference. The class leaders will show up without their significant other because they want to get a workout in…no matter who their partner is. Unfortunately, they tend to find the next person in the box that can match their ability and recruit them away. The resulting shift in the partner alignment is extremely offsetting because Box Leaders can just about trump every category…..even, occasionally, the married couple.
  • Let’s Dance- These are some of my favorite people. They don’t care who they partner with, what their strengths are, or what the team results are. They just want to WOD, plain and simple.
  • The Pre-Arranged Date-  You see a person rolling solo on a LAX ball so you think they are good candidates to partner that day, only to find out that they have already pre-arranged to workout with someone, they just aren’t there yet. Crushing…you have been denied. You confused them with a Let’s Dance WOD’er and it just wasn’t the case.
  • The Jilted WOD’er- Careful who you ask to WOD that day. Ask enough people and skip someone, you may get a question as to why you didn’t ask them? It’s an awkward and precarious moment. One which you may never recover from in the sense of Saturdays again.
  • The Class Snobs- The Class Snob will workout with anyone that they know, from their class. Period, end of discussion. Also most likely to be in the Pre-Arranged Date or Married Couple category.
  • Poker Player- A Drop In joined on Saturday and they look like they may have some experience with Crossfit. Do you roll the dice and ask to partner up with them or stick to what you know? Careful…they could be a Pre-Arranged Date!

So welcome to the dance. Pick your partner, have fun, and WOD away. Just don’t think it’s as simple as just showing up.

Do Something

My fitness journey started off with advice from a friend who had been battling weight issues his whole life. In his thirties, he found a way to get in charge of his weight by changing the way he ate, getting involved in boot camps, running, and Ironman events. He changed his whole lifestyle to get the best from himself. When I pressed him to give me his secret to overcoming his weight obstacles, he flattened me with a simple statement. He said, “Do Something”.

See, I was trying to get him to give me the plan, his plan, and he knew this. He had battled through trying to do other people’s plans in the past and he knew any commitment I could make to what he laid out for me would be short lived. So he responded…

“Do something (followed by a long pause for effect). I don’t care what that is, how you get there, but do something every day that will lead to a better you and ultimately a longer healthier life. If you are just trying to lose weight, you can do that, but it will come right back because you didn’t change all of the factors that lead to gaining the weight anyway. Running and Ironman is right for me but that doesn’t mean it’s something that you will have a passion for. What’s right for you? And how are you going to do something everyday that makes you better? You have to figure that out for yourself”.

Do something has now turned into a phrase that I use for just about every aspect of my life. That includes fitness, family, friends, my spiritualness, work etc. If I get into a place of complacency, a difficult situation, or facing unforeseen obstacles…..I think, “Do Something” and make my next move.

This week the phrase has been rolling around in my head with a frequency and volume that I never expected. Crossfit has been subjected to another attack concerning it’s safety and Uncle Rhabdo. It’s a tired attack that lacks any context or facts concerning the prevalence of this condition and how Crossfit actually addresses the issue through awareness raised in the trainer certification process. I’m not going to rebut the article as there have been lots of well written responses to this article over the past week.

The part of the attacks that stings the most is that, while I can’t appropriately speak for every Crossfitter in the world, the general attitude that I have experienced in the Crossfit community is, “Do Something”. If you choose Crossfit, great, if you don’t, do something that is going to make you better. Read about your food choices and how your body works, work on the technique of your chosen sport or activity, truly engage in your choice of sport or activity and embrace the community. Just do something….everyday.

Do something. It’s wise advice and it’s simple. Maybe too simple.

Who’s First?

Your eyes are barely open, you still have bed head, and you are sharing that moment with 15 other people. Welcome to the 6 a.m. Crossfit class.

The 6 a.m. crew, to be inclusive of all those who rise and WOD before 7 a.m., are a unique group of people. A combination of a bunch of type A personalities, people with crazy schedules, and those who just prefer to have their WOD completed early so they can go on with the rest of the day.

Most of my 4.5 years of Crossfit have been based in the 6 a.m. sessions. As a result I’ve come to the realization that the 6 a.m. crew has a special place in the box. Here is a list of some of those observations and experiences as the crew that gets it done before the break of dawn.

- Bed-head is socially acceptable and rarely receives any comments. If one is graced by a comment…they have REALLY good bed-head.

- Monday mornings are typically as quiet as a funeral.

-Drop In’s are greeted with a simple “Hey” instead of the common introductions you get in other classes. More dialog follows after the WOD. This has been my experience at 6 a.m. classes all over the world.

- Grunts and groans are usually the most common utterances heard, until muscles start to get loose. Then the conversations may, or may not, start. Coaches often try to stimulate the conversations. Only those with good ice breakers are successful. The best icebreaker to date has been the Megalodon.

- We’re the guinea pigs. We get to try the WOD first to see how it fits into the time slot. Most of the time we finish in the hour, sometimes we go a few minutes over. WOD’s are then right sized based on our results for future classes. We know and understand this and can be somewhat accommodating.

- Strategy is developed for the WOD using our freshly awakened brains and the 5 minutes it takes to set up the gear for the WOD. The ink is still fresh on the whiteboard when we get to see the WOD for the first time. Gone is the advantage of having all day to think about how to attack a WOD that other classes have. As a result, we could spend part of a day answering texts on how to attack a WOD. Or even better, the coaches get asked, “What did 6 a.m. do?”.

- We get whiteboarded. The later classes find a target on the board from the 6 a.m. class and set their goal of what time to beat.

- We get to meet all of the coaches. The coaches spread out the 6 a.m. classes so no one has to get up too early too often. This creates a very unique guessing game from the 6 a.m. crew about who is coaching on what days. Not that it matters, but it matters.

- Music is the coffee of the 6 a.m. class, because we haven’t had any. Getting the music wrong is like saying you are out of coffee. Don’t get the music wrong.

-Our post-WOD mobility is usually cut short by having to run off to work. Therefore, you may find us at work with a leg up on a table in a pigeon stretch or using a lax ball against a wall in the office. It happens.

- There is the person who is late; always late. Unlike other classes, this individual gets a bit of compassion that they would otherwise never receive in other classes.

Because of the all of these aspects, the 6 a.m. is a pretty close group. There is a core of people who are always there so you get to know each other pretty well over time. The group starts to understand who to talk to early, who to wait a few minutes to talk to, who to never talk to, and who is the day to day person that you need to adjust your talk strategy to. One thing is for certain, we all talk when the WOD is done.

Occasionally, the 6 a.m. crew will get a drop in from another WOD time. It’s very different to see someone that you WOD with at 9 a.m. on Saturday at 6 a.m. in the morning during the week. You get a little pride in having them share in and experience your 6 a.m.-ness. It’s hard for them to understand what you find funny at the 6 a.m. class and why they laugh when it wouldn’t be funny otherwise. It is just the way the brain works when you just went from a dead sleep to facing the intensity and exhaustion of a WOD.

So we’re the class that does all of these things and more. And with all of our craziness we find a way to get a WOD done and move on with the rest of our day. Hats off the 6 a.m. class. Someone has to go first.

Grab the Bar!

Today is the day you dread. The WOD is not in your wheelhouse. Heavy Squat Cleans and Bar Muscle Ups are on the whiteboard, staring at you, daring you to blink, whine, and meltdown. Today is the day that the whiteboard is actually more a mirror than a place where your programming is written. You are seeing your weaknesses and challenges right there, in the moment. The last time you attempted a bar muscle up was January. What are you going to do?

Grab the bar!

Grab the one on the ground and lift it. Grab the one above your head and throw yourself over it. Set a PR today on the squat clean, get the most bar muscle ups you’ve ever done, and stare back at the white board when you are done knowing that you may not have killed this WOD, but it didn’t kill you either.

And in many ways you are better off today than you were yesterday. Physically, mentally, and emotionally you stared down the whiteboard, your demons, your negative self-talk and you won today. The win is not in the ink on the board today, but in the reflection coming from it.

It’s Getting Much Clearer

I’m sunburned, tired, and mentally exhausted, and I can’t wipe the smile off of my face. I just spent the better part of the week at the Crossfit Games in Carson, California where a collection of the some of the best athletes from around the world gathered to face off in 12 head to head competitive events to crown the fittest man and woman on Earth. The Crossfit Games proved to be a lot more than just a competition, a lot more.

The Crossfit Games were an experience. An experience of competition, community, and affirmation that those who dared to challenge the norms of fitness, mobility, and nutrition are really onto something…and it’s working.

Competition

The athletes were primed and the fans present were eager to witness the exhibition of fitness that kicked off on Wednesday and ended on Sunday. The competition was fierce and those familiar with athletes and coaches saw the complexities that existed on the competition floor and on the outer edges of it.

Each athlete brought their own programming, nutrition plan, and training methodologies to prove their regimen would place them on top of the podium. If you knew who you were looking for, you could see coaches on the sidelines, their methods being put to the test. Outlaw, OPT, Proving Grounds, and many others. You could sense them finding out that training for the unknown and unknowable was frustrating them in many events, yet they knew there were events they would find in their athlete’s sweet spot. How do you train against the Evil Genius that is Dave Castro? You train for everything and hope you dialed in right. Good luck!

The Competition was about guts.

Michael Mogard pulled one, or both, hamstrings in the semi finals of the Zig Zag Sprints, yet continued to battle through the finals to finish 5th in the event.

Jason Khalipa won the sprint row to 2000 meters, took a few thousand meters to settle in at a slower pace, then rowed a machinelike, 1:50 per 500 meters to finish out a half marathon.

The Southeast Region qualified three first time Games competitors to the field on the men’s side. Zach Anderson, Dan Petro, and Travis Mayer. They finished 10th, 13th, and 18th, respectively. They were facing the best in the world and while each had events that they didn’t fair so well in, they continued to surge back in other events. Way to go Coach Mayer, you couldn’t have represented Crossfit Passion any better.

I witnessed Emily Friedman fight as hard as she could to complete some seriously heavy deadlifts in Cinco I. I found myself tightening every glute and hamstring in an effort to help her heave that weight. She didn’t need my help!

Rich Froning raced Ben Smith, on his hands, to win his second event on Sunday, and eventually, to the top of the podium for the 3rd year in a row. He raced him on his HANDS!

Community

The Crossfit Games are place for hardening the belief that we should challenge ourselves to get better everyday. That fitness is about more than exercise. It’s about how you eat, how much you sleep, how you recover, and how you take control of your quality of life. And people surround themselves with folks that think the same way, forming the unique community that settled in on Carson for the week.

I waited outside in a line for an organic food truck for 30 minutes and the line didn’t move….not an inch. It turns out the wait was about an hour to order and 30 more minutes to get your food. I eventually gave up and walked back into the stadium to find empty concession stands serving hot dogs, sodas, and pretzels. There wasn’t one person in line for that assortment of food. All the people were standing out in the sun for a lettuce wrapped chicken plate with a side of sweet potatoes. To hell with convenience, people weren’t going to fuel their bodies with food that didn’t work for them.

Nothing says community more than the accessibility and the willingness of those instrumental in the building of Crossfit willing stop what they were doing to have minute with those who were in attendance.

Kelly Starret, Brian McKenzie, Greg Glassman, Lisbeth Darsh, the athletes, and many, many others who have contributed to Crossfit in various ways, took a few minutes to shake hands and take photos with people. That same kind of attitude trickles down to the rest of the participants at the Games.

People left backpacks in seats for hours while they walked around checking out different education sessions and vendors and returned to find their bag right where they left it. I’ve only seen that kind of courtesy at Augusta National.

And the most powerful display of the community were the tens of thousands of people that showed up, as my non-Crossfit friends say in jest, to see people work out. They cheered on their favorite athletes, those in their region, and those who kept pushing, trying to beat the time limit of an event. The crowd always roared in unison twice. When the first place finisher completed the event and when the last person completed the event. Some will say this has become cliché for Crossfit. I say it symbolizes the desire of those who take fitness seriously to lend a hand to others to encourage them on the same path. This is one of the ways, among others, that Crossfit demonstrates that willingness to lend a hand. Cliché be damned.

Affirmation

It can’t be done. One can’t shift the paradigm of fitness and still be good at multiple skills. Specialization is key to success in any one endeavor, but you can’t have cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy, the 10 physical skills of Crossfit.

The Games are affirmation that you can push the limits of those 10 physical skills each and every year. Samantha Briggs rowed a half marathon in a time that would place her among the tops in the world of rowing. She also cleaned and jerked 220 pounds, among other feats. She possesses both the endurance and the power needed to excel in both categories. Further analysis of her results across all of her events would only bolster the argument more. And the expectation is that either she, or another competitor, will be even better next year.

In 2007, the workout weight for a deadlift was 275 pounds for men. That weight was thought to be too heavy at that point in time. In 2013, the men completed reps of 405 pound deadlifts, 15 of them. Jason Khalipa was one of the athletes who placed well in the event with 405 pound deadlift. See his row information above.

The sport is evolving and the athletes, coaches, programming, nutrition and training are all evolving along with the Games. They are all adapting and letting the world know that what Crossfit is doing is for real and that we don’t know how far Crossfit will push the boundaries.

I’m just waiting to get some energy back from the long week of excitement and travels. And the smile isn’t coming off or my face for a while!