The Power of Community

4 May

One of the best things about CrossFit is that individual progress is frequently acknowledged in a big way, with small breakthroughs being loudly celebrated by all in attendance. Nearly every workout, someone bests some type of personal record, generally amid yells of encouragement from all corners of the box, with the first urgent cheer prompting the rest of the group to briefly pause in their own endeavors to look up and add their own voice to that tense will-she-or-won’t-she moment. When the muscle-up is complete or the squat PR is achieved, that person’s triumph is acknowledged by generalized applause and whoops of approval. In those few seconds, everyone is aware of that small individual achievement, and shares in the thrill of their accomplishment — such that it truly becomes a group victory. We all know what it feels like to bleed, sweat, cry, vomit, and generally work harder physically than ever before — and we also know what it feels like to, as a result, achieve things we never thought we could do. It feels good to occasionally be the one at the center of the cheering, sure, but it honestly feels almost as great to be able to celebrate those victories on one another’s behalf. The power of the CrossFit community — the reason we keep coming back — is never felt more strongly than at such moments.

But other times, breakthroughs happen quietly, unassumingly. There might not be any cheering or applause, or any asterisk next to that person’s name on the daily board. There might not even be a single other person in the world who is aware of the minute shift that just took place in the dynamics of the universe. But the ripple effect inevitably extends beyond the four walls of the CF box — which is the whole point, really.

Case in point: I’m in San Diego this week for a conference, and decided to complete a “road WOD” yesterday morning. The hotel fitness center was pretty spartan, a tiny space off the main lobby with a weight machine, some dumbbells, two treadmills, and a stationary bike. Alone in the room, I surveyed the facilities and decided I’d be better off sticking to some combination of bodyweight exercises — push-ups, sit-ups, air squats, burpees, and the like. The only issue was that there were no bands to be seen, and I had yet to master bodyweight push-ups. Or so I thought.

For whatever reason, rather than eliminating the push-up option entirely, I decided to see how one would feel — after all, there was nobody around to witness my embarrassment if I collapsed to my knees. I got down on the ground, arranged myself in a plank, dropped my chest to the floor… and pushed back up.

Huh. Was that all?

I did it again. And, after a brief pause, again.

I blinked, incredulous. Wow. Who knew?

In the end, I completed ten rounds for time of 5 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, 15 air squats. It wasn’t easy. The push-ups were by far the limiting factor; every time I came out of a set of squats and dropped back to the mat to start the push-ups, I groaned inside. I went from being able to do three in a row, to two, to just one at a time, with several seconds’ rest in between. Several times, I halfway considered reducing the number of rounds, then scolded myself for the thought. The entire workout took me almost 20 minutes. But I finished it. A total of 50 push-ups — rx’ed. By a girl who had never before done a single one without a band or a knee.

Even when it happens that way — on a dirty yoga mat in a tiny fitness room in a strange hotel three thousand miles from any familiar community — it’s still wondrous. I’m savoring the shoulder soreness today, knowing its significance — that it’s indicative of a larger triumph. I could feel my coaches and boxmates around me in spirit during those 20 minutes — Erin calling me ‘Stormy’, Rachel yelling at me to “just turn your brain off!” — and although I was the only one putting myself through the physical work, the reason I was able to do the work that day, and have a breakthrough that day, was because of the months of daily support and encouragement to keep doing the work. My community is the reason I keep coming back — but my community is also enabling me to do better as an individual.

And while I am unbelievably stoked to get home Monday morning and get back into the gym amongst friends, it also makes me feel all warm and squishy inside to realize that yesterday’s solo effort was still a group victory — even if no one else knew about it.



23 Apr

For the first time in many months, I finally got to spend a long weekend in North Carolina, the place where I spent most of my adult life before moving to Philly. It was amazing — not because anything particularly earth-shattering happened, but just because I had missed it so much, and missed so much. One friend had sworn me to secrecy over her pregnancy the night before I left NC for good — and this weekend I met her two-week-old son. I had drinks with two of my best friends, who had just gotten engaged when I left and are now fully ensconced in the final throes of wedding planning. I had brunch with three former classmates at one of my favorite restaurants, and the conversation was so amazing that I never wanted to get up from the table. I did some shopping, got my car fixed, ate some great food (okay, a lot of great food), even laid in the sun for a bit. It was a weekend of simple pleasures, and I soaked up every minute. I felt like myself again, which, frankly, doesn’t happen often these days.

However, the initial impetus for me to spend this weekend away was actually the Tar Heel 10 Miler, a race that’s held every spring on the UNC Chapel Hill campus. It’s a beautiful time of year for such an event, and there are so many major universities around the area that the race has a fun vibe of good-natured rivalry, with runners receiving different-colored bib numbers and T-shirts depending on the school they represent (whether as a student, alum, or just a fan) and spectators turning out in school-specific apparel. I’ve run this race almost every year since it first began, always turning in more or less the same performance in terms of time, but always having a blast. This time, I was a little uncertain of where I’d fall in the pack, since I hadn’t run much at all since November (when I ‘accidentally’ ended up running two marathons in two weeks). I was a little burned out after that, not to mention that the CrossFit addiction hit shortly thereafter, so my ‘long slow distance’ running was happily placed on the back burner. Throughout the winter, I took advantage of the luxury of being able to focus on just one (indoor!) method of exercise that I truly enjoyed, rather than having to plan my life around a specific number of miles to log every weekend.

Then, all of a sudden, I looked up and it was three weeks until the ten-miler. I hadn’t been following any kind of a training plan (hell, I hadn’t even been running apart from the 400- and 800-meter sprints in the CrossFit metcons), and started to adopt a state of nervous resignation. I was pretty sure I’d make it through this particular race with a minimum of discomfort, but was anticipating a pretty dismal performance compared to past years. Worse, this had reminded me that last year’s NYC Marathon deferral was now looming on the horizon (an 18-week training plan starts in June!), and I was NOT happy about the idea of potentially soon having to cut down on my daily dose of happy CrossFit camaraderie in exchange for those long lonely solo runs. As the days ticked away, multiple individuals, including more than one CrossFit coach, swore that I would be ready, that doing general CrossFit six days a week will train an athlete for a footrace of this length, even without any run-specific training. I wasn’t so sure. I wanted to believe them, but the idea was such a departure from the ‘standard’ training to which I had so long been accustomed that it was hard to accept.

I’m not sure whether it was trust, laziness, or futility on my part, but in the end, the morning of the race dawned and I had done absolutely no special preparation whatsoever. I had a little rice pasta the night before, and slathered some BodyGlide under my sports bra the morning of, but other than that, I tried to pretend it was just any other morning workout.


It was absolutely FANTASTIC. Not just in the numbers (which were, for me, pretty great — almost one full minute per mile faster than last year, from a time of 1:42 to 1:34!), but also in my perception. I wouldn’t say the race felt ‘easy’ — I was definitely working — but it was a nice surprise to feel as though I understood exactly what level of effort I needed to sustain in order to cover the specific distance required as efficiently as possible. In years past, I haven’t really had multiple ‘gears’ to choose from — there was ‘running’, and there was ‘really really slow running’, and there was ‘walking’, and that was about it. This year, I had a much clearer sense of the spectrum of my ability and how much ‘gas was left in the tank’. I even managed a sub-nine-minute Laurel Hill, the beast of an incline that ascends for the majority of mile nine. (That hill is so steep that the race officials have made it a competition unto itself, placing timing mats at the bottom and top of the hill and providing individual awards for that single stretch, the Laurel Hill Challenge.) And I was amazed not only at how much more quickly I was able to run, but at how rapidly I recovered. I crossed the line, stopped my watch, drank some water, got a medal, ate a banana — and very shortly thereafter said, “OK, guys, it’s 9 AM — what are we going to do today?!?” I felt perfectly fine, ready to go tackle the day — none of the painful post-race hobble-walking, ear-ringing, or blood-sugar-swinging.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small victory. (I mean, eight minutes? Really?) I think what’s so exhilarating is the new sense of possibility I suddenly feel. I’ve been running races for almost a decade now; training on my own with traditional methods, my times for each distance were always within a few minutes of one another… and I never really saw myself getting a whole lot better than that. All of a sudden, I’m abruptly forced to reconsider what I thought I could do. For instance, it has long been a goal of mine to run a half marathon in under two hours (my best is 2:06). If I extrapolate the time I ran on Saturday, I come perilously, tantalizingly close to the two-hour mark. Taking an even greater leap, I can clearly remember expressing (quite confidently) to a Boston-qualifying friend a couple of years ago that “Oh, I’ll never be able to run Boston. I will simply never be fast enough to do that.” I still remember how I felt as I said those words — utterly certain that I spoke truth, positive that that particular achievement was simply a physical impossibility, to be met with dismissive laughter. Now — although I’m obviously still a LONG way from reaching a pace that would put me within the realm of Boston qualification — I can suddenly at least see the potential for such a thing, where I couldn’t before. Same with triathlons — years ago, after a very difficult half Ironman, I decided to shelve the idea of ever doing a full, because I just couldn’t envision it ever being remotely possible. Now, I’m thinking it may soon be time to reopen that can of worms.

A good comparison might be bodyweight pull-ups: I’m still a LONG way from getting one, but looking at the progress I’ve made, I’m able to envision the day when I will get one, whether that’s next week or next year. And if I could run 10 miles the way I did on Saturday, and feel the way I did afterward, after just four months of full-time CrossFit training… what will I be able to do after a full year of this? After two years? CrossFit has already made me reevaluate what I can do in terms of many other athletic feats — weightlifting, push-ups, double-unders — but most of those were new to me, skills I’d never really spent time on before. Now, it’s making me reevaluate what I’m capable of in a sport that I thought I pretty much had pegged — and it is tremendously exciting to suddenly see doors opening that I had thought were closed to me.

Needless to say, I will be using CrossFit to train for NYC 2013.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next… but I really like the way this feels.

Back on Track

31 Mar

Before you read any further, I need to refer every single one of you to What Is Someone Like Me Doing in the Open? She explains it better than I ever could. After you’ve read that, you can come back and keep reading. :)

CrossFit Open WOD 13.4 was a dividing line, to be sure. (Given my new-ish wheat-free lifestyle, I sort of hate to use the old adage ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’, but it keeps coming to mind.) The workout involved a ladder of heavy clean-and-jerks and toes-to-bar—first three of each, then six of each, then nine of each, and so on and so forth, with a seven-minute cap.

For those who aren’t familiar with the movements, toes-to-bar is exactly what it sounds like—you’re hanging from a bar and have to generate significant momentum to touch the bar with your toes. It isn’t easy at all—it requires strength as well as timing—and I had actually just learned how to do it the day before this workout was announced. Whenever it showed up in our programming before then, I had done a scaled option, pulling my knees up to my chest or to my elbows.

The clean-and-jerk is one of the Olympic lifts; it involves bringing a barbell from the floor to shoulder height (the clean), followed by using your whole body to explosively drive the weight overhead (the jerk). I’ve done quite a bit of work on the clean during Olympic lifting class, and had reached a max of 114 pounds prior to hurting my wrist, but had never done a whole lot with the jerk except the occasional attempt during the strength portion of a regular session; my max there was 83 pounds. 

The prescribed barbell weight for women for the Open? Ninety-five pounds.

There was a long group discussion prior to starting this workout. Many people knew they simply weren’t going to be able to do it—their max clean was significantly lower than 95, never mind the jerk (which is usually the limiting factor; as a rule, you can usually clean more than you can jerk). The gym owner clarified the rules: if you were signed up for our gym’s competitive team, you had to complete at least one rep of the clean-and-jerk in order to stay in the Open. If you knew there was simply no way you’d be able to do it at all, you could scale to a lighter weight or complete an alternative (rowing) workout—but failing to do the workout as rx’ed (meaning, as heavy as prescribed) meant you were officially out of the Open. There was a momentary hush over the 6am class as she said that—few of us are anywhere near truly ‘competitive’ (and those who are certainly weren’t worried about their ability to command this weight), but we still didn’t like the idea of ‘falling short’.

We set up our bars, found our stations and our judges, and, at the familiar call of “Three, two, one, GO!”, the usual chaos ensued. The dance-rock music was cranked to a deafening level, judges began yelling encouragement to their athletes, and a dozen barbells started flying around, accompanied by the familiar loud clank as they returned to the floor.

Well, except mine. Because my first move was to immediately fail my first clean. Whoops.

Rather than discouraging me, though, it just made me mad, almost indignant—after all, this was a good 20 pounds below my max. “I can clean this weight!” I said out loud (partly for the benefit of Danny, my judge, who was looking decidedly concerned). A few seconds later, I had the weight up against my shoulders. Whew.

Now for the jerk. Trying not to think about the fact that this was 12 pounds heavier than anything I had ever put over my head before, I bent my knees and attempted to use an explosive full-body ‘pop’ to drive the weight overhead… and I did it. It wasn’t pretty, but my arms and legs were fully locked out, I had control of the bar, and the rep was officially good. I was staying in the Open.

I let the bar crash to the ground, shook out my arms, took a couple of deep breaths, then did it again. And again. Three down. The first rung on the ladder was complete.

I stepped over to the pull-up bar, took hold, and tried to remember how to kip (using momentum to assist the movement and drive my legs upward). It took me a minute to get going, but I managed to do three toes-to-bar in a row in just a few seconds—not strung together particularly efficiently, but at least without losing my momentum or dropping back to the ground for a rest. I was feeling pretty good about things… until I turned back to face the 95-pound barbell I’d so recently left behind, and realized I now had to do six clean-and-jerks in a row. Crap.

Slowly, agonizingly, I got back to it. I failed one or two more throughout this six-rep series, mostly on the jerk—I would get the bar to my shoulders, then simply not have it in me to complete the overhead motion. Danny helped me to keep moving, making sure I took just enough rest to regain sufficient strength to complete the reps. “Take ten seconds. Don’t do another one until you’re ready.” All I could do was nod my head breathlessly. I clawed my way to three reps. Then four. One time, the bar came perilously close to dropping on my head, but that was so far outside the realm of my concern as to barely register. Five. I could hear Tim, one of the other coaches, bellowing my name from the other side of the room. Others were watching me now; most of my class wasn’t doing this workout as prescribed, and they knew this weight was a redline fight for me at every rep. Every time I successfully got the weight over my head, Tim, Danny, and half the room would yell their approval. Even amid the internal battle, it gave me an electric feeling to have so many people rooting for me.

Finally, I was on the sixth and final rep of the round. I crouched, took a deep breath, and cleaned the weight to my shoulders. Three or four more quick breaths, gathering my tattered shreds of strength… and I jerked it overhead, elbows fully locked. The room erupted in cheers, and I let the weight fall to the ground. I might even have smiled.

“No rep!” Danny and Tim yelled in unison.

“What?!?” I exclaimed in horror.

I had been using a split jerk to get the weight overhead (splitting my feet in two different directions as I drove upward with my legs), which is permitted, as it allows for more power. However, this time, I hadn’t brought my feet together underneath me to demonstrate full vertical control before releasing the bar. Argh. I was glad I was being held to a strict standard—I just couldn’t believe that on (what was supposed to be) my last rep of something so grueling, I now had to find the strength to do it again.

It took a good 60-90 seconds and another couple of failures, but somehow I did achieve that final C&J, and then managed to complete another three toes-to-bar before dropping to the ground to rest. That pause was my fatal mistake—there were three more reps left in the rung of six, and I had about 30 seconds left on the clock, but try as I might, I simply could not get my kipping momentum back on track. I was swinging from the bar helplessly, unable to judge the timing with which I needed to pull my legs up. I made several attempts, but never reached the bar again. I finished 13.4 with a score of 15 total reps.

Overall, I was pleased with that, mostly because I hadn’t even been sure that I’d actually be able to jerk the weight of 95 pounds. Many in my class hadn’t been able to—of the 21 of us there that morning, only 8 of us (seven women and one man—the men’s weight was 135 pounds!) were able to perform the workout as prescribed. We had unofficially been divided into two categories—those who could and those who couldn’t—and, this time, I squeaked into the Could category. I had done it. I was staying in the Open.

And yet… my first Facebook post after leaving the gym was, “Am I crazy for kind of wanting to redo that one?” The first three Open workouts were difficult, but I still felt like I had done as well in each of them as I as an individual reasonably could with my current capabilities—but with 13.4, I had a sense that, now that I knew what it felt like, I might actually be able to do better.

I teamed up with another girl who was feeling the same way, and after a bit of mutual encouragement, we each redid the workout yesterday. I was, in a word, amazed. I’d been on the fence about the redo, since the time slot was at 1pm and I was already signed up for 11am squatting (in which I maxed my back squat—165 pounds!) and 12pm conditioning (essentially a 45-minute run)—but even with those two hours of work under my belt, I still improved my performance! My overall number of reps went from 15 to 21 (I finished the set of six toes-to-bar and even got three clean-and-jerks in the rung of nine) and didn’t have any no-reps at all on the clean-and-jerk (apart from my very last one, which would have been rep #22, where I tried to rush the jerk to sneak in under the time cap). But even beyond that, the overall level of effort just felt so much easier than the first time around—so much so that instead of doing split jerks to get the weight overhead, I was able to do quite a few simple push jerks (where the feet stay underneath the body). Everything around the clean-and-jerk felt significantly more controlled. The limiting factor for me this time was the toes-to-bar—I had the same difficulty as before with getting the momentum back after taking a break. Having just learned that skill a few days prior, I wasn’t entirely surprised, but it was still frustrating in the moment. I was vindicated, though, when I looked at the clock during that frustration phase—I was at exactly the same rep where I’d finished two days prior, halfway through the six toes-to-bar, but this time there were two full minutes left on the clock. That felt really good.

As an aside, my body composition stuff seems to be back on track too—after a brief plateau, I’m slowly trending down again. The scale has been relatively stable for the past couple of weeks, but measurements are still dropping; this morning, I dipped perilously close to a flat 29 inches at my waist, which is a number I’ve seen, oh, wait, let me think, um, never in my adult life. I bought a bikini this past week (my first one in a couple of years), and was actually pretty dang happy with how it fit. Also found new sports bras and new workout capris—funny how workout gear that fits and flatters automatically makes you feel so much stronger and more capable. After months of waiting, I’ve also finally got my colorful custom Reeboks, which are gorgeous and were worth every penny:


…though had I known that my ‘Stormy’ nickname was going to catch on at the gym the way it has, I’d probably have put that tag on my shoes instead of my PA school moniker (‘J-Dub’)!

The upcoming week is significant for the announcement of Open WOD 13.5 (the last one of the season) on Wednesday night, which we’ll be performing at 6am the following morning. (My fingers are crossed for kettlebells!) Then on Friday I get to jump on a train after work and go see my friend Erin, who just moved to Pennsylvania; she’s the classmate with whom I went to Tanzania around this time last year. It’ll be First Friday in her area, which means shops stay open late, everybody comes to hang out downtown, bands play live music, etc. I’m looking forward to it.

Side note: I went to bed super early last night and randomly woke up at 2:30am. As I was trying to go back to sleep, I realized it was officially Sunday, therefore I could log on and register for next Sunday’s Olympic lifting classes. Would you believe that by 2:30am, five of the six class slots were already filled?!? I got the very last one. Ridiculous. I clearly have some dedicated gym-mates. :)

Philly needs to warm the F up. Stat.

24 Mar

It has been an insane couple of weeks. It’s been good overall – for one thing, my parents came to visit, and we went to New York City, which was great – but also ridiculously busy. I dropped my parents at the airport early Monday morning and then worked six straight days, including yesterday (Saturday), which averaged out to a 60-hour week. Yuck. We’re supposed to get a compensatory day when we work a Saturday, but mine isn’t happening until Wednesday. However, I have an awesome ‘play day’ planned for myself that day – I have the whole day off and recently got a bonus at work that I wasn’t expecting… so I’m going shopping! I need a bathing suit (actually sort of excited about wearing a bikini this year), sports bras, jeans, and a few other things. The changes that have been taking place in my closet are ridiculous – I keep having to take things out, mostly pants, and fold them and put them in a box in the spare bedroom, because they are just TOO BIG. Hard not to get a kick out of that.

I have admit, though, that I’m actually still at something of a plateau in terms of my body composition changes, which is frustrating me. One of the CrossFit coaches likes to take pictures of all of us and post them on Facebook, which I actually love, but as excited as I am about the way I look in person, I have yet to see a good photo of myself that I’d be excited about making public, which is a bit discouraging. For a while there, things were visibly changing literally every couple of days, but now the pace seems to be slowing down. For the most part, I’m still eating as if I were on the BCCC – meat, eggs, veggies, the occasional sweet potato or lump of rice – and I’ve only got about 10 more pounds to go in terms of weight loss, but they just don’t seem to want to come off. The only thing I can think of to do is start counting calories again, which is a really depressing thought – one of my favorite things about this new way of eating is that as long as I’m sticking to healthy things, I can just listen to my body and eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, rather than having to actively parcel out the calories. Not looking forward to returning to that lifestyle…

On the bright side, my wrist is better – I did Oly today for the first time in almost three weeks and it didn’t hurt at all. I worked on snatching instead of cleaning, just to be safe (lighter weights), and actually PRed my snatch by 3kg. I also climbed a rope today during the Benchmark session, which is something I haven’t ever really done before. I didn’t do it very well, but I did it (about seven times, to boot).

We’re also into the season of the CrossFit Open, which I was on the fence about participating in, but am now SO glad I did. CrossFit is an all-inclusive sport, and the way the competitive season works is that anybody, whether you’re a member of a CF gym or a soldier on base or a regular Joe in your own garage, can participate during the earliest phases. One official workout is posted each week for five straight weeks, and the best few competitors from each region in those five Open workouts (the first stage of competition) move on to Regionals. The best few from there will move on to the CrossFit Games. It’s highly competitive – our gym of 300+ members only has one or two athletes who are likely to qualify for regionals – but it really reinforces the worldwide feeling of unity that goes along with CrossFit. When you talk about WOD 13.1 (the first workout of 2013), any other CrossFit athlete knows what you’re talking about, whether they’re from your own gym or the other side of the world.

Anyway, we’re now at the end of week three (meaning 13.3). I’ve been enjoying myself overall – as I predicted, the sense of camaraderie around this is awesome, and I definitely would have regretted it had I not participated. The first workout was a little frustrating because it was a gradually increasing ‘ladder’ of burpees and snatches – I’m not any particular fan of burpees, but at least I can do them, whereas the snatch is a pretty difficult lift for most people once you get beyond a certain weight. I completed the first three rungs of the ladder, then had to stop, because the next rung was thirty 75-pound snatches, and that simply isn’t a weight that I can lift, not even for one rep. (Today’s PR that I mentioned above, 31kg, only works out to about 68 pounds.) There was plenty of time left on the clock, but I was limited by my own lack of strength. Didn’t enjoy that.

The second workout was way better – as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of overhead presses, deadlifts, and box jumps. The presses were the hardest part for me, but I still turned in a reasonably respectable 157 reps, and only had to put the bar down one time for a brief rest break.

This week’s workout has been by far the worst one for just about everybody – we were given 12 minutes to do 150 wall balls, 90 double-unders, and 30 muscle-ups. I’d venture to say that the majority of CrossFitters around the world do not ‘have’ a muscle-up – it’s one of the most difficult movements in our programming. However, that doesn’t particularly matter here, because the majority of CrossFitters around the world also aren’t going to reach the muscle-ups within twelve minutes. My goal was simply to finish the 150 wall balls before time ran out – I fell just shy of the mark, turning in 146. It was probably the most painful experience I have had so far at CrossFit – until then, I thought people who collapsed onto the floor after a metcon were just being dramatic. But I definitely flopped down onto my back as soon as time was called (though that still didn’t stop the quad burn!). Though I was pleased with my 146 – it was the second-most of any woman in my class, and I actually would have (just barely) reached the double-unders if I hadn’t had so many no-reps (mostly for height as I started to get tired). I think I have Danny (coach) to thank for that – he was judging me (each athlete has a judge during Open workouts, so make sure we comply with movement standards – thus my no-reps that fell just shy of the 9-foot line) and basically kept up a nonstop stream of verbal encouragement for me the whole time.  It’s amazing how much that helps – having somebody to shout louder than the silent voice inside your own head that is begging you to STOP THE MADNESS.

Anyway, two more Open workouts to go. I’m hoping for kettlebells and power cleans, neither of which have shown up yet – though pull-ups haven’t made an appearance yet either, which I’m certain they will, and I do not ‘have’ even one strict pull-up yet, so if they do crop up, I hope it’s at the tail end of something I won’t reach, like the muscle-ups from this week. Not that it matters – after all, I am currently in 2230th place in the Mid-Atlantic Region (ha!) – but I noticed that I went from placing 3044th for workout 13.2 to placing 2128th for workout 13.3, which I thought was pretty cool. There are over 4,000 athletes registered in this region, so I’ll take that… pretty damn smack in the middle of the pack, as opposed to hovering around the bottom like I thought I would be.

Anyway. Stuff to look forward to this week:

Monday – we get to max our front squats (mine was 135 lb two weeks ago, which was actually a total accident due to a bar misload – it was supposed to be 130, but the girl who was loading the other side of my bar stuck an extra 5 lb plate onto her side by accident!). Then a long day at work.

Tuesday – I have a academic day, so am going to go play with the radiologists and get some more experience in learning to read ultrasounds. Then concert with my roomie on Tuesday night.

Wednesday – my awesome shopping ‘play day’! I might even treat myself to a gluten-free pizza lunch at Slice as carb-loading for tomorrow…!

Thursday – Open workout 13.4 on Thursday (fingers crossed for something good… though it can’t possibly be as bad as 13.3!)

Friday – three of us ladies from the 6am class are going in together to pay for a personal training session with one of our coaches and hopefully gain a better mastery of how to kip. Then on Friday night a group of us are going out to Graffiti Bar to celebrate a birthday.

Should be a good week! Hoping for some sunshine to go along with it… but that may be too much to ask for. (Come on, Philadelphia, seriously? It is almost APRIL. Get your @$*& together. It’s still cold!)

Bedtime now…

Injuries vs Emotions

9 Mar

So these past ten days have been interesting in that I’ve been dealing with my very first injury as it relates to CrossFit. I’ll preface by saying that it’s totally minor and physically not a big deal at all—I’m posting more to relate the unexpected mental effects than to complain about anything physical.

I was practicing my clean in Olympic lifting class last week and made a 51kg lift (previous best was 50). The coach said teasingly, “You don’t look super happy about that PR!”

“It just felt sloppy,” I said with a shrug.

“It wasn’t sloppy; it was just a little slow. Try 52.”

So I tried 52, and that one actually went a lot better.

“That looked easy! Do you want to call it here?”

The hour was drawing to an end, and I should have said yes, but the false sense of bravado brought on by a good lift led me to hesitate. My face must have looked indecisive, because she held up two hands – a five on one, a three on the other – meaning I should go to 53kg, or 116 pounds.

I loaded the bar, stepped up to it. I felt myself take an extra minute to contemplate, a bit longer than I usually do – a pause that I knew in the moment probably didn’t bode well – but then cleared my mind, grabbed the bar, and went for it anyway.

For me as a relative beginner, there’s often an instant in the middle of a heavy clean where I’m just not sure I’m going to get my elbows around in time, and it requires a leap of faith to keep on pushing them through when your instinct tells you to just let that great big heavy thing fall before you hurt yourself. But, as with the 51 and 52, I did get them around, and suddenly I was in my squat at the bottom of the clean, with the bar essentially racked, if somewhat awkwardly, against my chest. I had an instant to think, oh wow, I did it; the toughest part is over; now all I have to do is stand up.

The next second, my fragile rack position broke—my left wrist torqued to the side, and the barbell started to fall forward. I was still in go-against-the-instinct mode, so instead of just accepting defeat and letting the bar go, I tried to hang onto it and save the lift (word to the wise: NEVER DO THIS). In the moment, it didn’t hurt, but there was a sensation of, hmm, that’s interesting, my arm doesn’t usually twist in that direction…?

And, of course, the next second, the bar was on the ground anyway.


“Call it,” the coach said immediately. “You’re done.” I nodded.

At this point, I didn’t really realize that I’d hurt myself – there was no true pain, just a sensation of having ‘overstretched’ – so I went to the regular session after Oly as I’d planned to. We did overhead squats and burpees (both of which, in hindsight, require a great deal of wrist hyperextension and push-off). I wasn’t exactly comfortable, but it was more of a generalized, all-over body weakness than anything localized to the wrist, so I assumed it was normal post-Oly beat-up feeling.

And then I woke up the next morning, casually stretched—and felt a sharp zing! shoot from my left wrist into the tips of my fingers. I yelped, clutched my hand, and inspected. Bruising over the base of the thumb. Pain where the fifth metatarsal met the wrist. More pain over one of the distal carpal bones. And perhaps just the slightest bit of swelling when compared to the right side.


It was 5am, and I had to make a decision whether or not to even go in to CF that morning. I had a feeling I was going to be pretty useless—but then checked the website and saw that the metcon that morning was “Grace” (a lot of the standardized CrossFit workouts are named after women), which consists of thirty clean-and-jerks for time. The clean is the part of the lift I’d been practicing the day before, where the weight comes from the floor to shoulder height; the jerk is the next step, where it goes from shoulder height to overhead. I’d seen our male Olympic lifting coach do this workout (with an insane amount of weight) one day, and had been wanting to try it myself ever since. And it was peak week, where we try to max everything out. Maybe things would loosen up after I’d been awake for a while. Pain or no pain, I decided to go in to class.

Only problem was, I simply couldn’t do it. Just the warmup stretches, requiring hands on the floor, were painful, and as we started reviewing the jerk, even my tiny 15-lb training bar was placing too much torque on my wrist in the rack position against my shoulders. It hurt, a lot, and there was absolutely no way I could compensate or reposition things to make it any better. It was the right way or not at all. Along with the physical pain, I was beginning to feel an unpleasant emotional sensation of building panic that I couldn’t quite explain.

As we went around the room figuring out who would work together and which weights we’d be using for the strength portion of the session, I walked up to one of the coaches and explained what had happened the day before. I kept my voice steady as I spoke, but was startled and dismayed by the internal upwelling of emotion I felt. I had to concentrate hard not to cry, and couldn’t figure out why I should be feeling so vulnerable and ridiculous. CrossFit folks are injured all the time. People do modified workouts and strength training during our sessions all the time. So it was finally my turn. Big deal. Why was it hitting me like this?

As with all the coaches, this one was phenomenal; he asked me a couple of questions, then immediately came up with a modification; instead of jerks, I was going to work on strict presses (simply pressing a weight from shoulder level up to overhead, without using any momentum from the legs). It’s not possible to lift nearly as much weight without the whole-body force that the jerk provides, but the strict press is a similar movement, training similar muscles, with the difference that it doesn’t require a bent wrist.

And on the face of it, everything seemed fine. Granted, it was difficult to even unclip the barbell and change weights without pain, and my left arm felt stiff and was difficult to bring into the proper alignment without feeling twinges, but I soon figured out the position I needed to maintain in order to be both comfortable and efficient. One of the coaches stayed near me and offered a lot of encouragement; I think he could tell I was bummed about having to do boring, light strict presses while everyone else went for one-rep personal records on the jerk. Oddly, I actually ended up setting a personal best myself (60 pounds for 2 reps), and even found the wherewithal to smile about it. Then, while everyone else did “Grace” (thirty clean-and-jerks), I was instructed to do six rounds of five box jumps and five dumbbell push presses (20 pounds in each hand), a sequence that utilizes the same muscles at the same intensity without requiring me to do anything that hurt. Someone asked the coach how fast we ‘should’ be for that metcon; the reply was that ‘the fastest of the fast’ can do “Grace” in about three minutes.

As it happens, I completed my modified version in 3:35, and was actually the second finisher in my class. It felt unexpectedly easy; we all remember the drama around my box jumps, and I can definitely also remember a time, not so long ago, when 20 pounds in each hand for a dumbbell push press felt impossible to repeat for more than a few repetitions (I’ve bashed the dumbbell into my ear on more than one occasion due to fatigue). I was actually really not excited about those presses when they were suggested as a modification, so was pleasantly surprised by how comparatively easy it all felt. As he was writing my score up on the board, the coach nodded in approval and said, “I’m happy with that. That was the right stimulus for you.” My overwhelming emotion was still annoyance and disappointment at not having been able to do a workout that I had really wanted to try, but even so, I felt a wash of gratitude in that moment to have such expert coaches, who know the workout goals and targeted muscles so well that they can immediately modify or scale everything appropriately. That is not an easy thing to do, and definitely not something I could have figured out on my own. I am really a very fortunate individual.

Objectively, we can probably all agree that this sounds like a pretty good morning under the circumstances. However, as I left, I was still angry and feeling that sensation of simmering, untapped rage. On top of this was a layer of surprise and confusion at why I should be feeling this way when, after all, things had actually gone really well—I set a personal best for strength and completed an appropriately hard workout, all without pain. Why was I still feeling so unsettled? What I really wanted to do was go for a long run and shake it all out – after all, my legs still worked fine – but I couldn’t; I had to go to work.

I was working at a satellite clinic that day with a late start, so I was able to go home, clean up, change, and drive to work (not my usual pattern of whirlwind shower at the gym and then biking crosstown to the main hospital). As I was getting dressed, glancing in the mirror renewed my sense of panic. There are multiple scientific studies documenting the correlation between exercise and body perception, particularly in women—if we rate our appearance in the mirror, then complete a good workout, then look again, we truly believe that we are thinner, stronger, more attractive—even if our objective measurements haven’t changed a bit. It’s a powerful phenomenon, much like my earlier comment about the 20” box for box jumps now literally appearing physically shorter to me than it used to—and even knowing about its existence doesn’t stop the perceptions from happening, for better or for worse. Not even 12 hours before, my favorite coach had given me about a dozen compliments on how my body composition was changing. (I’d worn a tank top to the gym for the first time ever, and it did not go unnoticed.) After that, I had been feeling on top of the world—and objectively, absolutely nothing had changed in the past twelve hours. Except now I was looking at my belly in the mirror and was absolutely convinced that I had somehow gained twenty pounds overnight. It felt horrible.

The hour-long drive to work gave me a little time to compose myself and try to shake it off. My head felt like a ping-pong match. One minute, I’d be telling myself that this was no big deal. So I didn’t get to do “Grace” this time. I’ll do it next time. Everything comes back around. This won’t be the last chance I ever have to practice a jerk or do a clean. Just because something isn’t a good idea for my body today doesn’t mean I’m any less of an athlete. Then the ball would zip back in the other direction— the Open starts next week; what if there’s a movement I can’t do? I was finally starting to be a little happier with how I looked physically—what if I plateau, or, worse, start gaining again?

Then the mature, reasonable Jess would come back and remember that there is a lot of stuff I still can do. I can do back squats (in which I PRed on Monday by back-squatting my own bodyweight). I can do double-unders (getting better all the time). I can go for runs (which I haven’t done in forever and which, honestly, would probably be a good idea to get back into, given that the Tar Heel 10 Miler [link] is in six weeks). And I have amazing, knowledgeable coaches who can modify or scale anything as needed to make it work for me. This silly wrist is nothing, literally nothing, compared to the injuries some other athletes have. A couple of weeks, maybe a month tops, and I’ll be healed. And it’s not as if my time at CrossFit is finite. I’m going to be around here for a long, long time. No need to push too hard and turn this into something that really does linger for months or years.

And then, after about five minutes of mental peace, the doubts would creep back in. But I was just starting to get halfway decent at Olympic lifting—what if I have to miss weeks and weeks of it and I lose all my progress?


The lesson here is that I honestly didn’t realize how much of my self-worth was tied up in CrossFit these days—not necessarily in being the best, which I pretty much never am, but simply in being able to hang in there and complete a workout. In my former life as an endurance athlete, I never needed to be the fastest, as long as I finished in the end—and (with a couple notable exceptions) I almost always did. Suddenly, here I was requiring special treatment in order to be able to even finish. My self-esteem interpreted that as a serious backslide in terms of my abilities and, yeah, my worth as a human being. Whether or not this ‘should’ be the case, at this stage of my life, with so many other new stresses to contend with, CrossFit is the one thing that gives me confidence, lets me experience a sense of community, and makes me feel that I am worthy of respect. Anything that threatens that, even for just a few days, is bound to seriously mess with my head.

The second day post-injury was better. The metcon was ridiculously hard – “Kelly,” a.k.a. five rounds of a 400-meter run, 30 box jumps, and 30 wall balls, with a 30-minute cap. Almost nobody in my class finished (I got 4 complete rounds plus most of the fifth 400 meter run), but that was okay; every once in a while, it’s nice to complete a longer workout. Anyway, I discussed modifications with the coach beforehand—I knew running and box jumps would be okay, but wasn’t quite sure about throwing and catching a 14-pound ball 150 times—and he recommended modifying the wall balls to ball squats. I stubbornly started out with wall balls, just to see how it would feel, but defaulted to squats after the 13th toss – the pain wasn’t excruciating, but I reminded myself that there was really no reason to feel any pain at all—and the substitution felt approximately eight million times less humiliating than it had the day before. Apparently, I had just needed a day to make the necessary mental adjustment. I needed a little longer to convince myself to take some time off from Oly lifting—I went to class one week post-injury with a taped wrist, and did fine until we got to 50kg (3kg under the lift that caused all this in the first place)—then failed the lift spectacularly, twisting my whole left arm in such a way that I felt it through my wrist all the way up to my deltoid. That was a wakeup call (though I did, at least, have the presence of mind this time to simply let the bar go). The message was clear: threat of further injury. This is what you might do to yourself if you keep pushing when you shouldn’t. I took a moment to control myself, then did a drop set at 45kg and then 40kg, then called it a day. I walked away with the understanding that I was going to take at least a couple of weeks off from Oly–and being okay with that.

The bottom line is that I’ll heal. I’m already healing; there’s only one small painful area left, and although that one area actually is still exquisitely tender to touch (I think it’s the point of a ligamentous attachment to a carpal bone, probably strained), and a front rack position with any significant weight on it still doesn’t feel good, just plain bending the wrist feels essentially normal now, which is encouraging. I definitely didn’t write this post to garner sympathy; it was meant to explore one small facet of the interesting emotional attachments—healthy and otherwise—that athletes can form to their sports. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t dealt with too many injuries—standard shoulder stuff during my swimming years, and chronic plantar fasciitis in my right foot for over a decade, but that’s about it. This whole dynamic was new to me, and coming at a vulnerable emotional time, and while it wasn’t pleasant (AT ALL), it was also intriguing on an objective level. I do learn so much from CrossFit… :)

Anyway, apart from the above, things are going well. In a nutshell: I’m having fun getting to know some of the other CFCCers better (we’ve been out for various activities for the past two Friday nights), I recently discovered Conditioning class (all endurance—today was kettlebells, rowing, and double-unders, all of which I love), the weather in Philly was GORGEOUS today (61 and sunny—I was seriously delirious with joy to be outside), and my parents are coming to visit on Tuesday and staying for a week (yay!). I’ll update again soon (probably not until after they leave), and talk about the CrossFit Open, which started this week, among a few other things.

Stay well, y’all.

Turns out gluten really does suck

3 Mar

What I’ve learned this weekend is that there is no such thing as a ‘good time to try gluten again, just to see what happens.’ For some unknown reason, that seemed like it might be feasible. But… yeah. Come to find out, it’s actually not a thing.

Yesterday, I gave myself a day off from all things exercise. After lingering over morning coffee, I got to poking around in the freezer around lunchtime and found a package of Trader Joe’s sweet potato gnocchi — one of my (previous) favorite foods, particularly for carb-loading and/or refueling after a long run. And, hey, I didn’t have anything major going on—seemed like a reasonable situation in which to have my first bite of gluten since the start of the BCCC (first ingredient, sweet potatoes; second ingredient, wheat flour!) and see what kind of effect it would have, if any. Admittedly, there was still some skepticism going on — after all, I’d been drinking milk and eating sugar my whole life without noticing any ill effects until I knew what it felt like to go without them; was I really going to notice anything from gluten?

Popped the gnocchi in the microwave for the requisite four minutes, then sat down and feasted. It was pretty good, though not quite as amazing as I remembered, and I felt fine immediately afterwards. About twenty minutes post-consumption, I even rolled my eyes briefly, wondering if I’d been avoiding gluten so strictly for no real reason at all.

And then, around the half-hour mark… things started to get weird.

First I had to visit the restroom. Then I developed an odd, antsy, ADHD-esque mindset – pacing around the room, couldn’t focus on anything, couldn’t sit down, couldn’t figure out what I should be doing with myself. Then the bloating started, along with the ‘stiffening’ feeling in my esophagus that I associate with dairy. I still felt uncomfortable and jittery and wanted to move, in a futile attempt to leave the discomfort behind, so I strolled over to the CowShare sale on Baltimore Ave, then (briefly) to the Penn Synchro meet with a couple of CrossFitters, then over to Center City to run a couple of errands. I walked a total of about six miles over the course of the afternoon, mostly because movement kept me distracted from how odd my body felt. I felt more crave-y than usual—kept smelling various foods on the street (doughnuts!) and thinking seriously about getting something; usually I can just let those momentary urges slide right off my back, but it was noticeably hard yesterday. I eventually ended up hitting the Whole Foods hot bar for a (gluten-free) early dinner; the chicken, beans, and grilled veggies were great, but I also totally OD’ed on polenta fries and quinoa – I knew I was getting full, but kept eating anyway, just because it was there. Sigh. I’ve noted several times now that starches make it hard for me to (a) judge true fullness and (b) respond to it appropriately when I do recognize it—double whammy when there’s gluten in my system, apparently.

I finally got on the bus to come home, and once I sat down, I became aware of the acid reflux burning in the back of my throat. That was what I’d expected to feel from gluten – just not four hours after the fact. I got home and slammed three or four glasses of water to try to tame it, but no such luck; I finally caved in and took a few Tums. I also noticed that my joints were starting to ache in a twitchy kind of way, mostly my shoulders and neck – places I hadn’t been sore the previous day. Then, about an hour later, I started becoming aware of a scratchy throat, the kind you get before a cold sets in. Seriously? What next?!? I’ve only had one cold since moving to Philly six months ago, which was so mild as to be barely noticeable. I’m not sure I can think of more obvious proof of an insult to the immune system than the start of a virus mere hours after I throw things out of whack. Granted, my supervising physician on Thursday had a cold, so the timing was just about right for the viral incubation period to tip over into symptoms anyway, but given the various bugs I’m surrounded by at work on a daily basis, I have a hard time believing I would have succumbed to this particular one if it hadn’t been for the gluten.

I started to feel really sleepy, so decided to listen to that signal—popped a couple of probiotic pills and went to bed early, hoping I could stave off the impending cold. I slept almost 10 hours and I do feel better today—a lot less crave-y, no more reflux or belly pain. CrossFit helped too; I did Oly lifting (PRed my snatch) and the Strongman workout this morning, which I’d never done before but was pretty fun (flipping 200-pound tires, picking up 75-pound stones, etc.). Throat is still the slightest bit scratchy, and I’ve blown my nose a couple of times, but I don’t feel like I’m underneath the inevitable wave just yet—I think I may be able to knock it out with probiotics and white tea and sleep.

Anyway, lesson learned. Blech.

Apologies for boring you all with this inordinately detailed post — but writing it all down while it’s still fresh in my mind is a good way to cement the bad associations and make me less likely to fall face-first into a bread basket during any future moments of weakness. ;)

Related: I’m tightening up the dietary screws this week—I think I’ve officially hit my first plateau. My skin has been freaking out for some reason, and really the only thing I’ve changed is a more regular consumption of dairy (in the form of cheese), so that’s where I’d put my money. Also, although I haven’t really changed the actual foods I’m eating, the scale has nevertheless stalled, so I think I need to do better with meal planning so that I’m not cranky and grabbing for the first thing to fall into my hands (which is usually the jar of almond butter) as soon as I get home. I made an amazing frittata this morning (ground beef, bell pepper, tomatoes, herbs, and a full dozen eggs) that should carry me through next weekend (nine meals) in terms of early breakfasts, and I have my post-morning-CrossFit snacks packaged and ready to go (hard-boiled egg plus sausage plus Lara bar). Trying to actually write down what I’m going to do for lunches and dinners this week so that I can stay in control and not be grasping at straws ‘in the moment’. I also need to dial back my almond butter — I’m killing about a jar a week, which is clearly excessive for something so calorie-dense (and actually may be the reason for this plateau all on its own — it’s just so damn GOOD…) I may need to put a temporary ban in place and see if that makes a difference.

Next up: a post about wrists, injuries, and associated mental states. I started writing it days ago, but have been waiting to post it until I could be halfway concise and analytical (translation: halfway interesting to someone other than myself) rather than just doing an emotional dump. I’ll get it up within the next couple days.

Ten Days Post-BCCC

24 Feb

I’m excited to say that I’m still going strong. The routine is becoming familiar—some variation of an egg before early-morning CrossFit, another egg with sausage and a Lara bar after CrossFit, something with meat and veggies for lunch, another Lara bar mid-afternoon, and something else with meat and veggies for dinner, usually capped off by a spoonful or two of almond butter. I did go out with my roomie one night for drinks, but had gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free food (Cuban tapas—yum!), and didn’t get a stomachache. By and large, I’m still not craving the starchy, carb-y things I used to. I haven’t even tried my at-home gluten test (gnocchi) yet, because I know it’s going to make me feel bad, either mentally, physically, or (more likely) both, and I just can’t figure out quite why I would want to voluntarily open myself up to that. (I eventually will, just for the certainty of understanding exactly what it makes me feel, but not today.)

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though; the hardest part by far is staying away from the breads (so often served as precursors to a meal) and the really good desserts (which are so prevalent at work—our nurse practitioner student made us a pan of thick fudgy brownies on her last day, and I was seriously whimpering inside). Also, there was a conference at work on Friday where breakfast was bagels and pastries (I loaded up on fruit, which I’ve barely been eating lately, and was so incredibly hungry by midmorning—worse than if I’d had nothing at all) and lunch was pasta, sandwiches, chips, multiple rich desserts, and a bowl of pale, undecorated iceberg-romaine salad. (I peeled the bread off two roast beef sandwiches, and thank goodness for the one lone platter of roasted veggies.) That kind of situation sheds unflattering light on the general public’s ‘normal’ diet as compared to my new reality.

New things I’ve learned:

1) I don’t do well working out on an empty stomach. Historically, I have never been able to do this very well (couldn’t ever manage a morning run longer than three miles or so without some fuel in the tank), but hadn’t tried it for a while; turns out it’s still true. Apart from how I feel physically, my mood is just so much better in terms of how I approach a workout mentally if I have something small in my stomach.

2) Turns out my new apartment is going to be directly across the street from Slice, which serves gluten-free pizza that is AMAZING. I had mine with fresh tomatoes and green peppers… delish, and very light on the cheese, so I didn’t even get a bellyache from the dairy. It was a great coincidence, because I’d been thinking longingly of Lilly’s Pizza back in NC — the only gluten-free pizza place I knew of — and then I found this… literally within sight of my window from my new place. Summary: this is either a really terrible idea, or representative of the utter magic that will cap off many future nights out on the town.

3) Reasonably good dietary choices aside, following the alcohol this past Friday night, I slept like utter crap—woke up two or three times throughout the night, which led to feeling somewhat foggy the next day. Nice reminder that stuff is still happening elsewhere in the body even when there’s no belly pain involved.

4) I was fairly appalled by both my before and after pictures from the BCCC, which is why they haven’t been posted. :) However, I got on the scale this morning for an objective number, and it turns out I’ve lost 12 pounds since finishing PA school (which is about half of what I gained while I was there). I’m not super consumed by that number one way or the other—though I have every reason to believe that it will continue to drop, and will finally settle at some arbitrary healthy and functional size, as long as I keep doing what I’m doing—but it was nice to see.

5) An even more rewarding moment (well, ‘moment’ meaning two hours, really) was going through my closet this morning. Holy hell—I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve said this, but it was actually an awesome experience. An entire section of clothes that I haven’t been able to wear for a solid 18 months is suddenly back in the rotation, and a stack of larger pants has been relegated to a box in the spare bedroom closet. Even better, a big pile of clothes that I rarely wear but have been hanging onto for some inexplicable female reason (because / what if / maybe / someday) is finally out the door, because now I can clearly see how many more flattering choices I have to pick from. Excited for summer and the return of shorts, skirts, capris, and dresses!

6) Something to continue to work on… the other night, I made a Paleo mug cake – which is just almond meal, raw cocoa, raw honey, and an egg (plus a little salt, cinnamon, and vanilla) microwaved in a coffee mug. I naïvely thought that eating something sweet that was made from non-sugar, non-gluten, non-dairy ingredients would give me all the taste with none of the bellyache. Yet that cake was so damn dense that I could have eaten half of it and been satisfied. And I actually recognized that fact halfway through—yet it was there in front of me… so I continued to eat it. Why didn’t I just put it away? In the moment, I always forget that that’s an option – to just save the rest for later. If the food is in front of me, I always feel like I have to eat it right then and there. New mantra during those moments where the balance is teetering: just remove myself from the situation. Sigh.

7) Because I feel like this deserves its own number—I finally got my own cable (speed) jump rope ($9 on eBay; not sure why I waited so long), and the general chorus of voices is correct when it says that having one’s own rope is when double-unders really start to click. I had gotten to the point where I could do a single-single-double pattern for at least a few reps… but then I started trying to string the double-unders together back-to-back, which meant that my proficiency in the former pattern fell way off as I tried to master the new rhythm. Anyway, I was slowly, painfully clawing my way up to two in a row, then three in a row—one brief string of five in a row—but couldn’t really break through beyond that. Then, this past Friday, we were doing a ridiculously hard metcon (that involved, among other things, 100 push presses) where the double-unders were the part that felt the easiest. I limped my way through the first round in chunks of two and three, then started the second set… and after the first couple of false starts, magic happened. The rope didn’t stop turning after three, or five, or even ten. Somehow, some way, I completed twenty-seven unbroken double-unders before I finally lost the rhythm. I stopped dead in my tracks and screamed a couple of incredulous expletives (CrossFit is the kind of place where it’s okay to do that, because everyone is gasping, sweating, yelling, straining, and cursing anyway, and there’s usually blaring hard-rock music pounding over the whole chaotic scene) — so much shock and disbelief! I wasn’t able to replicate that ‘flow’ state again, but now I know it’s out there, somewhere, and that the day really will come when I can bang out a hundred of those beasts with a smile. Holy crap.

What’s Next

This week – the upcoming week is Peak Week, meaning we’re going to try to max everything. Monday will be back squats, Tuesday is pull-ups, Wednesday is overhead squats, Thursday is push presses and split jerks, and Friday is anybody’s guess. I’m most excited about Monday and Tuesday; I’m getting pretty close to a bodyweight back squat, though the bodyweight pull-up continues to torment me; my max is currently a Light band assist +5 lb on my back. I am so close to getting one with +7.5 lb, but I just can’t quiiiite get my chin over the bar. Maybe on Tuesday I will.

Next week – will be the start of a new cycle, which will also coincide with the CrossFit Open. I was on the fence about signing up, but it was a lot easier to talk myself into it this time, after having had such a rewarding experience with the BCCC. After all, realistically, in our gym of 250, I’m told we have maybe two or three athletes who will qualify for regionals – the rest of us are just doing the Open for the same reasons we do everything else – to see how well we can do, to further our sense of community at CFCC, and to have a little fun. Anyway, poke around the site if you’re curious, but it basically involves one ‘judged’ workout per week (standards strictly enforced) that will be performed by CrossFit athletes around the world, so that we can all get a sense of where we fit into the bigger picture. I have no doubt that I’ll be pretty damn near the bottom of the heap, but that isn’t really the point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to it.

Next month – the next CrossFit Total (where we try to max our deadlifts, back squats, and presses) will be on May 11th, so the April cycle (after the Open) is going to focus on these skills in preparation for the Total. I have a double-bodyweight deadlift in my sights, but it’s a long-range shot just yet—seriously doubt I’ll make it there by the time of the Total, but I am at least in the 200-lb club, which is a good start.

After that – the next BCCC is in May, likely starting right after the Total, which works out perfectly, since I have a wedding in June for two of my best friends in NC for which I really want to look my best. I’m already working on my goals, one of which is going to be to eat strict Paleo for the full 30 days (much of what I’m already doing, but taken a step further: no cereal grains at all, no fruit, no hydrogenated oils, and no dairy other than butter). Most of the rest of the focus is going to have to do with body weight, though not in the sense that most of us are accustomed to thinking about it. One of the best things about CrossFit is that it is so easily tailored to the individual, and the concepts of body weight and size have a lot to do with that. You can probably appreciate that it wouldn’t be quite fair to ask a 110-pound woman and a 280-pound man to lift the very same barbell; however, challenging that same woman and man each to lift their own body weight creates a lot more level playing field. In addition to this — or perhaps because of this — a lot of the CrossFit movements have to do with (you guessed it) moving one’s own body from place to place (think about the nature of a pull-up or push-up, and this will make sense). In short, the way to get more efficient at CrossFit in general is to get better at moving your body—and its equivalent—through various patterns. So I’m attacking this from two sides: working on getting stronger—able to lift more weight—while simultaneously also, as evidenced above, slowly losing body weight by the nature of my activity (CrossFit sessions every weekday, Olympic lifting class twice weekly, plus biking as my main mode of transportation around the city) and the changes I’ve made to my diet. The image I have in my head is of gradually zeroing in from both the left and right on an as-yet-undefined numerical goal — going ‘down’ from one side and ‘up’ from another. I’m excited to discover the point at which the twain shall meet. :)

So, my tentative May 2013 BCCC performance goals (as of February, that is…):

1) Bodyweight pull-up. (This is going to be at the top of every goal list from now until I finally get it—which is probably going to take quite a while, since the conversion chart would have me believe that I’m still at 40+ pounds of assistance—and then the new goal will be bodyweight pronated pull-up, since I’m still using the supinated grip right now.)

2) 100 unbroken double-unders.

3) Bodyweight front squat. (currently at 118 lb for two reps)

4) Try gymnastics class. (this is one of those things that intimidates me, since I’ve never been a lightweight, graceful, spatially-aware individual, but the programming always looks like such fun that I really do want to give it a shot…)

5) Bodyweight clean. (currently at 110 lb)

6) Double bodyweight deadlift. (currently at 200 lb)

And, yeah, I’m posting this ridiculously far in advance — mostly (a) to hold myself to it, and (b) to see how much I need to tailor these by the time May arrives, depending on how much progress I can make between now and then. I kind of think it’ll be fun to look back on. :)

Wish me luck…!