Summer, winter, the end of an era and a beginning coming to an end

Autumn is now here in full force. The leaves are turning in Stellenbosch, so I may need to take a drive out there next weekend to take photographs. My favourite seasons are spring and fall, and while the autumns here are not as dramatic as those of New England there are still some quite good colors. Napa Valley has nothing on the Cape Winelands, I’m sorry!

You can also tell that it’s autumn because the days vary dramatically from cold & rainy (or just cold!) to warm and sunny. This happens in winter, too, but as an example Sunday it was something like 29 degrees (84.2) and sunny and we went to the beach, then Monday it maybe got up to about 17 (62.6), and was more like 12 (53.6) and pouring with thunder & lightning Tuesday evening. At least there are proper seasons!

So I was really bumming last week because first of all I could never get properly into the swing of work which was frustrating, I did a workout on Friday that in retrospect I shouldn’t have done (Grace, 30 clean & jerks at 43 kgs for time which was exacerbated because while the first 8 or 10 reps were pretty much unbroken I then completely forgot how to clean the bar and had to take some time to clear my head and my next few cleans after that were VERY ugly, resulting in a massive collarbone bruise), then I went to a braai/bonfire Friday night which was fun albeit cold and because I was standing around so much my knee tendonitis really flared up the next day and doing my one thruster was actually a little bit painful so that was a setback. I was again bummed not to be able to do the Sectional workout because this is one where again I should have been probably in the top 2-3 in Africa if I’d been able to do it but it was not meant to be. To add insult to injury (this is becoming a common refrain) I was doing pullups on Saturday to warm up and re-strained my right bicep so I decided to take the day off which was the right decision but frustrating.

But on the positive side, my ankle is pretty near to letting me run on it again, I did have an awesome time at the bonfire (caught up with Neil for another couple of hours…), and did some research and discovered that the way I was icing my knee wasn’t particularly effective, combined with the fact that since my ankle was injured I wasn’t really able to train my legs at all so I wasn’t getting blood to the joint, which also wasn’t helping so I changed up my tactics and it is now feeling significantly better.

My coach sent me this article about injury recovery which is actually quite an awesome article. Nothing in there that isn’t sort of either common sense or what I already knew but I recommend the section on no fear. A sample: “You must train yourself to control your mind and realize that fear is self-created, and as such you have the power to destroy it. Recognize that fear comes from within. That’s why many can experience the same scenario and each have a different reaction to it. Anything that we generate we can also control.” Anything that we generate we can also control. And, we can also control how we react to stimuli that might otherwise push our buttons like the child throwing a temper tantrum or the employee not pulling his or her weight or the person who knows just how to push our buttons. Of course, this takes practice.

What I did realize though is that I was letting my fears get the better of me; that since I do heal fast and since this wasn’t going away immediately and was actually sometimes getting worse I wasn’t sure quite what to do to solve it and I was scared. Now, I am no longer scared because I can feel significant improvement in just a few days due to some major changes in my approach. I suppose on the positive side I never doubted for a second that I could recover to 100%, which apparently is also important: it was just a matter of worrying about how long it would take. I am exploring dark areas physically and mentally I guess, and maybe that is what this challenging time is trying to teach me.

This is also a time of reflection because it was a year ago last Thursday that I arrived in South Africa, and a year ago today that I started work. What a difference a year makes. Someone also asked me on Friday when I started doing CrossFit and I had answered “It will be a year on May 10th. Not that I’m counting or anything.” So that anniversary is coming up too. Now certainly not that I have everything figured out now, but I am feeling quite settled, and happy, and optimistic about the future. Things are changing, and fast. Actually as fast as I feel like things will happen, I am probably going to be surprised. Then again, if the future weren’t surprising life would be about as boring as if we were all exactly alike.

A year ago, and not pulling any punches here, I was lost, scared, timid, and not at all sure what sort of value I could add at work, overweight, out of shape, and not really very healthy at all. Now, yes there are challenges at work, but this morning I was the first one in and opened up the office. I’m now a member of the management team with short-term plans to be launching and running one branch of the business and medium-term plans to be running another, and I’m reminded relatively frequently how few people are mentally and emotionally capable of sticking it out, how I’m in a bit of an exclusive club, and how I’m trusted (and this is the most ego-boosting thing of all, which is actually a bad thing – bad ego!!). It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy I think; just like at St Paul’s when they kept telling us we were the crème de la crème and the future leaders of the country and the world; after a while you start to believe it. Now also I’m solidly the #2 girl at the gym and I can hold my own in many cases against two women who are world-class athletes (one is an Olympic level rower, the other is world-class at martial arts and Olympic lifting). Being the #2 girl at the gym is a small pond thing, all you need to do is check the results from the U.S. to see how far I have to go but being able to be mentioned in the same sort of category as people who are world-class athletes is pretty amazing. Not to mention that I was watching a Lady Gaga music video the other day and could realize that I’m actually not at all jealous of her body (ok maybe a little but mine is darn close but hey if you have a model telling you she hates you because you have no cellulite, well, that doesn’t suck either).

Neil and I were chatting about motivations the other night. He was saying that when people come into his gym and have some vague goals like “oh, I want to look better and be healthier” he usually knows right then and there that they won’t stick. But I told him that a year ago I had an answer like that. What I have learned about myself in between is that firstly, the way that I eat now isn’t a diet it’s a lifestyle and I will never ever go back because I feel so much better eating this way (well that and I am extremely intolerant of wheat and lectins now, so I couldn’t probably revert if I wanted to). Secondly, yeah I do like CrossFit but being as competitive as I am the fact that I’m so into it is because I don’t suck at it and I realize that I have some decent potential and I want to see how far I can go. It’s like I always knew this was inside me but never figured out how to access it before, and now that I’ve tapped in it’s highly addictive.

But what is really humbling is that across a broad range of domains (mental, emotional, spiritual if you can call it that, and physical) I have a tremendous amount of learning and growing to do. A tremendous amount. I will be so much better in another year than I am now, it won’t even really be the same category. And that, my friends, is what we all need to live for: learning and growth. Stagnation, entropy, boredom, fear, envy, death: all very bad enemies.

So Princess Beatrice wore some absurd hat to the royal wedding, and it looks like they killed Osama bin Laden. It certainly is an interesting time to be an American, even this far away I can feel the swells of patriotism even though on one level it’s quite anticlimactic and on another, fighting terrorism is like the war on drugs. Tackling the symptom and not the cause, and doomed to failure in my opinion. In the car last night I was discussing American patriotism and propaganda and it’s quite scary when you look at it from the outside: the whole pledge of allegiance thing, and how we seem to band together and look down our nose at the rest of the world. I may have mentioned this before but I was quite disturbed when watching the Super Bowl a few weeks back; they had this montage on the history of the Super Bowl and American culture and flag waving and whatnot and when I watched this myself I felt my heart swell with pride even though I knew it was propaganda. Then when I watched it with friends they made such fun of it that I felt some shame. Knowing you’re being played doesn’t stop it from happening sometimes.

Having said all that I was feeling very American driving into work this morning when Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ came on the radio for old school. Some songs are just quintessentially American, like Sweet Home Alabama (even though I have never been to Alabama).

I’ve been reading a very interesting book called On Being Certain. Now there is a lot of great content in this book and I don’t want to give away all of the author’s insights for free but one very interesting insight he had that I of course applied immediately to weight lifting (because that’s my new metaphor for everything apparently) is that doing something wrong repeatedly builds neural pathways that are hard to change. He was saying this is why it’s quite difficult to correct, say, a problem with a golf swing, and that changing from the “wrong” to the “right” positioning “feels” wrong at first. That’s the neural pathways. This connection occurred to me when I was discussing with one of our coaches yesterday lifting heavier weights, and he was saying that actually you should never increase weights until your form is perfect (perfect’s a strong word but you get the idea). I was agreeing because if your form isn’t good yeah you can probably muscle the weights up … but I was saying that doesn’t really benefit you then I had the insight (unconscious processing FTW) that not only does it not help but it could actually harm you because you could build inappropriate neural pathways by doing it wrong.

So there you go, all the more reason to break out of those old bad habits. Spring clean your mind: it is spring time for 90% of the world’s population right about now. How funny is that, that only 10% of the world’s population lives beneath the equator?

Hmm what else did I do this weekend? It was pretty chilled … Saturday after my non-workout went to the market and I was amazed … picked up a large chicken, some boerwors (sausage), some sirloin, rump, ribeye, and some kudu sirloin all for R200 (that’s about $30). Score. Then I went to the movies with the boys from the gym, where two of them miraculously avoided a sugar coma and I, again, was not in the least bit tempted by the desserts. Amazing what cutting sugar out of your diet will do for you.

Sunday we had gorgeous weather so I went to yoga, then to pick up Mandy and we had lunch at Sandbar where I had my penultimate omelette, and then went to lie on the beach for a few hours. I did not get any sunburn, yay! Not sure how many beach days we will be getting the rest of this season so definitely enjoyed this one, and the company. I think I spent quite a long time that evening doing physical therapy of one sort or another, which got kind of boring after a while but is important so I sucked it up.

Monday was yet another public holiday (Workers Day), so I slept in then met Roland at Sandbar. This was Sandbar’s last day and so we overindulged a bit … me with three cream cappuccinos (on the plus side losing my 5 points for the day allowed me to eat dark chocolate with Chris that evening!), and Roland had not one but TWO omelettes. That made him officially my favourite person for the day; much respect because I have a hard time finishing one of those omelettes and I eat a lot. Shame, though, I will miss hanging out there and I’m not at all sure where we will eat after our beach workouts, and the poor woman who owned the place was in tears for much of the morning. It’s been there for 16 years and is getting replaced by Yet-Another-High-End-Establishment-on-the-Camps-Bay-Strip. Boo. So to make a long story short what I expected to take 45 minutes turned into a couple of hours so I didn’t meet up with Chris at the gym as promised but did go by there to do some rowing rehab for my knee and stretching/foam rolling/ball rolling/icing. Rowing 20 minutes at 75% effort turns out to be extremely boring!!

But the rest of the day was quite cool. Chris had for a while planned to do one of the opening workouts from last year’s CrossFit Games which I’ll save you the boredom of explaining, but it involves a lot of running, kettlebell swings, and pullups. I was hoping I could run but it hurt a little so I decided instead to do a sprint version of a bodyweight workout (5 rounds of 10 pullups, 15 pushups, 20 situps, 25 kettlebell swings, 3 minutes rest). I was pretty happy with my performance overall. I need to work on my transitions between consecutive pullups, but I happened to set a new PR for max pullups without dropping off the bar (and I ripped my hand open, yay!) just in sets not even going for max effort. Pretty cool. This is a workout you could totally do inside, but it was just so much more fun to do it outside!

What was really awesome was that it started to sprinkle before we got started so we decided to start our workout because we saw some evil looking clouds approaching. Chris finished his workout right as the rain started and it started with the thunder and lightning as I was doing my last round of situps and then literally started pouring when I was doing my kettlebell swings which happily were under some cover. There has been some discussion in the Africa CrossFit community about how it’s such a shame for the Regionals to be held in Cape Town in the winter. I say, bring on the cold and rain! Challenging conditions just make it that much more fun.

Been hanging out quite a bit with the guys from the gym recently which has been great: I actually feel a lot closer to all three of them now than I did a month ago. But it also reflects the fact that work has been disjointed and as Max or Peter would say, “We’re not quite work-fit.” But finishing up this post now over lunch and digging into the mountain of things I have to do will help. Having the rash of public holidays be over will also help, and last but not least the wonderful evening I have planned with my co-workers is sure to make me happy as well!

Oh, and on the subject of goal setting: external measurement and peer pressure can be turned to the good. If I say I’m going to do 5 things by the end of the week and I only accomplish 3, well there might be some personal shame involved but I’ll get over it. But if I tell my co-workers I’m going to accomplish 5 things then I sure as heck am. Naming and shaming put to good use. And with that … back to work!

• “Don’t you see? You’re doing the same thing!” – Jobst
• “Who says we’re not ready for Regionals?” – Chris


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