United We Stand


This weekend was my first CrossFit competition since the Games. I had a couple things I wished I did a little better at (I missed one box jump and I had four failed heave presses: 2 at 55kgs and 2 at 52.5kgs). But actually, that was it. And to come out of a day with five events and feel pretty damn good about my personal performance across the board is going to be a good day.
The benefit of taking so damn long to write this up is that I can now link to Chris’ much more succinct blog postabout the event.
There really is nothing quite like game day. My team was going there to win, and we did. Out of the five events we had three first place finishes and two second place finishes, for a total of 7 points. The next closest team was our compatriots from Cape CrossFit with 17 points. Our third CCF team finished tenth (out of 23 total teams). All in all, we represented well. I was very proud of our second place team because Mona had rocked up with a shoulder injury and the evening before couldn’t even lift her arm above her shoulder.
The problem with going to win is that you (individually and collectively) put pressure on yourselves. On the flip side, that collective pressure and support is part of the reason why I genuinely prefer team to individual competition. Sometimes it’s about being a hero, yes, but more of the time it’s about not letting the team down.
Sometimes you have to do things you would rather not do because you have a comparative advantage. I would way rather have done hang power snatches and push presses than burpee box jump squats, especially with a hectic bruise on my shin that hurt when I walk, let alone jump 50cm up and down! But even that was ok: a little adrenaline, caffeine, ibuprofen and a CieAura pain chip to the shin and the nerve bundle on the back of my neck and I wasn’t feeling any pain.
Sometimes you have to step back and let your teammates do more work, even when you want to be helping (i.e. Andrew did more burpee box jumps and Rika did more thrusters than I did).
Sometimes you need to completely smash yourself because that’s your job: Our boy Andrew took first place on the 500m run, which included running UP a hectic hill!, and Rika and I managed I think 90 thrusters between us in 3 minutes.
But all the time you need to rely on your teammates. When we were going into the last event we had a comfortable lead, but we still needed to go out there and perform. Take nothing for granted, most especially not your competition.
It was quite cool though. It’s always fun to be a winner and I think actually the best part of this was how well we worked as a team. Rika is just a pleasure to compete with. She is so strategic, and just great to be around. Grant is the kingpin, motivating all of us by reminding us of the expectations of the rest of the team. Andrew is just solid, and always with a smile on his face, with a quiet confidence and ready to go kill whatever the workout is. There are a number of athletes at CCF that I would be honoured to compete with, and these three are definitely on that list. Some of the best athletes aren’t necessarily the best team athletes, or the best competitors. All three of these are great at all of the above. I really couldn’t ask for better teammates.
The way the day went there were 5 events (one of which was scored as two events). My team was in the third heat, and I was judging a team that went in the first heat. One of our CCF teams was in the first heat, so I never really got to watch them because I was always busy judging, and the other CCF team was in the second heat and so I never got to watch them because I was warming up for my heat. So that was kind of sad, because I love being able to cheer on my friends (and photograph!). But it is what it is. I did catch some great performances out of the corner of my eye, which I will talk about in a bit.
Aside from the conflicts with when my compatriots were competing, I loved this setup because it allowed me to get my brain into the mode of the event I was doing next, watch where other teams struggled and messed up, and then after judging there was a limited amount of time for warmup before we competed, so there wasn’t really time for nerves or warming up too long: just get ready and go.
The first event of the day was at a pool, and the workout was for the team to swim 8 lengths, then in alternating pairs to do 40 “in and outs” where you jump in, submerge your head, and get out. However, the judging and timing was so inconsistent for this event that the organisers decided not to count it the event in the final scoring. This was a good call I’d say. To be honest, I am pretty sure our team didn’t do enough “in and outs” (I think I did like 14 or 15), and I personally messed up when I was judging because I forgot the pairs had to be alternating (!).
The second event was actually two events for scoring purposes. The event was a 500m run (up a hill and then back down), followed by 2 rounds of 40 hang to overhead (bar must start below the hip and finish locked out overhead, over the heels), 40 push press (bar must come below chin and finish locked out over the heels), and 40 burpee box jump squats. These suckers you stand in front of the box, do a hand-release burpee, jump onto the box and land in a full squat. The weights were 20kgs for women, 40 for men, and a 50cm box for women and 60cm box for men.
Our team strategy here was for Andrew, our champion sprinter, to go all out on the run to score as many points as possible there (he came tied for first, at 1:28!) The rest of us paced the run and I think we were actually one of the last teams back, but it was smart because we were well rested for the rest, which we flew through. Rika and Grant, who are both very strong, did the bar work and Andrew and I, who are smaller and faster, did the bodyweight burpee box jumps. We had to tip the box to switch between Andrew and I, so we mostly did quick sets of 5. As I discovered to my detriment last weekend, any more than about 5 and you get so tired that you slow down and get sloppy and can miss the box. I did miss the box once but thankfully I grazed the other shin (!), especially considering that I whacked the injured shin getting out of the pool earlier in the day. The other part of this strategy is that while Rika and Grant are going, Andrew and I could essentially fully rest, and the same for them while we were going. Interval training (i.e. sprint, rest, sprint) is always going to allow for better performance than some sort of continuous effort. 
We finished the second half of the event in 10:28 which beat the next closest team by something like 2 minutes. At this point we had the attention of the other competitors. I was congratulating one girl from the team that wound up finishing third, because I thought they looked fast and she said thank you but “there was this one team that did it in like 10:28!”
The next event was 3 minutes in which men and women separately accumulated points for thrusters (thruster is full front squat, then you stand up and propel the bar overhead so it winds up locked out over the heels: 25kgs for women, 50 for men), followed by 3 minutes in which you had to carry kettlebells for 50m, followed by 3 minutes in which you had to sprint 50m (alternating between team members obviously on the carries and sprints).
In this particular event the thruster weight was relatively light for the women, so this was a workout where strong women could make a huge difference in the points. Our game plan here was to make sure Rika got the bar with about 30 seconds left and just kill it from there. I started off with 10 and we then alternated sets of 20 for her and 15 for me until I passed the bar to her with 30 seconds left just on plan. We were actually aiming for 100 reps so I’m not sure how we wound up with only 90, but it was still a pretty decent score (Mona and Jo also had 90 on the other CCF team, so well done to them!). I found the kettlebell carry way more hectic on the legs than I was expecting (we actually had never practiced this). Our lack of practice also burned us when our men had a miscommunication when the sprinting started. This cost us 20 seconds and an extra sprint for each of them, so we lost easily 3 points there.
I did 2 carries and either 4 or 5 sprints (it must have been 5 since I finished at the other end from where I started!). Our team had 8 total carries and 18 sprints. I used to be a sprinter myself so I quite enjoyed the sprints actually: I felt like I was flying! It was super fun. I definitely felt my legs had been burned after this event though, so, good stuff! Our guys did great on the thrusters, finishing with 69. We had a total of 185 points, good enough to beat our CCF rivals by all of 4 (!). I have to hand it to them, considering that Mona had a shoulder injury they kicked some serious butt in this event, nearly beating us. I was impressed.
Speaking of impressed: the next event was where you had 15 minutes to find a 1 rep max for the following sequence: power clean, front squat, push press, back squat, heave press (this is a push press where the bar starts on the back of the neck). Importantly, the feet must not move on the push press or the heave press. This is harder than it sounds: I could have done another probably 10kgs to my final weight had it not been for this rule. Similarly, when I was judging, this is where the guys I was judging got into trouble near their max weights. It’s hard! There was one bar for women and one for men, so Rika and I alternated.
My starting lift was 45kgs, and my second was 50kgs. From there I went to 55 and was fine until the heave press where I failed at it twice (you could retry as long as you didn’t drop the bar in between). Then I rested a bit and went down to 52.5kgs, where I essentially had the same fail. I was sooo close though on a couple of those lifts, but couldn’t quite press it all the way out and then lost balance. Shame. I think if I had done 52.5 right after 50 I would have gotten it but by the time I did it I was just that slight bit too tired. Anyway the margin on either side of us was a lot more than 2.5kgs, so this was really just a slight personal disappointment. And in any event there are two positive things: firstly when I was practicing in the gym in the last few weeks, I couldn’t reliably lift 48 without moving my feet. Secondly, my current PR on power clean is 56kgs and I lifted that 55 like it was nothing. Actually, come to think of it, I think my PR on clean & jerk might have been 53 going into that event, so to come away with a ground to overhead PR on a push press ain’t a bad day (obviously this means I need to do some more max Olympic lifting because I should have higher PRs!). Everything felt super solid except that heave press.
Anyway Rika managed 67.5kgs, and our team total was 317.5. This was good enough for second place: a team called The Bar Benders had some huge guys on it. Don’t know their deal but they looked like ex-rugby players or something, and they finished with 335, bringing our unbeaten streak to an end. We came second, and our fellow CCF team came third at 305. They even had a ringer on their team in the form of Mona who managed an amazing 80kgs. I heard this lift but didn’t see it because I was judging.
The final event was the hundreds workout. There are four stations: wall balls, deadlifts (40kgs for women, 80 for men), Russian kettlebell swings (the swing must be above parallel, not above the head) at 24kgs for women and 32 for men, and pushups. Women were allowed to use the knees for pushups (but you still had to finish in a full plank). Oddly enough, this isn’t as much of an advantage as it sounds! I was on the pushup station and the plan was for Andrew to finish his kettlebell swings and then come help me crank through the rest of the pushups. I was a bit worried going into this event because as I mentioned above we had a comfortable lead but we still needed to, you know, not completely implode. Grant had some back spasms before the event and when I was lying on the floor doing my pushups I couldn’t see anything other than the floor in front of me and didn’t want to waste time looking all around at everything but I was a bit worried when I got over 70 and no one had come to help me yet: I was worried his back had spasmed out and everyone was helping him on the wall balls. But, happily, no. Andrew came over when I was at 78 and he took us to 90, then I did 5, then he did the final five. By the time we reached the wall ball station Rika had just hit her 100th.
Our final time was 5:49, beating our practice time in the gym by over 30 seconds (granted that practice session had heavier deadlifts, but it also had Grant doing kettlebell swings and Andrew on wall balls, which would have been better positions for them both). The team that finished third overall won this event in an unholy 4:50. I wish I’d witnessed that, actually, it must have been amazing to see!
Most importantly to me, I was happy with my own performance. Coming out of the CrossFit Games where I didn’t have a single event where I was happy with how I performed, I accomplished my main objective out of this competition: I pulled my weight as a team member and I don’t have any crazy regrets. Happiness.
I did also get that great feeling of focus that you get when you compete (or go all out in any WOD) when the whole world shrinks down to just your field of vision and you are only peripherially aware of anything going on around you. It’s beautiful. I’m sure there was more than this but all I remember of the crowd was Jo cheering me on when I was sprinting, and Chris right before one of my failed lifts, of course Andy yelling that we’d gone the wrong way around the cones, and Rika telling me my transitions on the burpees were good, my depth on the thrusters was too low, and to keep my core tight before the push presses. Oh, and actually my judge on the pushups cheering me on a bit. This is one of the best things about CrossFit: even when we don’t specifically aim to do it we cheer on our competition.
Afterwards, we went to a local pub for some drinks, rugby, and, eventually, prize-giving combined with down-downs. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t planned to get drunk and after two glasses of wine which should have been my cut off I got very excited by the voucher we got as winners so I ordered another one. At that point I was ready to be done drinking but Andy who ran the event turned it into something resembling circle without all the singing, and I had to down a beer as the member of the winning team, another one because I asked too many questions (I think he meant before the comp, not just on the day… but hey if you’re going to practice you need to know what you’re practicing!), and well by the time the third one came around I don’t even remember what it was for. At least I didn’t have to drink because my birthday was in March (Chris: “Is he f*cking kidding me?”).
So then teams CCF left and went to an Argentinean steak house near where we were staying. At this point I was just unhappy because I was tired, and drunk, and didn’t want to be drunk, and I had to be up early the next morning. Then I was getting into a supremely bad mood because it was taking us forever and three days to leave, and then we went to a petrol station to get ice cream and again were hanging out in the parking lot for no apparent reason. I have discovered that there are two things that I get very cranky if I am prevented from having when I want them: food, and sleep. There was even talk of getting in the pool at the B&B, but I said that was going to need to happen in the next 3 minutes or I was going to sleep. I think I waited 30 seconds and when no one motivated I went off to bed. As I said, I was drunk, so that was probably all for the best. 
One thing I did that I am really glad for is I brought several changes of clothing. Putting on a clean and dry sports bra and more deodorant between events makes a world of difference, at least to me: letting the body know that it’s time to start preparing for what’s next. I will also say that for an event with 50+ women and only one working toilet, there was actually not too much of a problem having to wait to use it (well, until the end when some people decided after the first heat of the final event to take over the room and shower because it was also the only working shower). Man, it’s a good thing I wasn’t in heats 4 or 5 or I would have been apesh*t. As it was, I found it incredibly selfish and disrespectful, and I’m pretty sure I said as much at the time.
So. Long post but exciting day in the world of Ellie. But there is way more to my life than just CrossFit. Chris was emailing me in the week and one of his lines had this little pearl: “Be happy to be alive and love every day coz u make an impact, want it or not…” I titled this post United We Stand both because the event was the United We Stand Games and because I spent a decent amount of time on the weekend thinking and talking about teams, and groups.
But quickly: the Sunday morning I woke up early, was driven to the airport, flew back with one of my teammates and spent most of the day packing up my apartment in preparation for the move. I went to pick Mona up at the airport and we had lunch at Cavendish Mall, which was followed by my walking around aimlessly (this is the problem with hangovers: they cause my brain not to work at ALL). That evening I went over to Bianca’s place in Kenilworth for some fantastic dinner and we then got the bright idea to bake a chocolate cake. That experience was way more hectic than it could have been, but super fun! We also checked out my old apartments on Google Streetview, and I was fascinated by the commentary around “Oh my! No walls!” and “Wow, houses actually look like they do in the movies!” Different perspectives I guess, and how easily you forget.
So we humans are pack animals. We need acceptance from the pack in order to survive (or, we did for most of our history at least). But since we cannot read other people’s minds, we don’t ever actually really know what others think of us, and as a result we are all insecure. All of us (or at least that’s my theory … how would I know what goes on in other people’s heads?). But it makes sense: we all just feel this to varying degrees, and cope with it in different ways. The best defense is a good offense? Self-confidence is the ultimate self-defence mechanism (this one blew Bianca’s mind a little bit)? Yeah.
Basically, we need each other but we also scare the cr*p out of each other. That, my friends, is the human condition.
One of my dearest friends and ex-co-workers was recently laid off in Boston after his division of the company was shut down. He asked me to write a LinkedIn recommendation for him, as one does in these situations. Now usually I ignore these (not out of malice, out of lack of time, sorry peeps … apparently this was the first recommendation I’d written in three years!!) but in this case Craig is a rock star and I wanted the world to know it. Here is what I wrote:
“Craig is one of the finest individuals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He is incredibly hard-working, dedicated, insightful, strategic, and always somehow managed to balance the best needs of the customer with the best needs of the company. He’s also whip-smart, and consistently offered the best, most useful feedback on new product enhancements of anyone in the company. Last but not least, Craig is one of the few people I have ever worked with in whom I had (and have) complete trust in his judgement and integrity.”
Unfortunately for the both of us, when he contacted me to tell me just how much this meant to him (not only what I said but the fact that he knew I meant every word, I was being driven to the competition and so I was in full-on competitor mode and as such not feeling anything other than pure focus. I remember feeling that the magnitude of the emotional connection was lost on me at that point, and that was a little bit sad. But Craig is the sort of teammate you want to have: someone you trust, who you can rely on, and who you know has the best interests of the company at heart and isn’t just out for himself. I actually told him on the chat that if he ever EVER wanted to consider relocating to South Africa I’d make a role for him. Because we need people like him to help change the world.
Back in the Ask Jeeves days, our CEO Rob Wrubel used to talk about changing the world. We used to laugh at him a little bit, but that was because you’d have to be incredibly self-centered to believe that changing the way people searched for information was fundamentally going to change the world. I think Google has changed the world more with Maps than with search, to be honest (but that’s a subject for another day).
Here, in the work that I do, we are actually trying to change the world. To change how people think about business. Sometimes the way to go about doing this is confusing, and goodness knows we’ve faced our share of challenges, and will continue to do so. But the amount of learning and strength you gain from that is almost indescribable. I’m a different person than I was when I moved here, and Heart is a big part of that.
It is so easy to get caught up in our own little petty troubles and struggles and whatnot that we forget about why we do what we do. I was reading some notes from field research last week about development challenges in some rural South African communities. The data was depressing to say the least. You know there are issues with government corruption, and with unemployment, lousy education, well-meaning charities that go in, make a bunch of promises, and then leave things half-built. But to hear quotes from people who actually live in these places …. My word, it’s impossible to read that stuff without feeling compassion, and a desire to help (even if you don’t know how).
On a related note, there was a march against poverty lastweek. Now, Julius Malema is a lot of things: I guess he’s kind of a South Africa Huge Chavez or Evo Morales. But he’s capitalizing on an undercurrent of discontent. Those people didn’t just march down the street. They marched 56km. That is not a trivial distance. I was saying on Facebook how when I walked 50km over two days to Rocking the Daisies I was feeling pretty damn stiff and tired (and this was with food and water being handed to us on a regular basis!) and I fancied myself pretty fit, to which Mo produced this hilarious but poignant comment (as is his norm – the man has the best status updates ever): 
“You’re not incredibly fit, you’re inhumanely fit. Like, on the real, human beings don’t get that fit. Which, again, highlights my point. People are angry, and they’re venting in ways the media think are ‘unconstructive’. Now imagine they focus that energy in ways we consider ‘civil disobedience’. Things are very real in this country right now…”
I sent him to watch this video of Dan Baileybefore expounding on my fitness level. But more to the point, he sees what I see.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the masses of this country need hope. Not illusory hope. Real hope. Which means real progress. Which actually means we should quit our navel-gazing and quit whining about all the problems from staff to funding to the culture of dependency to the shit levels of education to the inefficiencies of government (hell, we can always complain).
We need each other. I’m not saying by any means that it’s everyone’s duty explicitly to try and make the world a better place. We can all do that in our own little ways by doing work that we love, and taking pride in the work that we do. But sometimes I worry how when even the smallest teams trying to do the simplest things can tie themselves up in knots, how are we supposed to solve the big problems of the world? United we stand, divided we fall: there is some truth to these clichés I think.
You never realise how time is running out until it’s gone, now do you?
  • “I didn’t say it was interesting. I said it was disturbing.” – Ellie
  • “I would say good luck but you don’t need luck because you’ve got talent.” – Jacques
  • “One thing I’ve learned about CrossFit is that it seems to cause a lot of injuries.” – Liz
  • “We’ve got a Halloween party tonight so you’ll fit right in.” – staff of the Keg
  • “Henry wants me to ask you if you’re on speed, you’re talking so fast!” – Joh
  • “It’s the people that drive slow that cause the accidents.” – Mona
  •  “I believe that I have an allergy to alcohol. Where’s my wine?” – Bianca
  • “Vermont? Oh, cool. Texas!” – Bianca
  • “It looks like the house from Charmed!” – Keera

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