United We Stand

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I was kind of excited going into this competition. As Kim (quite the competitor himself) once remarked, you either go into a competition to win, or to have fun. There is no middle ground.

In this case, it was clearly a case of having fun. They’d split up our teams so that the A team from Cape CrossFit didn’t exactly have the strongest athletes, but was a competitive team, and the B team that I was on was much more competitive than it would have been otherwise. Carla & I did have a few moments of ‘if only so and so and so and so were on the A team then we could win’ but in retrospect it’s better for both of us that we weren’t in it to win it.

She and I were both beat up physically with injuries, and she was very beat up emotionally. I’m in a somewhat better state, or at least I was at the time when I started the competition. Not so sure about now but that’s another story.

Carla had written this amazing, and honest, post. You really must read this in order to have a prayer of understanding what I am going to say next.

Because her story is my story. Not exactly, of course. But very similar. I think it may be a curse of strong personalities that people are attracted to that strength (I don’t just mean romantic partners, but friends even), and then the minute they realise you’re not always going to be capable or desiring to be the strong one, they freak out.

When I first read this post of hers, which is amazingly honest and open, I thought about a few things. But mostly what I realised is just how imbalanced I am. I have no problem with some of the most hairy business situations. A CrossFit competition scares me more, and not because I care more about it. It’s because I’m less confident, and more exposed.

And now? Here we sat on the floor together having a moment, or waiting for my smoothie at Kauai and all I can really tell her is what I’ve learned: this isn’t you, this isn’t even on you, and yes, I understand how you feel because it’s actually just the embarrassment of association.

And people are so harsh in their judgements of you, without actually knowing the details. How could you leave him like that? Why don’t you just manage your team the way I would? Why can’t you get this customer to buy from you? Why do you do this stupid CrossFit thing?

Ever tried to fix a snatch full of bad habits? Ugg. I’m not even sure where to start with mine, or my clean, and if I can power snatch 50+ kilos and clean in the 70s with sh*t technique imagine what some actual coaching would get me.

But here’s the rub – I can say this all day long, but how can I fix it? How can I actually fix it if the logistics of my job and my life prevent fixing it? I can’t go out to Somerset West between 10-noon twice a week to train Oly. Seriously. But that’s not a choice that even enters the head.

That thing about backchannel gossip? Well, here’s one of the things that was said about me last year that really stuck in my head: one of the girls in my gym said that I had only wanted to compete on the team so I wouldn’t have to compete as an individual. Too much pressure or something.

But I think what was meant by that statement was this, which is actually kind of true: I like to compete. But I don’t like to truly suffer. I always like to play it a bit safe; and actually this is true outside of my sporting life as well. Rather the safe lift than the risky bet; rather go 95% than 100% and run the risk of burning out. Not that I can’t bring it when I need to. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to bring it in spurts as needed for a team OR to be that critical link where the team relies on you, because it’s easier to find that motivation when people are shouting at you and you know they care as much for them as for you than just your random fans.

So this is why I preferred team competition. I got what I wanted out of it, but I was also actually playing it safe. It’s kind of like that safe relationship, or the ‘easy’ competition where you can enter because you pretty much know you’re going to win and you don’t need to worry about your heart or your ego getting bruised. But then, on the other hand …. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so you can also sit around and not do much because you don’t want to bother with what you know is going to be an unfulfilling relationship or a competition in name only.

Nothing wrong with that either but I guess you’re specifically choosing not to play, which is in itself a choice.

Chris & the spirit of the CrossFit community

Chris & the spirit of the CrossFit community

Funny because a work situation like that would only motivate me that much more. Oh, a big competitor is talking to a much-desired prospect? Well damned if I’m not going to get in there too, and keep calling unless and until they tell me to bugger off. They’re not married yet! As I was saying. Same same but different; I do not behave that way in my non-professional life, with very rare exceptions.

The whole unknown & unknowable of ‘sure I can’t do a muscle up but if I keep practicing I’ll get there’ that’s so attractive in CrossFit is a bit daunting in other areas. But also, even in CrossFit, I may be one of the top competitors but I’m definitely not a natural. It took my 9 months to do my first pullup, I just recently learned how to do toes-to-bar properly, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t resentful of the girls who waltz in and in under a year are already at the competitive level it took me years to get to. Yeah, sure, they’ve been athletes their whole lives, sometimes pro or semi-pro, and I used to be a couch potato who couldn’t even do a 100m overhead walking lunge or deadlift 100kgs or clean 40kgs. But still. It’s not fair.

But whoever said life was fair? And those new people are motivating in their own right, too!

Sadly, since about Fittest in Cape Town 2013 I have not competed once fully healthy. I’ve either been injured or food poisoned, or somehow or other compromised. Now that’s disappointing to me mostly because I am really craving a chance to put it all out there, no bullshit, no excuses. Either I do well or I don’t, but I actually put myself on the line in a way that I know scares me, because it’s in that fear that you get stronger.

So I’m not sure if it’s true or not but I feel like I had a reputation for someone who didn’t really ever put it all out there. I was just telling Jobst a week or so back that I had nothing to prove … in October. In a lot of ways, injury compromised, this was true. In other ways, once a chip on your shoulder, maybe always a chip on your shoulder?

What happened in this competition? Well, I’m not going to talk about the judging or the interesting range of motion on display. I’ve said it all before. I did say that I’d be disappointed if we missed getting into the final by one slot due to bad judging. We missed getting into the final by one slot, but due to our own strategic mis-execution (me, Mike & Justin going in the first heat on a prowler/burpee workout). So really only ourselves to blame.

The first event was great. We finished tenth out of 90+ teams, and my entire job in this workout was to do 10 burpees (hand-release power burpees!) and about 25 or 30 of the 50 heavy kettlebell swings. It was fun! My shoulder was fine, my back was fine, I did what I had to do, no problems. And look at the smiles on our faces … being in a team, ANY team, brings a level of bonding with those people. You can’t undo it, the same as you can’t undo certain other things.

Then, the second event … was briefed as a 4km trail run with some obstacles at the end. The team had to run 4 laps, with 3 athletes each lap. Apparently it was more like 5+ km, and the obstacles were mud &water. Now normally, no problems, I do trail runs for fun. But on this day …. Something was not right. About 2kms in I started to feel really terrible, like really bad. By about 4kms I was feeling lightheaded, but my boys kept pushing me on.

By the water obstacles, I was so lightheaded that I honestly don’t know how many there were. I was stumbling, and at one point I got stuck in the mud and literally did not have the strength to get out. One thing I will say though is that despite everything, it never even occurred to me to quit AND I quite literally pushed myself past the point of breaking physically.

Proof! I rarely look as defeated as this!

Proof! I rarely look as defeated as this!

I was meant to run another lap but obviously that didn’t happen. What happened instead was that I had some form of a panic attack, where I had full-on hallucinations that my whole body was swelling up. The medics were asking me questions like where I was, my name, what day it was, etc. and boy it was a mission to remember everything! Once I had recovered to the point of comprehending what was going on, it was quite an interesting experience, to try and observe what my brain was up to. Oxygen deprivation, I guess.

I wound up going to the hospital to get an IV drip, as a precaution but also so I could see if I could compete the next day. I have rarely been so grateful to anyone as I was to my team that night for picking me up and cooking me dinner, and letting me crash on their couch until the people who had the keys to the cottage where I was staying returned home so I could get into my own bed.

I was up and doing burpees the next day at 7:30am (although I would do three and my heart rate would shoot up and I’d get lightheaded), and I nearly managed a 60kg bear complex but didn’t have quite enough time before the clock ran out to set up properly for the reverse push press. I did manage what I had to do in the team chipper that Saturday, which was basically push press 40kgs for time.

So, again – it was actually a bit embarrassing to have such a thing happen to me. I learned a few lessons from this, the main one being that actually, my mind is far stronger than I realised. As Mike was telling me Sunday morning when trying to psyche me up for a 50kg zercher hold (yech), there is no darker place than where I went on Friday. This is what you actually have to do, is just go into that pain tunnel, go into that dark place, and embrace the suck.

I’ve got some work to do if I am to get over this place of being stronger and better and faster than I let myself believe. You compete like you train, and if you think the girl next to you is better then she will be.

Life is like that, too. I’m almost ready, I think, to stop making presumptions of failure before I even start.

  • “What, if you’re on steroids you can’t run?” “No, you’re just so f*cking huge you can’t move!” – Mark & Graham
  • “If you’ve done 18, just do two more!” – Graham
  • “Come on, Ellie. Go to that dark place and just push through it!” – Justin
  • “What just happened here?” “Yes. That girl can lift more than you.” – overheard at United We Stand, & no, they weren’t talking about me
  • “CrossFit competitions are all about recovery.” – Grant
  • “It sounds like we’re sacrificing you. But really, we’re relying on you.” – Conrad (thanks!)
  • “There is no darker place than where you went on Friday.” – Mike
  • “I can snatch 45 kilos with a flu.” – Ellie
  • “I made the mistake of opening one in line. I went back and got four more. I drank another two of them in line.” – Justin
  • “I’ve never had cocaine. But I don’t think it’s paleo.” – not saying … obviously!

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