February 2016


It is the CrossFit Open. We, as CrossFitters, are given the opportunity to compete as one world. Everyone, everywhere, is given the opportunity to do the same WOD and compare outcomes. The top competitors get invited to Regional competitions and the winners there are invited to the CrossFit Games in the summer.

I am not that caliber of athlete. I am, however, a CrossFitter. And so, willingly or not, I’m participating because at our box, the Friday WOD is the Open WOD. So one might think I’m a bit depressed today.

Surprise upon surprise. I’m not. For two reasons. The first is that I had an epiphany a while ago. I did a workout with a woman who was coming back from major surgery. She and I scaled the WOD the exact same way to half. She was happy because she had done the whole thing she had planned to do. I was miserable because I had only done half the WOD as written. She was happy; I was defeated.

It had taken over three years for me to incorporate the mindset of ISYMFW into my practice. I am responsible for my own behavior, but the CrossFit mentality of “having” to put your score on the white board was part of my issue. I had to let that go. My score on the white board is a raw scored number without any other person there in my league. I’m old and feeble. But even though I’m older than when I started, I’m much more powerful.

My competition isn’t the twentysomethings who rage through their workouts with lightning speed. It isn’t the fortysomethings who power through with skill and determination. My competition is me. Only me. It’s always been only me but I kept comparing myself to those others who weren’t me, hadn’t sat around as much, didn’t have a heart rate issue, weren’t feeble old coots.

Once I let that bit go, I started having fun. And surprisingly, I’m actually doing more with what I have to work with. I’ve been moving as well as I can for as long as I can. My heart rate still skyrockets and I have to stop to box breathe. Doesn’t matter. I’m getting more done and having more fun.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the 16.1 Open list of scaling options. I’m far over 55 so I was all good to go with the masters division. I’m not a serious athlete. I’m a casual athlete. I’m not trying to get to the Games. I’m trying to get better at being me. So the scaled version was all I needed to care about. And I first saw the RX version and wanted to cry. But I scrolled down the page and voila, there was the Scaled Masters.

Today’s WOD as written:
25 feet walking lunges
8 burpees
25 feet walking lunges
8 jumping pull-ups

There was no weight, overhead or racked. I was permitted to walk the burpees in and out as long as I got my chest and thighs to the ground. We determined that since everyone else had to jump over a bar, I would have a PVC pipe to jump over as well and did so with both feet.

My jumping pull-ups were the very same thing I have been doing repeatedly and ad nauseum for weeks now in order to some day get a pull-up and they were the easiest part of the entire exercise. And 25 feet is about half the length of our mat, so that was easy. The burpees – well, they were burpees.

My heart rate soared, I did an extraordinary amount of box breathing to try to get it back down. I worked and I worked really hard. I never gave up. I just kept plowing through the very best I could.

I’m so freaking pleased with this. I could tell you my score, but it is unimportant. It was more than I thought I would really get and less than I really hoped to achieve, but not by much. I enjoyed the entire thing. I worked so damn hard and I succeeded. Not in blowing away a score, but in blowing away my competition – me.

I’m beaming. I’m going to guess they are going to throw some godawful thing in there in the next four weeks and I will have to scale the scaled version. But when/if I do, it will still be awesome because you see – I’m awesome. Really.

I was thinking on my drive home how I just want to be a bit better than yesterday. That’s all. For you youngsters out there under 50, that doesn’t even seem strange. But people my age are on the downhill side and it isn’t usual to be better than you were yesterday. At this age, you are generally just a wee bit worse than yesterday. But not me. I work out. I work really hard. I’m improving.

And I did 16.1 as written. Holy shit.

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I was watching a series of TED Talks this past weekend and one of them was about this topic of burden of choice. When there are many options, we have a greater difficulty with picking one and will sometimes default to making no choice. When we do choose, we are often dissatisfied with the choice we made, even when it turns out well. Perhaps a different choice would have turned out even better. The burden of choice is indeed a burden.

I peeked last night but the WOD wasn’t posted yet. So I slept blissfully and upon awakening this morning I found out the WOD was Fran. Last week, in a fit of organization, I created a spreadsheet to track named WODs as well as 1 and 3 rep maxes and find percentages of those. I decided today to add another page for the Open WODs from years past and to keep track of them for this year. That’s if I can find historic data easy enough.

But today, I was stuck with Fran. And it was very easy for me to see the way I had scaled it before and what my times were. Then I went blissfully off into the frigid morning to do battle with thrusters and pull-ups – after working on my handstand.

I don’t have a handstand. I can manage a headstand, but my kick up to the wall is very slow and uncertain. Trying this on my hands freaks me out. I know I have the strength. I don’t have the courage. So I worked on not wall walks. I could get up on the wall, backwards, at about a 45⁰ angle and hold that. On my last hold, I desperately wanted to break 30 seconds. I was shaky and unsteady but I didn’t think I had been upside down long enough so I held on.

Since it was a frigid morning and since crap sometimes happens, I had a private session today as I was the only person who showed up. That meant that Kim had nothing better to do than watch me. This is always a bit disconcerting for me, but it did mean she could time my holds. When I finally couldn’t hold any longer, I dropped. I asked wistfully, “Did I last 30 seconds?” She answered, “You did 40.”

I’ll be damned.

I wrote down my previous Fran times along with how I had scaled each one. And we talked about the burden of choice. For people who can RX the WODs, they look at the board and do what it says. I always have options. And because CrossFit is for everyone, there are myriad ways to scale everything. I have a burden of choice.

My last Fran kept the whole rep scheme but I did ring rows. I’m working on getting pull-ups mastered and so ring rows were not an option today. Not because they aren’t an option, but because I wasn’t picking that under any circumstance.

Now, all the other options. I know Fran is supposed to be done in under 10 minutes. But I have finally (FINALLY) given myself permission to not give a flying rat’s ass what is on the white board. That is for other people and doesn’t concern me. I am following that angry black guy’s philosophy – ISYMFW – or It’s Still Your Mother Fucking Workout. I want my workouts to be improved over time. So I don’t really care if my Fran time is under 10 minutes.

First choice then – stick with the rep scheme and don’t wimp out to the 18-12-9. Do the whole 45 reps and stay strong. It’s not that I can’t do the reps, it’s that I can’t do them quickly because of the whole heart rate and recovery time thing. I spend an inordinate amount of time box breathing and getting my heart rate down low enough to get some more reps done. My goal today was to get under 150 before starting again. I didn’t always manage that and would start again at low 150s.

Next was what to do with the pull-ups. Craig says (and God bless Kim for never telling me to stop prefacing stuff with “Craig says”) that he prefers jumping pull-ups to banded pull-ups as a means to actually finally getting pull-ups mastered. But what he really means is doing them correctly. Last week when I was doing them, I noticed that when I got tired, they were way more jumping than they were pull-ups. I can’t do that with a band because I have to pull.

But Kim agreed with Craig that jumping pull-ups were a better option. She suggested that my base was too high and I should try knocking it down a bit. I had been using a 12” box. Today, I would use plates. I stacked two 45s which was 8 inches and that was too low so I added a 25 to my stack for 10 inches. That worked much better than 12”.

The clock began and I was doing 21-15-9 33# thrusters (official open weight for scaled old fart women) and jumping pull-ups. I had to split the thrusters in half each time and I had to do the pull-ups as 7-7-7 then 8-7 and then 9 without a sit down rest, but they were broken up with a pause at the bottom.

I finished Fran in 13.38 which is just a bit more than the guy who did Fran in under 2 minutes and got to be a hero on Facebook. But … although this was my slowest Fran time ever, it was also my best Fran ever. My form felt spot on. I was really pulling on those jumping pull-ups. I worked my ass off and succeeded in doing something awesome. The white board simply does not reflect how far I’ve come. Today, I killed it.

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The stories I tell myself aren’t helping. I am my own worst critic and I am hypercritical. I’m a perfectionist. I want and expect the best and only the best. I can remember my father wanting to know why a 98% came back on a test. What did I miss? He, too, was a perfectionist. Life is difficult for those who expect perfection because, you see, it doesn’t really exist except in Plato’s cave.

I went to my introductory free CrossFit class and was unable to do one single solitary thing. I couldn’t even finish the class. With tears in my eyes, I asked if this was even possible for me and Ryan said that CrossFit was all scalable and I could do it if I tried.

I tried. I cried. I cried more than I thought I would, but I kept trying. Eventually, I could do some of the warm-up. Took a while to get that far. But you have to start where you are, another dictum of CrossFit.

It is all scalable.

I know this. I know that I can always modify the move, drop the weight, change the rep scheme. It is ALL scalable. There are even a variety of scaling options for every damn thing. It is truly all scalable just so geriatric jocks like me can participate.

It is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it, regardless of what the “it” is. But life is just one damn thing after another and so it is hard. Working out is hard. Being so out of shape you get winded climbing half a flight of stairs is hard. Choose your hard. I choose to work out. And then I tell myself stupid stories.

My stories almost always have the word “should” in there somewhere. I’ve been at this for over three years, so I SHOULD be able to do this or that. I should be able to move this weight by now. I should be like Eli, a 23 year old male who has been a competitive swimmer and is awesome shape. I should have conquered my wonky heart rate issues long ago. I should RX stuff.

That’s the part that’s killing me. I should RX stuff. I have no idea why I think this. I know there were women at the CrossFit Games this year that were my age and able to do freakishly awesome things. One old lady did a thruster with my deadlift weight. What is wrong with me?

Well, I’m not a professional jock, for one thing. I have no idea what that awesome lady’s history was but I know for certain that she isn’t me. I have no idea what sacrifices she made in order to get to that point, how many hours she worked at lifting, how she spent her entire adult life. I only know that she is awesome and I cannot match her work. She was the top old lady in the games and so I’m not supposed to be able to match her. No one else is Rich Froning, either.

Each time I scale anything, I tell myself the story of failure. My friends not from the gym think I’m a bit crazy for doing this. They think my deadlift weight is a ridiculous amount for an old lady to lift. I look at it as only slightly more than another old lady’s thruster weight. Why do I do this to myself? I have no idea. I want more. I work hard. I should be better.

But better than what? I am better than when I started. I can squat ass to grass without folding over or anything. I don’t need a PVC pipe to be able to lunge down the mat. I don’t use the kid med ball for wall balls. I can manage pull-ups with a band and even chest bar with bands. Every single lift has weights on my weight. My heart rate is still high, but only because I’m doing so much more than I used to be able to even dream of. And I’m still not happy. I’m still looking at scaling as failure.

The story I tell myself is stupid. I’m not trying to be a professional athlete. I’m not hoping to get to the Games. I’m just being awesome three times a week. I go, I modify, I conquer, I work hard. I need to congratulate myself for this. Yes, there are people who do more, achieve more, work harder and longer, and are awesome. But I don’t know if they know how to save lives and conquer disease, take a computer apart and put it back together, or even if they can write a cogent sentence. I am capable of many things.

I don’t ever want to climb a rope. I’m pretty sure HSPUs are not ever going to happen for me since my fear of even getting up on the wall is extreme. But I can do much more than I could three years ago. And I have muscles instead of flab. And I’m at the box three times a week, working hard at my scaled WODs. I need to learn a different story. Scaling is the goal, not the fail point. Making this possible isn’t failure. Working hard is hard work.

Katrin Davidsdottir is safe, at least from me. It’s okay. There can only be one of her and she has that job. I just need to be me, the most awesome scaling geriatric jock in this room.

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I scale everything because I need to. I am unique, just like everybody else, but at my gym, I’m the only person who comes to classes and is over the age of 60. So that makes me an outlier. I’m not the norm, I’m way off the end of the curve.

A few weeks ago, two of us showed up for a brutal WOD and we were given the same half of the WOD to do. Me, because I’m old and feeble, and the other woman because she was just returning after surgery. We each managed to do 55 slam balls and 155 step-ups. It took me only slightly longer. She was happy and did all she had wanted to do. I did half the WOD as written and felt defeated. We did the exact same things, but in my head, I was a failure.

We have a program where you can enter your scores and then it ranks them with all the RX people from lowest to highest times and then all the non-RX people from lowest to highest times (highest to fewest reps, depending on the scoring). It is called the Leader board. But there can only be one leader. For me, it is a loser board. It is optional to post there and so I don’t except for that one time when I managed to RX a weighted WOD and then I didn’t even care that I had the lowest score, I had an RX score.

I hate the white board. I put a raw score up there and my number sits. If I’ve scaled just the weights but leave the rep scheme the same, I have scaled up there, but when I cut the reps back then I put “masters” on the board. But still, what is there is a bald faced number. More often than not, the worst number on the board.

And I’ve been gaming that number to my own detriment. Today, in a fit of sanity not seen in ages, I did the workout for me rather than the white board. I knew I could scale the move from knees to elbows to V-ups and get a higher number. But one of my goals is to get a pull-up and doing knees to wherever I can manage to get them is better for getting to that goal than V-ups. So even though I knew it would give me a lower number on the white board, I did what was better for me and my goals.

The white board is supposed to give you a sense of community and it might do that for those who can put great numbers on the board. But for me, where everything is a struggle and my heart rate is a problem, I don’t have great numbers.

Last Wednesday, the WOD was ground to overhead with the goal of 10,000 pounds for men and 7,000 pounds for women. Since my clean and jerk weight is 42#, that would have been 167 clean and jerks which was deemed excessive. So I only had to do 4,000 pounds which meant 95 clean and jerk. Because of my heart rate, I have a limit of three at a time so it took me over 30 minutes. There was one young guy who did his 10,000 pounds in ten minutes and some seconds. That is tremendously awesome. But so was I. Frankly, none of my friends who are my age could put two tons overhead. But as excited as I was to complete the modified WOD with fantastic form all the way through, it was still in the back of my head that I did less weight and took for damn ever. Three times the fastest time for less than half his weight.

And even in victory, joy can be diminished by the numbers on the white board. I try not to look and I try not to care. The white board has never been a motivator for me. It is only disappointing and humiliating. It is my wall of shame, day after day and year after year.

I inspire people by my dedication and continued presence. I work as hard as I can every time I show up and I show up religiously. I whine and I cry and I pout and I come back and do it all again, simply to be low man on the totem pole. New people come in and zoom past me in a matter of days or sometimes it takes whole weeks. And there I lag, struggling and plodding through. And there are my scores, week after week. Crappy scores, although they are improving with time just as I am. I can do so much more now than I could three years ago. Which sorta lets you know exactly how bad my scores have been over time. All these years later and I’m still the oldest and still the crappiest.

Except that’s only when it is a raw score on the white board. There has to be another way to measure success or failure. Inside my head, I know that I’m rocking this shit. Not because of the scores and not even because of my status as only old fart there, but because I consistently show up and I work at improving even while feeling overwhelmed and totally defeated.

This has been a test of character for me. I was always one of the smart kids in the class, the one with the high scores on the nonexistent white board of the classroom. In that setting, no one would force the dumb kid to advertise his score on a test next to what would have been my superior score. But somehow, I find myself in a place where my score is broadcast amidst the young and the fit and I even have to say when and how I made the “test” easier to accommodate my feeble old self. And I still keep going back.

By the way, I met my goal today. I wanted to get 150 reps and I got to 153. In my head, I was a success. On the white board, I’m going to have, if not the lowest score, then damn near to it. It’s hard to stay positive like this.

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