CrossFit


We don’t know what the workout is going to be until we show up at the gym. We know what movements are going to be in the WOD, but we don’t know exactly how that’s going to work. On Mondays, we know nothing. But for the rest of the week, the moves are posted on Monday morning.

We also don’t know what day of the week is going to turn into a partner workout. It used to be every Thursday, but then some people were cranky or something and so now we take our chances. Partners are usually arrived at by drawing names from the Red Bag. When there won’t be enough bars for everyone if we don’t all share, that can change.

Thursday’s movement was “run”. That was it. Thursday was also stormy. It wasn’t pouring for 8 AM and I had no idea how this was going to work, but I go to the gym on Thursday and so there I was. I was there alone at first and then just me and Laura. I had a chance to talk. First, I had read the board and noticed that we didn’t have to run in the rain. She had switched Thursday and Friday and we just had a regular workout on the board.

But Friday was going to be running. I don’t. I walk. I walk faster than I can run over the long haul, but I really can run a teeny tiny bit. I just can’t do anything after I run. But I knew the workout was going to be four 400 meter runs with a two minute rest between each. I asked how much disturbance in the force would happen if I actually ran but did only 200 meters. I haven’t been able to run 400 meters even once since I started CrossFit and it doesn’t look like I will ever have the endurance to do so. But I have run 200 meters.

Everyone knows I walk half the distance and that takes me about the same time it takes everyone else to run. But this new proposal would thwart that.

We watch each other. We know who doesn’t do the full range of motion and who miscounts their reps. We know who the cheaters are. I’m not a cheater. This is simply a scale. At least that’s how I look at it. I’m doing my best. I’m just not the same age as all those younger, faster, fitter people I spend time with there at the gym.

Laura was pleased to hear that I was willing to give running a try. And she gave me her blessing as well as her protection for my version of the running WOD.

She also suggested that I wait until my heart rate was low enough and not be concerned with how much rest I took between runs. We were only keeping track of our times on the runs and didn’t have to worry about total time taken. It was nice to know that someone there was experienced with CPR, too. Not that I was going to need it, but it was nice to have available, just in case.

So today, for the first time ever, there was a running WOD and I ran. I ran my first 200 meters in 1.01. I rested two minutes and was able to run again. Second time was 1.03 but my heart rate was higher at the finish. I rested 2:15 that time and got back on the third round in 1.05. I had a higher heart rate again and the longer I work, the longer it takes to get it back down. So I waited 2.5 minutes before heading out on my last run. I managed it in one minute even.

Today I ran a half mile. I know there are marathoners and super-marathoners out there who would scoff at such a “feat” but for me, it is a win. I haven’t run that much in years and probably decades. I know it was just in spurts and I know that other people, even people my very own age and older, can run farther and faster. But I couldn’t and yet today, I did.

Just as an aside, yesterday’s usurped WOD was heavy kettlebell swings at 70/53. I usually use the 26 pound kettlebell so I tried using the 35 pound one. I had used a 30 pound before at CrossFit Summerville but that’s not available here. I gave the heavier one a try. And it worked. So I used it for the WOD and managed to get five rounds of the crap in seven minutes which was only a total of 15 kettlebell swings, but it was a PR for me there, too.

Merry Christmas to me. I’m racking up the PRs before I turn 66 like they are free candy. Who knows what I’m going to be able to do now!

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At Forge, we did the annual horror known as 12 Days of Christmas yesterday. After we were finished killing ourselves we went out to eat together. It was a fun morning and no one actually died. At least, not that I know of.

Lisa and I were in the first heat and she said something about the old, slow people going first. I agreed with her and then the next thing she said made me think that she thought she was older than me. I knew she wasn’t because we just celebrated her 60th birthday. I said I was much older and she asked how old. I said I was turning 66 in two weeks. She then said she didn’t know if she would still be doing this at 66. I told her she would be because she is doing it now.

It is so much easier to keep going than it is to start. We are the only two people at Forge in the 60 decade. There are a few more in their 50s. One of them is Chuck. As we were waiting for our orders to arrive for our feast, Chuck said he was the oldest person there.

Lisa and I were sitting nearly directly opposite him. We looked at each other and then looked at him and told him he wasn’t even close. He laughed and then nodded in agreement.

The point? The older you get, the harder it is and the more badass you are for even getting into the ring. This is really a young person’s game. That’s why in competitions, they start scaling around 30 or 35. Those people can’t compete with the 20 year olds. It is just a fact that we peak early and then there is the rest of our lives to slowly go downhill.

The good part is, if you do stuff like take the risk and hit the gym, that downhill slide is slowed. Not just a little, but by leaps and bounds.

It took me six years and I had given up trying to get Dick to go to the gym with me. He’s pushing 70 and feeling the years creeping up on him faster and faster. There was a great special going on and he took the risk. He has a personal trainer who is helping him defeat his demons.

On the first trip to the gym, he was given an assessment. He had thought he wasn’t in too bad of shape because he walks the golf course. I did not sneer when he said such things to me, but I knew. And after his assessment was over, he knew, too. His balance was terrible. His core strength was minimal. He came home “humbled” by the experience.

But he did not give up. He goes to the gym twice a week, once with a personal trainer and once on his own, following his own path. His balance is improved. His core strength is improved. His range of motion is improved. His attitude is improved. And as a benefit, his golf game is improved, due to all those other factors.

We old farts are in a precarious position. It is beyond difficult to start. But once we get going, we are forces to reckon with. We know that nothing happens instantly. We know we don’t win every game. We have a lifetime of experience behind us. And we know this crap is difficult for everyone and even more so for us oldies but goodies. We are truly special and in a very good way.

We put in the effort and eventually reap results. We astound our peers. We encourage those younger than us who are fearing the aging process. We aren’t younger than our years, we are fitter than our peers. It shows. We do the things. We may not do all of them and we may have to accommodate our own slipping health. We give a nod to our old bodies while pushing them to the limits, and often beyond. We are the shining examples of what can happen when you make the effort.

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Here is something I never thought I would say. I had a bit of a revelation today and it made me recall other incidents of its same type.

We’ve all heard that comparison is the thief of joy. Since none of us is the same as anyone else, they are always incomparable comparisons. And yet, we compare all the time. Who has the best car, the biggest house, the most money, the highest grades, and the best scores on the CrossFit board? We can’t help but compare because none of us really know what the hell we are doing.

We had a new member show up on a day when it was just a bunch of horrible stuff. And then she continued to show up the rest of the week. That was great. Then she missed a week. Then she missed a day. She finally came back today.

Laura brought her over to me and asked me to tell her how you get strong. I flexed, pointed out that I would be 66 in a couple weeks, and I got all this doing CrossFit. Not doing cardio, not running, not picking up five pound dumbbells, but by doing CrossFit and lifting heavy until it isn’t heavy anymore. That’s the only way to get from spaghetti arms to muscles.

The new and hopeful gym rat had been discouraged by having to use the PVC pipe and still not master the movement. We all start back there at the beginning, but with time and practice we get to the present and move things with weights.

But this is the thought that hit my like a ton of bricks today. There I am, moving weights, albeit not excessively heavy ones, and I have gray hair (I don’t color) and wrinkles (I don’t Botox). I can do the stuff – at least some of the stuff. I swing kettlebells and lift barbells, and snatch dumbbells, and perch atop boxes, and hang from the rig.

I’m intimidating to new people. They can see I’m older than dirt. I was nagging God at the creation. Yet here I am, doing the stuff that these new people can’t do. They are younger, often by decades if not generations and they can’t do what I can do. And I scare them.

When they compare themselves as a newbie who doesn’t even know what a snatch is – at least the ones at the gym – to my tossing an entire barbell with plates up over my head, they can’t match me. Pitiful, old, feeble me. How horrible it must be to see the very old lady doing the things and not be able to keep up with her.

I told our current new person how I started everything with a PVC pipe. I could do exactly nothing when I started. I’ve been at this for years. If she would keep at it for six month, she would surpass me in everything. She is relatively fit, just not strong. And she is far younger than me. And she seems determined even if I scared her.

I remember the statuesque woman who kept trying to do push-ups and couldn’t and would say over and over, “But you can.” Well, I couldn’t when I started and if she had kept coming back, she would be totally rocking this stuff now. But she didn’t come back because she couldn’t do the things. Not only that, but I could.

I would like everyone to know that if they worked as hard at this as I have, they would also not be in the same place they are now, not having worked at all. It’s not my age that makes this awesome. It is the fact that I’ve kept at it for so many years. I’m not the strongest, fastest, most able person in the gym. I’m just the oldest. And I do things. Not all the things, but many of them. And if you go to the gym regularly, put in the effort, learn the skills, practice your moves with integrity, you will be able to do the things, too.

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I know why so many old farts don’t take up the gym life. It is demoralizing to be so inept around such athletic youngsters. You have to have a strong self concept to be able to go back and do remarkable things for yourself while in the midst of being the oldest, crappiest person in the box. It is tough to always be so poopy.

But this is the fate I’ve chosen, for better or worse, and I struggle with it with varying degrees of success. Yesterday was a complete failure. The workout skill was overhead squats and my weight on that is pitiable. I mean, really. It takes an incredible amount of core strength and stability to be able to do that stuff. I did get up to forty pounds, but couldn’t hold the bottom of the squat for three seconds at that weight.

Then the WOD was 3 RFT of deadlifts, snatches, and overhead squats all with the same bar. I was just pitiful. I mean, the best I can do in a WOD with repeated movement is a 35# bar. Deadlifts with a 35# bar seem so ungymlike. Honestly, I could do that six years ago. It was crushing. I even did fewer reps than all the “real” athletes as well as nearly half their weight and still got the same time-ish or worse.

I came home feeling absolutely crushed. After all this time, it hurts to not be able to do the things. I show up at the gym over and over and I try really, really hard and for what? Of course, when I started I couldn’t even put 35# over my head. I don’t think I could even rack it. But … I keep thinking that I should somehow magically become this person I thought was going to show up when I started six years ago. That person is apparently AWOL or maybe even dead by now cuz she simply ain’t here.

At this gym, we don’t get a peek at what the WOD is until that day. There is nothing posted at 8 PM the night before. What is on the board is the moves that will be incorporated in the skill/WOD for each day. So I had no idea what the workout would actually be but I knew it was toes to bar, HSPU, and double unders. I can’t do those. Any of those. I could do the hollow body hold that was also in there. I seriously considered not going to the gym.

It’s Tuesday. I go to the gym on Tuesdays. I would sub hanging knee raises for the toes to bar and I would sub some downward dog type of push-ups for the handstand. And I would work on double unders. Sometimes they work; most of the time they don’t.

Back in January when I got here, I could do a couple. I mean that. Two in a row was a very rare event. Today, we would be doing three rounds of the four moves, spending three minutes on each move (incorporating whatever rest time we needed in there) and the score would be the lowest number of each move over all three rounds. Scoring was like a Tabata, if you know what that is.

I picked my numbers accordingly. I picked what I thought I would still be able to do in the third round. So, 20 hanging knee raises, 60 seconds (not continuous) of hollow body hold, 30 sub HSPU, and then whatever I got on that first round of double unders would be what I would shoot for on the next two rounds. I got 17. I did 3, then ten in a row. Ten. In a row. I had to get my heart rate back down and then I got four more.

The second round also was okay on those double unders and I could stick with my other numbers pretty easily. On the third round, I struggled with the hanging knee raises because by then my smashed finger was really hurting (I caught my fingertip between a 45# plate and a bar on Saturday). My shoulders were fried by the HSPUs on the last round, but I got them in. And then the double unders.

I spent the first minute missing every single one. This was going to be just like all my early Tabatas. I would get a score of zero because I was going to miss this. I dropped (more like threw) the rope and sat and got my heart rate down. I then got ten in a row again. My heart rate was way too high to keep going, but there was still time. So I got my heart rate down and with 30 seconds left, I tried for some more. I got six in a row. And then I needed one more. And got it. A total of 51 double unders. That’s a record for me.

It’s so hard to keep showing up and being less than. But today, even though that was nowhere near the top number of double unders done, it was like bliss for me. I did something I’ve never done before.

It would be so much nicer if there were lots of Little Old Ladies at the gym so I didn’t always have to be the crappiest person there. I know why there aren’t and I try to tell myself I was the best old fart there on any given day. But it is still difficult to struggle for such small achievements. Today, I’m just going to take the win and be happy. I know, as my mother used to say, This too shall pass.

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After years of work, I am able to do amazing things. Period. Full stop. Considering my advanced age, I’m able to do really amazing things. There are days when I feel like some sort of superhero. I go to the gym and gasp at the white board and immediately start to tell myself how I’m going to manage this fresh new hell (I love Dorothy Parker).

I have successfully managed to do the shit each time. Not ever exactly as it is written on the board, but appropriately for a woman of my advanced years. In other words, I scale things.

In the beginning, I cried a lot because I couldn’t do any of the things. At all. As the years have whizzed past, I’ve gotten better at many of the things and I speak gym now. Still, today had something new. DB C&J was on the board. I have done a DB snatch before but this was new. And it is exactly what one might assume it would be. Using a dumbbell, do a clean and jerk with one arm. Then switch and repeat.

That part of the workout was difficult only because I kept wanting to do a DB snatch and not break the movement into two parts. But after enough of them, I was getting the hang of it.

The part that made me want to just cry, throw in the towel, quit, take my marbles and go home, and generally be dissatisfied with life altogether was the assault bike. The run was also a pain in the butt. I’m used to that part and people just run around me and try not to knock me over.

I have no stamina. My heart rate zooms to the top and then I’m supposed to stop and not have a heart attack as that is considered rude at the gym. And so, I have to go slow and deep breathe and hope I can just last for the amount of time. I’m not ever going to get that many calories on the bike because I will have died before that.

I remember when I was young and athletic and winning racquetball games (even when injured) and able to run around the court for 2.5 to 3 hours three times a week. I won a reasonable amount of my games and had lots of fun.

Now, two minutes on an assault bike has me feeling like I belong in a nursing home on bed rest. I feel old and feeble and incompetent and I just want to cry. I know I’m not able to move like that young woman anymore. None of these people knew me thirty years ago when I was a powerhouse. Now, I’m the cute little old lady who is an “inspiration” for all the people who can actually do all the shit.

I know I do stuff that many people simply can’t do. When we add in age and gender, the number of people who can’t do what I can do is even higher. And yet all I see today are the things I could do way back then and now I can’t. I want to be younger not for the sake of being younger, but because that was when I was fitter. More capable. Able to run around the court for hours and win games and not always and forever be the crappiest score person.

After failing with the assault bike today, I know I get to go back tomorrow and not be able to do the pull-ups and then face the wall balls that crank my heart rate sky high and so suck at that, too.

And I will. I go because I go to the gym on Friday and tomorrow is Friday so I will be there. I will be old and feeble and inspirational. I wish I could be inspirational by being competent instead of just being present.

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Ever since I learned there was such a thing as a Partner WOD, I have been terrified by the beast. I hate them. They scare me more than anything. I know, always, I suck as a partner. I’m the oldest person in the gym. I have issues. I’m not very strong. I’m not very fast. I’m not very anything except determined. And the “real” athletes are far superior to my feeble self. I never pick a partner. I let the last man standing get stuck with me.

Since the beginning, people have planned around that. They know I won’t ask anyone so they quickly pair up and the last idiot left gets stuck with me. You need to plan better, folks.

Laura heard someone complaining about getting stuck with an inferior partner. She says this happened in an evening class and didn’t refer to me, but I totally understand the problem. Getting stuck with me can ruin your day. Getting stuck with another inferior person would have the same effect. I get it. Laura didn’t like it.

She got the Red Bag. We draw lots and we match up and that’s your partner. No buddies working out together all the time. Each time, you get your number and pair up with the other person with that number and that’s your partner. Too bad. Make it work.

And here I am. Partnering up with people who know me from Saturday partner crap and have watched how limited I am in everything. Still, no one has sighed audibly or rolled their eyes that I could see. They just accept their fate and I feel sorry for them.

We have been doing this for a few weeks and it is working out okay, but the regular folks who have their besties for partners aren’t really liking this new thing.

Let me tell you why it is a good idea. Changing partners gives you a different workout. Those who are stuck with me get to shine in areas where I might not be able to do anything at all. They have to manage their time/efforts to match someone unequal to their skills. That is a new skill to master.

This week, I have been paired first with Kylie and then with Jason. Both of these people are incredibly strong, talented, able to do the things, and RX everything all the time. And then there is me. And yet, they managed to let me feel like a full participant in the workouts. I held up my end as best I could with a scaled version of shit, while they did their RX version of the shit.

We got reasonable scores, but these powerhouses were unable to get the best score on the boards because, quite frankly, I’m not ever a best score on the board type of person. I try. I try really hard. It’s just that I’m sixty-five and have a host of issues, a list of doctors, and I’m on Medicare for God’s sake. I can’t keep up with the youngsters in their forties. Hell, I got a kid in his forties.

And both of the superior athletes didn’t die when they were stuck with me. They coped. They worked around my limitations. They worked with me to make sure we both had a good workout. They let me feel like a full partner.

This is why it is good to change partners. You learn to work with and around a variety of people and make your workout a joy to share. It’s not always sunshine and roses. You don’t always get your best friend to partner with. Sometimes you are stuck with the old lady. That makes your strategy for the day change. Or at least it should.

I feel bad when the Red Bag comes out because I know I ruin someone’s day. They would never have picked me for the workout. And yet, I hope against hope, that I’m not too disappointing and that they can manage to work around the feeble old lady who tries as hard as she can while they zoom around and past and do awesome things.

We all have our challenges and if you think it is annoying to have me as a partner, you should try having to be me for every single workout I do.

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Anyone who has watched my progress with CrossFit knows that I fear the whiteboard. It scares me and intimidates me and makes me feel like I don’t belong. Apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Someone linked to this blog post about the whiteboard. It says in part, “You look at the scores for the day and you zoom in on a few people that have the fastest times or the heaviest lifts. At that moment, your assessment of your own performance starts spiraling.  You decide, at that moment, that you are not fast enough or strong enough and, in your mind, that’s an automatic failure.” It goes on to say why you aren’t.

I not only often feel like a failure, but like an interloper or pretender. I don’t belong here. That nagging voice is always telling me that I really don’t belong here. I’m not like the other people. I basically, as a data point, suck.

I’ve written about the humiliation of the whiteboard and I have wondered what in the hell Glassman was thinking when he instituted this policy. I have always just assumed that he was getting back at all the smart kids from school who got better grades and now that he was in charge, the dumb jock would show them all.

When my score goes up on the board, it never has an RX after it. I mean really. If I can RX a WOD, it was poorly written. They don’t really write them for me. This coach can’t leave the blank space after my time or rep count alone but likes to add an S or M or sometimes MOD after it. Like I’m somehow more scaled or more modified than just not RX, but super crappy. This alphabet crap doesn’t go after all the scaled people, but it seems especially important if I have gotten a respectable number up there.

I don’t know why this upsets me so much. By the time these people are my age, I will have died of old age and won’t get to see how they make this work. I can’t make it work. I can only manage to get in there and do amazing things for an old fart.

But apparently even the young and super fit people are killing themselves over a score on a whiteboard. They will cheat or misrepresent their efforts just to get a better number on the board. They will miscalculate the weight on the bar or mess up with the rep counts just to be able to enhance their score.

As Carma once told me when I asked why she was doing more reps on a Tabata when it wouldn’t go for her score, “My body knows.” I try to remember that as I struggle with all the athletes young enough to be my children. Or grandchildren.

I know, intellectually, that I have done amazing things in the last six years. I went from not being able to do just about anything to being able to do many of the things adequately. I’m still not climbing a rope ever because it is too dangerous. And pull-ups are probably just a dream – not even up to a hope. But, I have consistently showed up with a willing spirit and tried to do the things with correct form and real counting.

And then the score has to go on the board because Glassman thought it would be great to humiliate everyone but the very best of the day. That squiggle on the board can suck all the fun out of a really hard WOD. I tried my damnedest and because I’m old and have an ever growing list of doctors and diagnoses, I don’t get a nice squiggle. I get, if not the worst score on the board, at least one of the worst.

I try to just enjoy the process. I try to appreciate all the hard work. I try to rationalize my different situation from all the kids I’m there with, and sometimes I succeed. Then there is the rest of the time. When I feel like an interloper and a failure.

At least I know I’m not special in that concern. Some of the other less than the best athletes are suffering the same way. Even some of the best are not at their best every single day.

If the premise is that CrossFit is for everyone and it can be scaled to meet the needs of each athlete, what’s the purpose of the whiteboard? And why add the insulting, demeaning, belittling extra S or M or MOD to it? I’m trying for God’s sake. The number looks bad enough without the extra letters added.

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