Preparations Begin

Friday was bench day and the first day this week my head was somewhat clear of the emotional fog. It has been a deload week which is usually bad when life is rearing its dark side but this week it was good timing. Until Friday I mentally wasn’t present, I couldn’t refocus and deload was as much of a load as I could push.

Friday my mental game showed up and I had some of my best bench technique to date. Consistency is the focus and I was consistent through 4 of my 5 reps on every set. Coach pointed out I needed to keep the intensity through rep 5 (true) but today I carried it through 4 repeatedly. That’s a first and I noted my small accomplishment.

We then sat down and discussed what the next seven months of competition prep will look like. Coach said “I always wanted you to focus on the powerlifting instead of being distracted by prepping for CrossFit”. BS! And thank goodness for mental exhaustion because if I had one ounce of energy I probably would have said unforgivable things (feelings that only today I am able to put calm words to). What I did say was “That isn’t true and you know it. It’s easy now to look back and regret our choice – OUR choice – for me. But honestly, I needed CrossFit. I loved it. I am a better athlete and person because of it, and without it I never would have believed in my ability to do anything in this life. I did amazing things and I deserved to find out what I am made of. Only CrossFit could have shown me that. We did what we did and looking back will destroy me. We can only work with today and prepare for the future. What’s the plan? ”

Monday we begin implementing the program. We actually have come a long way: there was no arguing, no questioning (beyond clarifying specific points), no defensiveness as Coach laid out the plan. I am receiving yet another new (to me) set up for lifting. We are back to the standard four day split (shoulders, legs, rest, back, chest). Bench is going to be my focus lift in December and I was anticipating 2 days of work for it – one dedicated to max effort, one dedicated to dynamic effort. Coach wants all of my main lifts to be ME and the accessories on each day to be DE. And with all of this focus on Bench, what is the plan for my deadlift? I originally thought that would be my main lift.

Before we can even consider the deadlift in competition, I must be able to 1) complete an entire leg workout and 2) have consecutive days that my hip doesn’t feel like garbage. Realistically I will be competing in the “bench only” category in December. If things go surprisingly well, I may add in the deadlift only category; if they go miraculously well, I could compete in the overall.

I have to eat 8 times a day, everyday, no relapses for 7 months. This is where my anxiety kicks in. 8 times a day? On a good day I hit calories and eat 5 times. Most days I am 200-300 under in 4 meals. And then I relapse anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks, eating 200-500 calories a day. The first thing I did after our talk was make a meal schedule and menu. There is a blessing in every curse and my blessing: since I have such an aversion to food, no hunger mechanism, no cravings, I can eat the same thing for seven months without the menu getting old. One menu, one shopping list, one routine. The only thing I need to worry about is execution.

Saturday was day one of the eating. Mentally it was challenging. I used my alarms. But physically it hurt. I am not sure eating enough, doing what I am supposed to, is supposed to hurt but it does. Beginning with meal 5 I wasn’t able to keep much down but when my alarms went off, I went for the next meal. I am not sure I retained many of the calories I consumed at this point but I did eat my 8 meals. Today I am green just thinking about food but I will get there. I will do it. It was this way when I first started lifting and they had me start with 2 meals a day. Look at the progress I made? I can do this. This is a battle I was born to win.

I must do 3-4 days of cardio that does not involve the hip. And what about the second chance my brother gave me to be on his team for the mud run in October? Coach said “oh shit”. I couldn’t participate the first time my brother asked me because it interfered with my training. Coach knows it broke my heart, he knows how much “being picked” means to me and he knows my brother doesn’t give second chances. I could see he wanted to say “like hell you will do it” but instead he said “oh shit” (pause that lasted an eternity) “let’s reevaluate that once it is closer”.

Friday night I went to one of our local art galleries as I knew the featured artist. The Middle of Nowhere has an a brilliant art community. I ran into a trainer I haven’t seen in years and she asked about my program. I was surprised when she said “you don’t seem happy about competing. I expected you to be overflowing with excitement”. I am so excited I can barely see straight but I have a lot of work ahead and, if CrossFit taught me anything, it is to not get too attached to the end-game and enjoy the day-to-day. Anything can happen.

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Back To Work

The self-pity is receeding…slowly. Below I copied my work blog (portraying me a little more recovered than I am, but hey – that’s marketing for you). I took the day off yesterday and am starting back slow today, but starting none-the-less. After all, this Warrior Girl has battles ahead and dragons to deal with. There isn’t time for quitting.

Life Lessons From Great Athletes

“The mark of a great athlete is the man who comes back.”  -unknown

Last weekend I made my annual trip to Chicago to watch the North Central CrossFit Regionals. For many reasons I wish I had skipped this year and I was still arguing with myself even as I got into the car. But I had a commitment: two of my young clients were going for their first time and I wanted to experience it with them. I wanted to be there when they witnessed hundreds of great athletes demonstrating what the human spirit can accomplish.

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When I would journal about my experiences as a CrossFitter, I often would say “CrossFit is making me a better person”, as should any sport or activity a person participates in. It taught me patience, pacing, courage, focus, how to recover from failure, to never give up. Over the weekend, I witnessed those lessons in action, in all of the athletes.

  • I watched Kenny Brown do 50 alternating pistol squats on a bad ankle. He repeatedly was no repped, you could see the pain on his face when on the bad foot. He was the last man working in his heat but he never stopped. Determination: The mark of a great athlete.
  • I watched as Stacie Tovar (one of the top ladies in our region), who practiced the legless rope climb and sprint workout in 8 minutes, repeatedly attempt the last climb during the 12 minute competition and was repeatedly unable to touch the mark. She did not finish the workout.  Hard work: The mark of a great athlete.

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  • I watched as one lady whose name I fail to remember, take the floor on a 21 minute workout and was only able to get one or two reps of handstand push ups (the first movement of the workout) due to an injured shoulder. She made attempts for more but mostly had to stand there, at the starting line, until all 21 minutes had passed, long after everyone else in her heat had completed. It broke my heart to watch and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her. But she had to take the floor in order to compete the next day. Heart: The mark of a great athlete.
  • I witnessed Elisabeth Akinwale, my all-time favorite athlete and a woman for all young ladies to emulate, obtain a PR snatch of 200# and react with calm and grace…and immediatly handstand walked for 315 feet. Focus: The mark of a great athlete.

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  • I then witnessed her, the best in our region, finish the next two workouts in 12th and 11th place. Her plan fell apart, she found herself behind, in danger of losing her bid to The Games, and she refocused, recovered, and finished the weekend in 2nd place overall. Recovery: The mark of a great athlete.
  • I witnessed Tovar, without a chance to advance for the first time in years, take the floor on the last day with a smile on her face and waving to the crowd. She went on to finish the chipper in 1st place and is the first female in any of the regions to make it back to the rower. Attitude: The mark of a great athlete.

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  • And, as typical in any CrossFit environment, when competitors completed a workout, they gathered around those still working, the last man standing, and encouraged them to get one more rep, to make it one more minute. Sportsmanship: The mark of great athletes.

There were many more lessons, many more examples, of great athleticism. But most importantly, lessons about living a successful life. Whatever your talent is, whatever passion you choose to pursue, give it 100%. When things don’t go as planned, find a new plan. Not everyone can be first, not everyone can advance, but that doesn’t measure success. Hard work, work you can be proud of, and grace regardless of outcome, are truer measures of greatness. Never stop, never give up, never sell yourself short, accept your wins and loses with equal grace, and always offer words of support to those in your field. My favorite life lesson that CrossFit taught me: If you haven’t finished when time is called you better be moving for one last rep.

I said to my young athletes during Brown’s workout “I would take a last place athlete with his determination any day over the one that wins”. I say that because it is true. I say it because I am a not-first-place finisher with a lot of determination, one who just doesn’t know how to quit.

Most people today look at me and see an athlete. But here is the truth: I am not a born athlete. I have very little natural talent. These days I am too old, have too many nagging injuries, not enough time or money to achieve what I want but none of these things will stop me from trying. It’s a good thing I love hard work.

After 11 long, challenging months away from powerlifting, I have been back to it for 11 weeks. I will be competing by the end of the year. I won’t be first, my numbers may not even be back to where they were a year ago. But this is what I have: determination, dedication, hard work, heart, I am working on mental recovery and attitude, and I will always be my fellow athletes biggest fan. I may not be a first place finisher but I will still be great.

Elisabeth Akinwale released this quote today:

“Inner excellence is a way of thinking and a way of acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality that says no matter how difficult things become, you are responsible and accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Inner excellence is staying positive in negative situations, and it is dealing with adversity in an optimistic way. It’s staying cool when the heat is on.”

If life isn’t going as planned, if you aren’t in first (second, third, top ten), if you are thinking of giving up what you love because you are not successful or great, you may need to double-check your definitions. This inner excellence defines success. These qualities create greatness. In whatever you do, attempt to be great.

And in local CrossFit news: congrats to CrossFit Green Bay team for advancing to The Games!

Regionals: Akinwale, Newbies, & Perspectives

Last years blog was titled Regionals Renews My Spirit and indeed it was the beginning of some of the best times for my training. It was the first time I ever saw my potential – that heart and hard work really could accomplish something. I could be someone.

Going to regionals this year has been hard. Before I left I said to Coach “I don’t want to go. If I wasn’t taking My Athlete I wouldn’t go. And I’m sorry I disappointed us”.

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“I’m not disappointed and you will have fun once you’re there”.

On the drive down My Athlete and I discussed Elisabeth Akinwale and why she is such a great role model: not because she’s the best in our region but because of her mental strength, hard work, her attitude. To watch My Athlete’s face as Akinwale snatched a PR 200# and then behave so graciously and humbly after, that indeed made the weekend worthwhile. (My video of it is awesome but I can’t get it to post).

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And then My Athlete got to see the best finish 12th two workouts in a row, allowing us to discuss the importance (in life and in crossfit) of recovery – letting go and moving on. What seperates the best from the rest of us is their ability to refocus and stay mentally present. For the rest of us: The importance of doing your best even when up against someone who is unbeatable because their plan may go wrong, anyone can be beaten.

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Watching with a coaches eye kept me focused and it was fun to share this experience with her. I tried to not go overboard because this is fun, at no time do I want her to turn it into a mission like it was for me. She asked a million questions as we saw so many techniques and approaches applied to the same movement. The only time I went “serious coach” was when we saw one athlete repeatedly arguing with the judge. I leaned in and said through gritted teeth “Don’t you ever argue with a judge, I don’t care how right you are. You will be wasting energy you need for the workout. Take a minute to find out exactly what he wants and execute it. We can argue when time is up. I will not take your side if you behave that way”.

She was handed off to mom, my responsibilities as coach completed for the weekend. And on the ride home I began to think how The Open was written for me. When the Regional workouts were released, most of these were written for me as well. Handstand walks would have been my down fall…until I saw them. They were trouble for several competitors and I would have made it further than some, not nearly as far as Akinwale.

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But every time I thought “it should be me, this was my one and only dream”, that level 7 pain in my hip that never subsides would crank up to a 9.

I too still have a lot to learn from observing Akinwale’s mental focus and recovery. Coach would say “check the attitude WG”. The dark side in me though wants to point out its easy to recover when you are the best; it’s easy for Coach to keep a good attitude when he has a million plans, hopes, dreams, and the talent and brilliance to achieve them all if he actually wants to.

But Warrior Girl spent a lifetime looking for one dream, one thing she was good at, one thing that made her special. If it weren’t for having to be a good example for those kids I coach, today I think I’d quit my training, my coaching, and my lifting. Everything, I would quit everything.

Regionals did not renew my spirit this year. If anything, the spirit I have managed to recover has been newly crushed. But Regionals did give me a chance to observe one of the greats, my favorite athlete and hero, struggle and fight back. Maybe that was its purpose. Elisabeth Akinwale discussing her plan to recover

Numbers, Hard Work, And Unknowns

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June 20, 2013 began my last week of max lifting. The next week I was injured and it has been one hell of a year of rehab. I have only been back to strength training 11 weeks, and only consistently back with Coach for 7 weeks. Monday began …

We are “getting my numbers”. Coach’s little trick actually worked – well, the little trick and the new attitude on my part. I finally understand that finding my max numbers is just a tool to help with more effective programming. This week (in lifting) is actually fun and interesting and pressure free. This shift in perspective is what I am most proud of. And my lifts are pleasantly surprising me. Just like everyone said, things are returning faster than the first time. Remember, it is about perspective: I could say “it’s been a year” but it’s been a year since my injury. I’ve been back to serious lifting for 11 weeks.

Monday we tested my deadlifts. June 2013 265#. May 2014 270#. I thought I would still be behind. I was hoping for 250. In between sets, Coach was working cleans. This was a great way to test. I have a tendency to get in my head when resting but being able to watch Coach is always an opportunity to learn and therefore kept me distracted. And even better, it kept me engaged since it was his first week with cleans in a few months so there were errors. I had plenty of chances to just study and try to pick out the problems. I didn’t get into my head until the last weight increase.

I pulled but it didn’t go anywhere. After I stood up, Coach said “you got it part way up and then you let it get away from you”. That pissed me off. I got it part way up and just didn’t finish?! I asked how many more attempts I would get and Coach said “how tired is your hip? Remember we have a long week ahead”. And because I can’t lie to him, and I don’t like to give up (I know: being smart is different from giving up!), I just looked at him in silence. “That’s what I thought. You did good. You got more than last year and I can’t begin to tell you how much your form has improved”. Agreed.

Today was bench. While this has been my baby, I am not surprised this isn’t where it was last year. It is still my strongest lift at the moment. As I am learning the difference between raw and assisted, I now feel the need to clarify that I raw bench. June 2013 205#. May 2014 175#. We are playing quite a bit with the lift off. I didn’t feel it anywhere I was supposed to (hopefully my lats are sore tomorrow, it is my only hope I hit things right) and that 175 took three reps to get. Coach’s view: I need consistency. Once I figure that out they will take off. I believe this. I watched when his were messy and I watched him figure it out. I know what the result has been.

In other workout news, I am still confined to the elliptical for any conditioning/cardio work until my hip can handle more. I am sure there are plenty of others who, due to injury, had to take time off of the awesome work of CrossFit and forced onto machines…how can you stand it? How do you get through it? This could go on for months, I need a way to look forward to it before my current tricks expire.

For the most part I feel like a different person. I still work hard but I am more calm and focused doing it. I lift at least an hour less each day – and I miss it but my body and mind seem to be benefitting. Today, I lived a day like I used to watch with envy when Coach would have it: I did my cardio, trained, bench, walked for 45 minutes with my now very-soon-to-be-mother client, lifted back, and trained again. I would be so envious of Coach when he lived this day and I now know, my envy was well-placed. I loved it as much as I thought I would.

In real life something is off. I felt 30 seconds behind today. Coach even held his hands about 2 inches apart and said “you seem about this off from everyone”. Something has shifted and I don’t know what, can’t get it realigned. And then there is the oddity that it is warm and extremely humid here and, for the first time in 2 years, I have had my flannels on, piles of blankets, and am still freezing cold. Something is off and I wish I knew what.

Thursday evening we leave for regionals. This year I will be watching with a coaches eye instead of a future athletes. This thought is filled with pure excitement and lots of sadness – just like life I guess. My girl and another of my teens are going. It is my hope they see their potential, they experience the community and excitement that we miss here in the Middle of Nowhere.

And speaking of My Girl – she had her Sweet 16th birthday Sunday and had a special Sweet 16 WOD written for her:
4 Rounds:
16 KTE
16 KB Deadlifts
16 Box Jumps 24″
16 DUs or 32 Singles

She was solo through most of it but I got to her part way through round 3. Finished with my client, I was watching from my desk and when she looked over, I nodded my head and took a breath, she then nodded her head and took a breath. And I was hit with the memory of being the athlete. How many times have Coach and I lived this exact moment, except I was the one on top of the box? I couldn’t count them. And I walked over to get her through that last round. This time, I am the coach.

I may be off but I am on enough to know this: I am the luckiest person in the world. I usually lose my mind when I am shifted out of position with the world but between Coach and my clients, I am still on solid ground.

Warrior Girl Wins A Battle…Finally

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I’ve just been doing my work, thinking about one lift at a time. It’s enough. I haven’t been thinking about wins or losses. Just one lift at a time. It’s what Coach always wanted and (grrrr) he was right. Attitude is the biggest game changer in lifting.

Friday was front squat day. In case I didn’t mention it, or I did but you forgot, I haven’t had a real back squat since my injury last June. October – Christmas they were written into my “rebuild” program but they were super light and to parallel at best. However, that period overall was the happiest I have ever been in my training: Coach and I were having fun while we both were doing the grueling work of rebuilding. I could load the bar on my back and not be terrified.

After Christmas, when I was left on my own and I began Wendler, I knew squats would need to be part of the program. I knew they would have to be real weight, executed with real depth, in order to make progress. I knew there was no way in hell I could step under the bar and lift off. Oh, I would try and I would stand there frozen in fear. This mental block is hardest part of getting back in the game. I will always be in pain. Fine, pain is something I can handle. I am still pitifully far away from my February and May 2013 numbers. Fine, I like hard work and challenges. Time will bring the constant pain level of 7 down to a 5 and in time I will meet and surpass my former numbers. But blocks and fear? And it is ridiculous that I can calmly walk around with 315# loaded on back but I can’t sit down and stand up with more than 95#?!!

So I decided to do what I could do until I can get myself under the bar. I crossed off back squat and put in front squat. They needed the work and my form is so much better with the bar in front that I don’t worry about something going wrong. They will keep strengthening the correct muscles so I won’t be losing massive ground on back squats when I can do them again. When Coach and I got back together 6 or 7 weeks ago, I explained all this and he agreed to keep it as it was. This does mean in the upcoming competitions I will most likely do lift specific instead of overall but that’s all right. The squat is an entirely different competition for me.

What he did do was add box squats as an accessory to deadlift day. I have been able to do them 3 times because when my hip is in pain they get dropped from the day. Yesterday someone said to me that they admire me because most people would have quit the second they went down. If they didn’t then, they would have once they realized how much work would go into rehab and rebuild. Most people wouldn’t spend a year trying to get back only 1/2 or 3/4 of what they once could do.

I can’t imagine doing anything else. And I don’t understand…maybe not weightlifting or sports but everyone must have a passion or purpose that runs so strongly through them they wouldn’t be so easily deterred from persuing right? Even before I found weightlifting, I knew there was something out there that would sustain me and I just hadn’t found it yet. I kept looking up.

So yesterday was front squat day. Coach had deadlifts. Junior had life to attend to. I kinda missed Junior but my day probably would have unfolded differently had he showed. My front squats were going great. Prior to my last set I loaded up 135# and stepped away to watch Coach. He pulled…a lot. As I stepped up to the bar I was doing the math in my head, got settled and squatted to bottom as per usual. I went to drive my elbows up and they wouldn’t budge. And I realized I had loaded that damn bar on my back.

“Oh shit!” Coach said “stand up!” and so I did. Back squat: to bottom, body upright and over my hips, a little pause, a little wobble on the way up, and at 135#. Sure, not nearly my heaviest. Not even what used to be a working set. But the best damn back squat I ever did. Probably my proudest moment in the gym. And then I considered trying again. But I chose to take my win. Enjoy the moment. I have a lot of work ahead. Nothing but time. I spent 11 months waiting for this and I did it. I made it happen (even if by accident). And to have Coach there to see it, even though he only let one side of his lip twitch into a brief smile (but later he let me give him a big hug), made it extra special.

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I asked why he didn’t say anything when he realized what I was doing and he replied “It was really quick but my thoughts went from confusion to you must be feeling it today and then when I realized you didn’t know you loaded it on your back I decided if you just did it, you’d realize you could.”

So it was a great day. Followed by a great moment. My Girl turns sweet 16 on Friday. I bought her a Junk Infinity Headband – I may not be girly but I know my CrossFit fashion. I bought her the one I have been wanting for the last year but I won’t spend that kind of money on myself. And I was nervous as she unwrapped…what do I know of 16 year olds, or girly-girl likes. When she tore into it she squealed – squealed I tell you – “oh my god I LOVE it!”

20140503-113720.jpg moments like these are why I keep looking up.