Monthly Archives: February 2014

When the Well Runs Dry, Find a New One: Inner Strength and Crossfit

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One thing I love about Crossfit is that for one hour, the only problems I have include avoiding getting stuck with the bulbous blue 12kg kettle bells (which everyone hates), lifting heavy things over my head without getting a concussion, and seeing how much anti-gravity enhancement I can get (*jumping) during pull-ups.

Crossfit is the ultimate stress-reliever for me; and if you didn’t know me, you might think that after a workout I was on drugs because of that peculiar relaxed bubbliness that shapes my attitude as well as my physiology afterwards.

Life is good after a WOD.

But occasionally stress takes over a part of my brain, and even though I’m not thinking about it consciously, I’m not quite fully engaged in the workout.

Even though I read yesterday’s workout on the blog (at home) and on the board (repeatedly during my warm-up), I STILL asked my partner a million times what we were doing; and I STILL messed it up. I could read and hear and see the workout, but my mind wasn’t tracking.

I hate that feeling.

I also felt weak, but I’m not sure how much of that was physical and how much was mental.

Presses are hard. Yes. They’re kind of like the strict pull-up of lifting because you can’t compensate with momentum. Though I did 30kg in the warm-up, I got ‘stuck’ about shoulder high during the WOD. And once I was ‘stuck’ physically, I was stuck mentally.

I hate that feeling too.

Usually I can dig down deep to some source of molten anger and push through, but that well was dry.

I just had nothing left.

I was physically and mentally empty, and I couldn’t even come up with a great excuse.

If this were someone else’s blog, I would tell her that it’s okay. We all have bad days. That you have to let go of the pain, the stress, the frustration and let it all evaporate like a sweat angel from the floor. Because negativity will only hold you back.

I would tell her that a single day of a lobotomized WOD isn’t that bad, because at least, in the middle of a personal hurricane, with rubble flying at her from every direction, she took time to go to the box and to work some things out in a healthy place.

I would tell her there IS strength in her. She just needs to go Big Oil: cap the old well, move the drill to a different location and tap into a new current that’s flowing unseen beneath the rocky layers.

Strength is there, even when she can’t see it. Even when she can’t feel it or even understand where it’s going to come from. But it IS there. I believe that now.

On Saturday, I’ll walk through my old, empty house with my landlord. It will give me a real sense of closure to my old life. It will be difficult, because ghosts still run through those halls, and it will be hard not to romanticize it.

I’ll have to remind myself of the dusty, dry, hard times too, so I’ll remember to look to the future, and the vast stores of potential waiting to be unearthed.

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A Crossfit Ethic for Everyday Life or Shut Up and Work

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As a writer, I love words. Language has some great ones: discombobulate, serendipity, abscond, chocolate; and I know that words can be motivating. Words have incubated millions of loves and spawned thousands of wars. They are powerful, hurtful, thrilling; they can touch the soul or break the spirit; they can focus the mind or flood it.

But there comes a point where words are as ineffective as a wheel on an overturned bicycle, it spins fast but gets nowhere.

Words must be backed up by action, or else it’s all just carbon dioxide.

Sometimes, as our coach says, you have to get shit done.

Maybe you have to become fluent enough in a second language to get a job? Maybe you have 8 years-worth of junk in your attic that has to be cleaned out in one week? Maybe you want to lose that last 5 kilos, run mountain marathons or deadlift 115% bodyweight?

Whatever goal you envision, it’s nothing unless you walk towards it on a daily basis.

And that takes work.

Not talk.

If you want to change things, then change them. Step out, step up, be bold, be aggressive. Shyness is really a form of self-consciousness, which means, you’re thinking too much. Too much about yourself. Too much about what other people think. Get over it. Step outside yourself and DO whatever it is you have in your mind to do.

Work is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It requires effort you don’t even know you HAVE inside you. But the only way to achieve your dreams is not to pontificate about them, but to ACTUALLY work on them by DOING the thousand little things necessary to build them into reality.

Remember that scene in LOTR, ‘Return of the King,’ where Samwise Gamgee is in pub with his buddies: he sees Rosie Cotton, takes a drink, and then walks off camera while his friends blush? Who DOESN’T remember that scene? Sam has become a man (or Hobbit, rather) of action, and we all know it’s SO much better than in the beginning where he’s just mooning over her. Or later when he’s in a sea of lava with nothing but his regrets and a nearly-dead, four-fingered compatriot.

Don’t live life with regrets. If you’ve messed up, then get over it and move on.

Most of us don’t just walk into a Crossfit affiliate and swing the 64 kilogram kettle bell. Some of us can barely wield the 4 at first. My first Turkish-Getup I kept stumbling over my own feet. Rob didn’t even HAVE a 4kg kettle bell back then–he gave me a weight that had broken in half–and I could barely hold it over my head. It was HARD.

Weights are useless if they’re lying dormant. You have to grab them and lift them every day until you CAN put them over your head.

This is one way that Crossfit has changed me: I am finding the strength to do things that are hard.

Some of these things I love.

Some of these things I don’t love.

But I DO know this: my Crossfit work ethic has given me the courage to take risks, to be focused, and to DAILY draw closer to my dreams.

These dreams are not just vapor.

They are real.

They require effort.

They CAN be achieved.

And yours can too.

So, let’s stop talking and get to work.

There’s a WOD waiting for us.


Love Like a Barbell

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Sometimes I wish love were more like a barbell: something you could wrap your hands around and make it do whatever you want. It could be heavy and slow, or light and fast.

You could hold it to your chest or feel the cold weight bruising your bare shoulders; you could throw your entire body under it, and if you have the strength, it wouldn’t crush you.

If you drop it, you can pick it back up and try again. With steel, you inherently understand that the more you work with it, the higher you can go. Your technique and strength improve with practice.

The barbell cannot be destroyed and is unlikely to be taken away from you while you’re holding it. Nothing anyone says can make it vanish. It’s never hidden or cloaked or suppressed or masked. It cannot die or dwindle or be extinguished.

The barbell is predictable. It does not change. It is always there for the taking. If you get hurt, it’s never the barbell’s fault.

But love is  a different beast.

Unless you’re clinically narcissistic, love involves another living, breathing human being. And human beings, as we all know, tend to make messes wherever they go. But that’s what makes love, love.

Its unpredictability thrills you or breaks you. You never know which it will be.

The interplay of mind, body and emotion is far more complicated than the sleek, sturdy silhouettes of iron.

That’s probably what draws me to the iron. Whether it’s the barbells or the kettle bells, the heart races, the blood flows, chemicals are released in the brain that make you feel good, elated even. And isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

The barbell is simpler.

Cold, yes. Unfeeling, yes. But simpler. And sometimes we need a break from the emotion, the drama, the heartache, the uncertainty of love.

Sometimes we just need to lift heavy shit.

For all the differences, however, there is one way in which love IS like a barbell: if you are lucky enough to have it in your hands, you can hold on tightly and do something great with it. 


Are All Crossfit Coaches a Little Sadistic?

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One prerequisite for Crossfit Coach Advanced Certification is a psychological eval to determine whether the candidate is sadistic enough to derive “pleasure as a result of inflicting pain…or watching such behaviors inflicted on others.”

You might want to fact-check that statement. 

But it feels true. 

My arms are STILL sore from last Monday. And here we are again, facing 100 more pushups–as a ‘simple set.’

Tell me that’s not sadistic!

Of course, the next day’s WOD is written on the website, so we can see beforehand what we are about to endure, and we can imagine the PAIN involved on our already beleaguered appendages.

Now, my Crossfit friends will tell me to HTFU. And they’re right. I should stop crying and just do 100 more stupid pushups.

But I think our coach LIKES to hear us complain. It gives him a sense of accomplishment to know that whatever creative program he’s designed for our ‘benefit’ is actually working.

If the right muscles hurt, then we KNOW we’re doing things correctly.

For example:

If your back hurts after double kettle bell rack holds, you’re doing it wrong.

If your ass hurts, it’s okay.

Pain is how the coach measures success.

A while back, the Coach started this program that is tailored to the different needs of different athletes. I started in Tier 1, but after the first day, I asked to switch to “Bogatyr.” He told me that I COULD switch–but only once. And then I had to stick with it.

I’m still not sure WHY I switched. I think I just liked the name, which means ‘warrior,’ and truly, I need some kind of label to get me through my current personal life–and Bogatyr is a GREAT label. If I were going to get a tattoo, I might consider that one in a scrawly script on some body part nobody could easily see.

I digress.

I am a Bogatyr, and quite often, we get to play with the toys at the box, some of which were most-likely purchased at the Medieval Torture Museum at Rothenburg.

As a Bogatyr, we do things that often hurt (like nearly 300 Russian Kettle Bell swings) or HUNDREDS of pushups. And while I complain a lot and whip out ranting blogs on the subjects of pain and sadism, you should SEE my arms. I’m really proud of them.

And the fact that I can do 100 push-ups (and not from my knees anymore) means that something HAS improved. Ok, so my push-ups still resemble a Sea Lion flopping onto a rocky ledge, especially after the first ten, but at least I can DO them (sort of).

The fact is, I love being a Bogatyr.

I love the pain.

I joke about it with my friends.

I sign up for mountain marathons and look at the course elevation map and say, “That’s going to be frigging hard!” and then I laugh. I get excited about the challenge of it, and the fact that I WILL BE IN PAIN.

And then I dream about bigger races. 100 miles through the Himalayas is on my radar. 100 miles–at altitude. Little Sherpas will have to carry my sorry ass across the finish line, where I’ll smile and laugh and look for my kettle bells for a post-run WOD.

Which leaves me with one question:

Who is the sadistic one?

It might not be my coach after all.


Hard Things: Crossfit for a Healthy Perspective

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The softest thing about Crossfit is the floor–and even that feels hard when your body slams into it.

Most people take a cursory glance at Crossfit and think, “Oh! That’s too hard!” It’s the same with marathons. I repeatedly hear, “I could NEVER do that!”

But really, with the right training, anyone can run a marathon; and anyone can Crossfit.

It just requires doing things that are hard:

  • Giving your best effort
  • Not making excuses for a poor effort
  • Dedication to training
  • Showing up consistently
  • Having the humility to start small
  • Having the guts to dream big

Crossfit has made me stronger mentally. I don’t give up quite as easily as I used to, and when I see a challenge, I go for it.

That’s what strength is, after all. It’s envisioning a positive outcome, rather than letting problems suck you under like quicksand. 

Some of my challenges (like registering for the Jungfrau Marathon in the Swiss Alps) are self-imposed, but others are beyond my control. I am facing challenges that in my pre-Crossfit days would have seemed impossible:

  • Getting a job after 20 years of working from home & raising kids
  • Sending my kids to traditional school
  • Sending my kids to traditional school in a different language
  • Becoming fluent in German
  • Figuring out how to stay here, and the subsequent roadblocks, paperwork, assholes, and other things I won’t understand
  • Keeping a healthy perspective, so I have something to give the people who need me
  • Keeping my core strong when I get tired

I can’t say this enough: Crossfit is not about the body, it is about the mind. I KNOW that if I set the bells down, I’m not picking them up again (very easily). So I don’t set them down. Even when they feel heavy.

Challenges don’t feel good, and at times, they can be so big, it’s like standing on the edge of a canyon, only it’s black inside, and you can’t see the next step.

Then someone hands you a headlamp and guides you to the path. You still have to do the work, and you’ll probably fall down a lot along the way. But at least you’re headed in the right direction. You didn’t give up and plummet into the chasm.

There is life to be lived and experienced: and Crossfit gives you the strength to face anything. Maybe you won’t be able to lift your own refrigerator (at first) but you will be able to do things that are hard, like putting a stop to an unhealthy relationship; like making a foreign country your home; like moving into a smaller house and painting the basement ‘Papaya.’

Whatever problem is stretching out in front of you, it CAN be overcome.

You just have to do things that are hard.

The soft things will come later:

Sitting by the campfire.

Watching the stars.

Sharing a bottle of wine with friends.

Laughing at the hike from the ridge.

Contentedly, quietly enjoying the view as the sun rises.


Strong Enough to Move a Deep Freezer

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CrossfitterMama working hard

I used to think phrases like “find your inner strength” were kind of…well…cheesy. Like something that should be written on a gym bag. However, over the past four days I’ve discovered something about myself: I am strong enough to move a deep freezer.

Sure I had help from my teenage son. Okay, he did most of the lifting on that one. But I did manage to scrape it against the stairwell in such a way that left a nice gash in it, which we will fondly remember whenever we reach for the pineapple-coconut Haagen Dazs.

Moving an entire household is a pain in the ass (and the legs, and the arms, and the hands); and when it is just you and your teenage son, it can be outright comical. And tragic.

Alas poor washing machine, I knew him well Horatio. 

(The washing machine was left behind due to…((ahem)) technical difficulties removing it from the water supply).

When I first realized that as the adult in charge, I was responsible for the entire move (and I wasn’t willing or able to part with the 1,800 euro quoted by the movers, who may or may not have criminal records) I was a little intimidated. My facebook messages that day to certain friends would probably be rated R for foul language and adult emotional themes (if there is such a thing).

Basically, I wanted to pack our bags (the children, dogs and I) and run away. But after a few words of wisdom and re-direction from friends, I knew that I HAD to do this move. I also knew that if I could run 6 marathons and NEVER, EVER willingly set my kettle bells down during a WOD, I had the inner strength (stubbornness, as my mom says) to do this move.

We did it, my son and I, with support from friends. But the heavy lifting was all us. And I am damned proud of my son. In fact, I’m proud of all my kids, and the way they rose to the challenge, pulled together to make this happen. It truly bonded the kids and I and marks a shift in the family dynamic.

This whole ordeal has shown me one, single, important, life-changing thing.

I am strong.

This might not be a revelation to some of you. But for me, this is something that has shaken me to the core. For years I have imbibed the message that we are weak. And when we are weak, God can make us strong.

I still believe this is true to a certain extent.

But I also believe that sometimes you just need to suck it up. God doesn’t want to hear you crying anymore about how weak you are. Maybe God just wants you to pick your ass off the floor and go move something heavy.

If I had to label myself a year ago, I would have called myself a “Conservative Christian Homeschool Mom.”

These days, I am peeling back those labels to find the real person underneath.

Labels have so much wrapped up with them–mostly the ideas of other people. And if you don’t measure up to their ideals, then something is wrong with you. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of people wanting what I can’t give. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I also want to be myself, even if it means showing my ugly side once in a while.

I would love to live a life where I felt comfortable being myself. Where I could say what I wanted without fear. For years I have played a role that wasn’t true to that person I am on the inside. I AM a people-pleaser. And the problem is that as a people-pleaser, you often find yourself miserable.

And the (erroneous) theology that has blanketed me for so long told me that if God wants me to be miserable, then I had to accept it and BE miserable my whole miserable life and trust that He would reward me later.

I don’t believe that anymore.

Not that I will just run out and do every selfish thing that pleases me, but I have learned that my happiness IS important. It IS a treasure that needs to be guarded, because people will try to take it from you.

Sometimes we cannot control circumstances, but things like misery and happiness are choices we make.

And now I know, at heart-level, that if I am strong enough to move a deep freeze, refrigerator, couches, a dryer (sans washer), untold numbers of books (I AM a lit major), and five bedrooms worth of furniture, I am strong enough seek, guard and protect happiness in my life.

It will be a fight.

But I will win.

And I hope the same for you.

YOUR happiness matters.

Grab it tightly, and never, ever let it go.


Pure Unadulterated Stress: How to Cope

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I was standing amidst a pile of rubble and cardboard boxes, which once was my room, when I realized my son had an orthodontist appointment that day. Like a good mom, I checked the time five minutes before I thought we were supposed to leave, when SURPRISE, I had already missed the appointment.

When I called, the receptionist said we could reschedule for 15:30. We walk in at 15:15, and they look at me like I’m crazy and then tell me I was SUPPOSED to have been there at 10:30 (zehn and funfzehn sound remarkably similar when you can never hear on the phone to begin with, usually because of kids and dogs disturbing the peace, but mostly because I just can’t frigging hear on the telephone; and when you are second-language impaired).

We reschedule.

I revert to speaking English because my brain has completely SHUT DOWN. Even when she used short, slow words to help me, I could not process them. It was like she was speaking yet a third language.

The receptionist, who is now somehow speaking English (and I hope that I am as well) patiently works out everything I’ve messed up (including making arrangements for my son to see a dentist?!! before the next orthodontist appointment), pins the note to my overcoat, puts a lunch-pail in my grubby little hand, and shuttles me to the bus stop.

Just kidding on that last part, but the attitude was the same–plus it might’ve helped.

Food. My son needed food. But I was still trying to work out appointments and replaying conversations in my head in German. Should I have said this? Should I have said that? HOW do you say this or that??? Do I have time to make it to Crossfit? Ugh! Brain overload!

Meanwhile, my kids were home taking screws out of furniture to prep for the move and my husband was at the doctor having vials of blood drawn to test for scary diseases.

There were more stress layers flaking from this day than paint on a midwestern farmhouse.

*author is not responsible for the accuracy of metaphorical language.
*In fact, the author is not certain her metaphors are even making sense at this point.
*author does not care.

My son and I went for Chinese food, and over a plate of chicken fried rice, I regained my senses (somewhat).

I always used to say that stress is a reaction. But sometimes, it builds up to where your brain simply shuts down.

Usually, Crossfit helps me to relieve this kind of stress, but of course with the move, I hadn’t been to the box in three days. Despite the fact that I’ve been lifting boxes and carrying furniture downstairs, the lack of WODing has taken its toll.

I don’t know exactly how Crossfit works its magic. It seems so simple: lift something heavy. But how does lifting something heavy clear your mind? I can’t answer this. I only know it works. It’s my form of meditation. I come away relaxed, focused, de-stressed, and a little high from endorphins, or whatever chemicals wake up in my brain.

Plus there’s the added benefit of multiple hugs from my friends and the occasional emo purge while we stretch.

I’ve got a lot on my mind this week. What if my husband’s tests come back badly? Does it suddenly change all of our marital problems? What if they can’t diagnose anything, and he just goes on feeling crappy all the time? What if I forget another appointment? How will I get my old house cleaned out by the end of the month? Will my couch fit down the staircase at the new place? What about my daughter’s birthday? Or my anniversary? Do you still celebrate when you’re barely communicating? Do I post a ‘happy 20 years, darling’ on facebook, because that’s what people expect? Or do I say, ‘i hope we make it to 21’? What if he has cancer? 

Fears.

Stress.

Negativity.

I need to let it go.

Crossfit is the master reset button.

So, instead of packing more boxes today, I’m taking a time out.

I need to think about nothing but the steel in my hand, so I can loosen the grip stress has on me.

It’s time to let go.