Monthly Archives: March 2014

In the Groove

running

There is a certain phenomenon in running when everything falls into place and you feel like you can run forever–this is called ‘flow.’

Crossfitters and other athletes experience this too: where your body and mind work together so well, you KNOW this game or fight or race or WOD is yours.

It is part training, part mental focus, part relaxation, and part endorphine high.

Flow is also elusive: the more you think about accomplishing it, the more it slips away.

It is not about ‘thinking;’ it’s about ‘knowing.’ It’s a difference I can hardly even put words to. You just have to be there once, even for a moment, to understand.

Buddhists probably have a term for this.

Many of us add a spiritual component to flow–a higher power that gives you this ability to face a giant with a slingshot and walk away with more strength than an entire army.

Last week my life was in the groove.

I hadn’t had a job interview since 1994, and last week I had three, back to back. I walked away from each feeling that I’d nailed it. When my resume didn’t speak for itself, I was able to put in the right words.

When you’ve been trained to move around like the stage crew, working, hidden between scenes of someone else’s play, it’s hard to step into the spotlight–to sell yourself. To make a potential employer see that you are worthy of the job at hand. To make them see that they would be foolish NOT to hire you.

But the thing they don’t tell you about the groove, is that you still work.

Your muscles still extend and contract; your lungs might burn; your feet still hit the pavement with up to three times the force of your bodyweight; though you feel like you’re flying, no one carries you to the finish.

To put it in Crossfit terms: even those with the most unrelenting thrusters still leave a puddle of sweat. They make it look easy, but it’s not. We all know it’s not.

Life is this way too.

Even in the groove, you have to work. There is no coasting through life. And when you have a goal, you can’t give up on it–despite the naysayers. You have to give it a shot. You have to use your talent, your wit, your strength to get out and accomplish things that are hard.

The challenges will come in droves, and it’s easy to get bogged down by them–to let them frighten or overwhelm you. But you can’t turn away. You have to press on.

You have to relax and put out that positive energy so you can receive some positive energy back. It’s incredible when that happens.

That’s when we find our groove.

If I worry about potential deadfalls, I’ll lose my cadence. It’s better to just run, and deal with the challenges as they come across my path.

And I know they’re coming. Challenges are on the left and on the right, behind me and in front of me.

But I’ve got to carry on. To let life flow.

It’s still hard.

And frightening.

But eventually, I’ll get to the finish.

And there’ll be a new race to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crossfit: an Assertiveness Immersion Course

weights

A sled doesn’t move unless you pull it.

Sounds simple, right?

But think about the alternative.

What happens if you’re passive about:

  • what you eat & drink
  • other chemicals you put into your body (yes, smokers…I’m nagging you)
  • HOW and when you exercise (*note: I didn’t say ‘if’ you exercise)
  • HOW and when you sleep
  • your spiritual life
  • your job
  • your relationship with your kids
  • love & romance (yes–it’s important too)
  • your finances
  • your present
  • your future

Each of those things (and probably more) requires an active, dedicated, thoughtful effort. 

The result of letting things slide means critical failure at some point. And trust me–it WILL catch up to you eventually.

I’m learning this now, the hard way.

Pieces of my life are falling down around me, and I often wonder how I’m going to claw my way out of the rubble.

But I will.

I know I will.

Crossfit (no topic is too deep for Crossfit) has loosened passivity’s grip on my life and has frequently been the impetus for change.

Being assertive does not make you annoying–it gives your opinion value. Think how your life would be different if you were assertive in the things mentioned above: your health, your relationships, using the present to shape your future. 

At the very beginning of this current personal hell I’m going through, a Crossfitter friend asked me where I saw myself in five years.

I had no answer.

I had never envisioned life five years down the road. I had simply been along for the ride, letting others dictate how the course of my life would run.

I have a five-year vision now. 

It includes relationships, joy, Crossfit, marathons, a simple life, fluency in German, a job I love, a six year-old labrador and lots of coffee.

I’ll also have a deeper appreciation for the things I have. 

I already do.

I have a LOT to be thankful for: my kids, my friends, my family in the US, my always-cheerful labrador, the cup of coffee at my side, and of course, today’s WOD–whatever it may be.

Most of us don’t just walk into a box and do a muscle-up. It takes practice, dedication and a lot of sweat. But at some point, you’ll find yourself doing things you once thought impossible.

Think about one area in which you’ve been passive–and take steps today to change it.

Your future depends on it.


The Secret to Life: Don’t Get Comfortable

comfort

I’ve been comfortable for a long time.

Comfortable, yet miserable inside.

We tend to think that comfort is something to strive for, and we’re even willing to pay a lot for it. But would you pay your soul for it? Would you really snuff the spark within you just so your life could have more leg room?

Years ago, when a family member was breathing his last, hospice gave him two things for comfort: morphine and TV.

Maybe that’s a radical way to define comfort, but when you think about it, we’re all dying. These bodies degrade (some more rapidly than others) day by day. So we need to set goals and keep striving for them. We need to put some muscle behind our dreams to make them real. Making dreams real is decidedly uncomfortable, and often, you find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do.

Nothing illegal, of course.

This isn’t Breaking Bad.

And when I say ‘dreams,’ I don’t necessarily mean things that will make your life ‘easier.’ Sometimes a ‘dream’ is simply living the life you want to live: changing careers, moving to a foreign country, making sure every relationship you have is meaningful in this world of aquaintfriendses.

Relationships are what life is all about–that nuanced give and take of ideas and energy that leaves you feeling like your life has changed someone’s world, even just a little.

My comfort blanket has been thrown back, and as I wake and rub my eyes in the dawn, I can still feel the warmth of the bed, growing cold as I rise. I can’t lay back down and pull the blanket over my head. The sun is starting to shine, and I want to get up and make the most of this life.

It is uncomfortable.

I have many fears.

But I am finally awake.

I understand now, what it means to take care of what you have, whether it’s material possessions or your own body & spirit & mind.

In Crossfit, we tangibly make the connection between hard work and results. It is a lesson that shapes how we live and work and play. But there’s more to it: the community is what makes Crossfit so rich. It taps into that craving we all have to be part of something bigger.

It is ‘constantly varied.’

It is ‘functional.’

It is NOT comfortable.

It IS a metaphor for life.

And it’s good.


Crossfit Isn’t Dangerous–I Am

IMG_0774

My grandma sent me an article about how dangerous Crossfit is. I read it, and like any good Crossfitter, I found it amusing.

Grandmas are supposed to worry; and someday as I’m doing handstand pushups and running ultra marathons, I’ll probably worry about my own grandkids too. It’s kind of the Oma’s job.

While I don’t entirely buy the ‘karma’ idea, I did manage to injure myself after I read the article. But I can’t blame Crossfit–it was entirely pilot error. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did, but I think there was a problem with my improperly executed push-ups that left my shoulder-blade hurting. And like the stubborn marathon runner I am (pushing through pain) I kept working out until I literally could not put any weight on my left arm whatsoever.

Stupid, I know.

I tend to learn things that hard way (it’s a character flaw).

This shoulder ‘incident’ has left me feeling weak. While everyone else gets to do the WOD, I get the ‘injured runner’s special.’ It’s frustrating to NOT be with my fellow bogatyrs, swinging kettle bells and (as much as I hate the exercise) doing push ups.

It makes me feel weak.

We tend to think a lot about strength in Crossfit, but the ‘W’ word isn’t tossed around much.

That’s because no one WANTS to be weak–that’s why we Crossfit.

Weakness means not performing up to standard or to be structurally compromised or inefficient.

But being weak is so much more. Like strength, weakness is also a condition of the mind. Weakness causes people to roll over and die when things get tough, rather than facing challenges head-on.

We all have moments of vulnerability, moments where we WANT to give up. But the truly strong people will observe the weakness, and then elbow it out of the way as they push past.

Injury is not weakness. In fact, forcing oneself to recover from injury takes more mental strength than pushing through pain. It means staying humble by using a lighter weight; it means complete trust in your coach’s modification; it means willingly, purposely decelerating, though everything in you wants to put the pedal to the metal.

There is strength in self-control.

Given time, most injuries will heal, and with Crossfit, you can bet that you’ll eventually come out stronger than ever.

Weakness of the mind–that’s another story. No amount of time can heal it. Once it takes root, it will completely take over until lives are brambly and tangled with it.

The emotions we have are important outlets. Sadness, when it comes, needs to be recognized and given its proper respect. But it’s not a place to linger; and it’s certainly not a neighborhood you’d want to buy a home in.

So, we move on, without asking ‘why;’ without wishing we could change time; without hoping it was all a bad dream. We just keep moving forward. Though we might hobble along, we still keep moving. We don’t stop. We don’t look back.

Because if we look back, our progress stops cold in its tracks.

That IS weakness.

The best runners keep their eyes on the horizon. They don’t look down, and they sure as hell don’t look back.

If we’ve stumbled, then we learn our lesson, do things better, and make things right.

Being injured might make you feel weak–but that’s not true weakness.

True weakness is stopping to watch the clock run out instead of trying.

Even if you’re injured, you can still move forward, albeit slowly; because in this life, every rep counts.


Hot Bodies Part 3: The Perfect Body

BOL cheer

I was standing there talking to my friends after a WOD when one of them pulls up my shirt, grabs my bauch, and says, “You’re too skinny! You must eat more!”

This is also the same woman who routinely grabs my butt.

Germans can be a very tactile people.

Since this is probably the fourth person to mention my physique recently, I’m starting to think my body IS changing. I’ve never ben called skinny.

But we rarely see ourselves how others see us. When I look at my body, I see the things that still need improvement. Even though some of my size small clothes are now getting baggy, my eyes are first drawn to what I perceive as flaws.

If I had the money, I would get plastic surgery to get rid of the extra Michelin man skin I have around the midsection from bearing 4 kids, and to perhaps reshape a couple of superfluous body parts. But now I wonder if that would even make me feel better?

I used to shop, thinking that a new pair of pants would make me feel different. But that’s as ridiculous as thinking a new pair of running shoes will make you faster. If you’re fast, you’re fast, no matter what shoes you’re wearing. If you’re strong, you’re strong. If you’re weak, you’re still weak. If you’re kind; you’re kind. If you’re an asshole; you’re still an asshole–no matter what your tee-shirt says.

There are two important points here:

Even the most 'perfect' body has room for improvement.

Go up to someone who you think has the ‘perfect’ body. You know…this is probably the person who can do stuff that you can’t do yet. Ask him his weakness–and if he doesn’t think you’re a stalker, he’ll probably tell you. The human body requires maintenance, and that means working on things that aren’t quite up to our standards.

It is a life-long endeavor, and no one ever arrives at some kind of Superhero Valhalla, where we all walk around with tight, properly-bulgy bodies, flashing Hollywood smiles as we fist-bump and where WODS come so easily we don’t even sweat. 

Crossfit is hard for everyone. And the people who seem to do things ‘easily’ have put in countless hours of sweat and possibly blood to get where they are.

Who cares what your body looks like? Can you do things that are hard?

It makes me cringe to hear people talking about Crossfit as a means to lose weight. That’s just stupid. Crossfit is about doing things that are hard. If your body begins to change because of it, then great, but it shouldn’t be your primary focus. This IS functional fitness. That means it is PRACTICAL for enjoying life TODAY and facing challenges that make most people slink away.

I never would have dreamed of moving an entire household of furniture myself had it not been for Crossfit. As a marathon runner, I was in no shape to extract major appliances from a basement. But as a Crossfitter–bring it on!

As the washing machine was pushing me over backwards down the basement stairs, I wasn’t thinking about my chunky thighs, ample posterior or how I look in my running tights. I was thinking, “Tighten up! Tighten up!” I was using every ounce of muscle to keep that SOB from crushing me.

Now that’s functional fitness. 

So, am I losing weight? I have no idea. I could clean the dust and dog-hair off the scale and step on it. But judging from the fit of my ‘skinny’ jeans, which now have the ‘Cross-fit’ (loose in the waist, tight in the thighs), something is changing. My small shirts are loose in the belly (as my friend so enthusiastically demonstrated) and I’ve had the experience of combining  paradoxical words: spandex and XSMALL.

When I hold up the XSMALL TALL pants, I don’t think they’ll fit. But they’re like super pants and they always slide on.

Do I like it? I guess I do, on some level.

Do I care? Not really.

I never set out to go down in size and my goal is not to have a ‘hot’ body (*definitions may vary). Rather, I want to be strong enough to run mountain marathons, and ultras, and lift heavier and heavier, as my hair turns white and the wrinkles take over.

I need to reprogram my mind so that notions of plastic surgery go the way of the bathroom scale.

Crossfit makes you strong.

Sexiness is just a by-product.


Victims, Villains and Heroes: Why Abuse Victims Should Crossfit

victim

Not to build muscle.

Not to ‘feel’ better about how you look.

Not to improve self-esteem.

Not to have the ability to kick ass, if necessary.

Victims of abuse, whether it was sexual, physical or emotional, should Crossfit because, if you have a great coach and a great environment, your mindset will begin to change. And any change that’s going to happen in a person’s life MUST begin in their own mind.

The perpetrator could be hauled off to jail, die from a drug overdose, step entirely from the pages of your history or, worse yet for some, unexpectedly reappear to haunt you. But whatever scenario applies, the victim needs more than anything to transition from the victim mentality to the hero mentality.

I’m not villanizing the victim here, but we’ve all seen cases of perpetual victimness. The 50 year-old putting up with behavior that is borderline illegal simply because that’s what she’s been trained to do. She reacts without thinking, and quite often, she believes that without her, the guy would be completely lost. She WANTS to be needed–and that can be a source of power for her, no matter how twisted it is.

Switch gears to Crossfit. The victim now only NEEDS to find power within herself. By training daily, she seeks and finds that strength. Because her desire for power is being met in a healthy way, she’ll start to see the unhealthy behaviors for what they are–and she’ll have the courage to change it.

I’m no psychologist, but here’s why I think Crossfit helps the victim:

  • She is in a positive, supportive environment where people are only beasts when it comes to the WOD
  • If she’s been sexually abused, the Crossfit environment allows her to see the body for the incredibly complex and beautiful thing that it is, rather than something to be ashamed about
  • The mental focus it takes to lift heavy shit translates into her personal life, and she’ll start to think, “If I can swing THAT kettle bell without setting it down, then I can handle [FILL IN THE BLANK.]
  • She won’t be isolated anymore
  • When she began, she couldn’t do ten wall balls, and now she can do 150–and seeing that kind of progress will show she DOES have the power to change–if she perseveres
  • She’ll have a seriously strong Crossfit family to support her
  • She’ll stop seeking out villains and become her own hero

I’m not saying Crossfit is a cure-all for deep psychological/emotional trauma–if it’s that serious, please, get some help. What I AM saying is that Crossfit changes lives for the better.

I’d encourage anyone who’s been abused to seek both counseling and a kick-ass box.


Capturing the Beast: No More Living with Regrets

Selfie during an early-morning run in the old landscape.

Selfie during an early-morning run in the old landscape.

My landlady, like the very good German she is, knew exactly what to do when tears began streaming down my cheeks: she toughened up–distracted me by taking me outside to help throw junk into the dumpster.

“Hear that?” she said, as a bottle crashed and broke along the inside, “There is still space, right there.”

So, we aimed our bottles for that space, heaving them over the heavy door, and listening to them crash into a hundred pieces. I don’t know why, but breaking something is usually therapeutic–especially if you don’t have to clean it up afterwards.

I told her in my broken German that she was the best landlord and this was the most beautiful house in the country. She hugged me–a first in eight years–patted me on the shoulders (which were hunched down to her 5 foot-frame) and she gave me the best compliment: Du bist eine gute Frau.

I think she had known for a while that something wasn’t quite right in my life. That normally a woman and her children are not the ones to move an entire household. Normally they have a husband working alongside. His absence and the relatively short timeframe to vacate, were probably signals to her of something beneath the surface.

Germans are nothing if not perceptive.

She was extremely pleased to hear that I was going to try to find a job–but she was over the moon to hear about German school for my kids. She’d always been concerned about their ‘alternative’ education (illegal for Germans), so I think this gave her some comfort.

We were not ideal tenants.

For three years I was so ill, I could hardly get out of bed some mornings, let alone clean my house to German standards. It was a huge house, a blessing with those four energetic kids running around, but something I wasn’t equipped to take care of. By the time I got better and found my energy again, the house was overwhelming.

Walking through the empty place, seeing the pockmarked walls, scuffed floors and being chased by rabid dust bunnies, I had many regrets. I saw ghosts of joyous times, but I also saw opportunities wasted.

I do regret not ‘toughening up’ and plunging into the community.

And that’s the thing about opportunities–they might fall into your path, but you still have to take hold of them. If you don’t, you’ll walk past, and they will vaporize.

I now have the chance to do things right. I have a second chance–more opportunities for a rich, full life. And I’m not talking money. Money is great for paying bills, but you don’t need much of it to be truly rich.

I want a life that is rich with friendships, laughter, joy, peace and adventure. I want a life that engages my mind and creativity. I want an active life, not busy with crap I don’t want to do—but active, alive.

I want these things for my kids.

I see the opportunity in front of me. But she is a big beast. There are many reasons to tiptoe past. To let her sleep. To allow myself to wander into a haze of obscurity.

But I’m not that kind of person anymore. I’ll poke the bitch with a stick. Wake her up, face her enormous breadth and tame her. Make her mine.

Opportunity is intimidating, but it is worth the struggle to take it. To face the challenge. To not back down.

To be honest, I’m frightened at the prospect. But the alternative is to continue on blindly, not taking chances, to feel less than alive.

That’s not an option.

This is one opportunity I’m going to take.

God help me.

No more living with regrets.